How CEOs Can Help New CHROs Succeed

Your new chief human resources officer just started in their new position with responsibility for developing and executing the organization’s human resource strategy. So what do you expect of your CHRO—and what should you do to help them? Hein Knaapen, managing partner of, joins Hunt Scanlon to offer some tips on what CEOs can do to help incoming CHROs succeed!

October 25, 2023 – You hired a chief human resources officer because you believe people are key to your company’s ability to perform for all its stakeholders. A new report from CEO.worksHein Knaapen asks what do you expect of your CHRO—and what should you do to help them? “Obviously, you didn’t hire them to deal with mundane administrative tasks,” said Mr. Knaapen. “Of course, they must take care of many operational matters and ensure the company abides by relevant employment laws and regulations. The truth of the matter is you hired them to do everything they can to enhance the capability of your company’s management to drive value creation.”

“That reason will not necessarily be intuitive to a brand new CHRO, especially if they have risen through the ranks of HR,” Mr. Knaapen said. “They may very well be assuming you want them to deal with the entire menu of people issues. In my experience, that assumption, in and of itself, can quickly overwhelm them.”

Mr. Knaapen explains that you can help by first, providing a clear line of sight from the company’s value agenda to the selective people priorities that support value creation and, second, by helping them navigate the C-suite.

Where to Focus?

Coming in, your new CHRO should focus on connecting talent to value, according to the report. “Unfortunately, what matters to value is often not readily apparent to new CHROs,” Mr. Knaapen said. “Perhaps that is why so many become enchanted by new, fashionable solutions that have no clear link to either a company problem or to its current value agenda. They do not yet fully understand what you are trying to do with the business. Therefore, they cannot accurately discern which initiatives and which roles in the organization really matter to value creation—and which do not.”

Related: 7 Qualities and Experiences Needed to be a CHRO

Mr. Knaapen also explains that if you want your new CHRO to quickly have a positive impact, clarify the vital few initiatives and roles that will be critical to driving the value agenda.

Hein Knaapen is managing partner of in Europe, with over 35 years of experience in delivering transformative talent solutions in multinational companies. Prior to taking up a partnership with, he worked in senior HR positions at Unilever before becoming CHRO at KPN Telecom in 2005. Mr. Knaapen then became CHRO at ING Bank, where he developed and implemented the company wide people strategy for over 53,000 employees, while also reducing the HR budget by 20 percent. His role within is a particularly important one given the sudden value destruction that has occurred in many large corporates, family-held companies, and private equity firms due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Be specific about what you want to achieve in the business,” he said. “If possible, articulate exactly what you want delivered: the outcomes you are looking for in each area, how and by when you want those achieved, and how much value you expect those outcomes will contribute to the enterprise. The more precise you are regarding your expectations here, the better you set up your CHRO—and your company—for success.”

Related: How Today’s CHRO is Managing Disruption 

Mr. Knaapen says to give your new CHRO a sense, in very general business terms, of how you see those critical roles in the company driving that value. “If you are aware of challenges these leaders are likely to encounter inside and outside the organization as they execute these deliverables, candidly share those too,” he said. “Then leave the running of the people side of your business to your new CHRO.” With this guidance, it will be clear to them that only four of the traditional “people priorities” will demand their attention:

1. Performance management.

2. Succession management.

3. Leadership development.

4. Capability building.

How to Navigate the C-Suite?

Initially, your new CHRO may also need your help with crafting a people agenda that has enough precision and rigor to get them some traction in the C-suite. Mr. Knaapen offers the following tips on helping CHROs navigate what is expected from them.

• Be honest with them about what you believe is critical to driving performance.

• Be very open to their input on what they think is critical: let them teach you about HR, but don’t hesitate to test their thinking. Engage in constructive conflict.

Starting Your New Role as CHRO
Your first 100 days in a new CHRO position is a unique window of opportunity before you become fully entrenched in the demands of the role. A new report from Spencer Stuart says that getting off to a fast start (and preparing before day one) can earn your CEO and organization’s confidence and give you the momentum to achieve great long-term performance. Let’s take a closer look!

• Challenge them on the business relevance and conciseness of trendy proposals. Digressing into fashionable initiatives will not improve the performance of the business: be firm. Do them a great service by keeping them sharp on what you need them to deliver.

• Keep their focus on the very few things that really matter—and nothing else. As soon as you stop insisting on these essentials, you take away the incisive framework within which your CHRO can excel.

Mr. Knaapen says to set great expectations for your CHRO, and you naturally bring an element of unreasonableness into play. The CHRO may or may not be your “favorite child” at the leadership table, according to the report. “But if you want a leadership team that performs extraordinarily well, if you want your managers and your workforce to have the necessary capabilities to deliver your value agenda, then you need someone leading HR who is really good at making the crucial talent choices that will drive company performance,” Mr. Knaapen said. “Once the two of you have aligned on the people agenda, give them the support they need from you, especially when not everyone likes or agrees with what they are doing. Provide sufficient air cover for them in the C-suite while they build what you want them to build. If you don’t, all their efforts may be to no avail.”

Give your new CHRO clarity about where to focus and what to deliver. Invite them to realize their full potential, to boldly rise to the challenge of the CHRO role, and match the greatness of their team members, for they are the one person, of all the people in your business (besides yourself), best qualified to look after the challenges and demands that come with working with people.

Related: How to Become a Successful CHRO

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; and Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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