December 18, 2015 – These days finding the right chief human resources officer (CHRO) can be a challenging proposition for a recruitment firm. As businesses have become increasingly holistic, the CHRO role has evolved away from just administrative and transactional responsibilities. Indeed, the job now plays an integral, strategic part in driving a company forward. One finds CHROs in constant interaction with the chief executive officer, members of the executive team, and the board of directors. They do more than recruit talent: They have a deep understanding of the direction and aspirations of their organization, can work across leadership to inform and shepherd decision-making, and help bring aboard those individuals who will contribute to a company’s success far beyond the here and now.
Consigliere to the CEO
Mike Bergen, human resources global practice leader for Allegis Partners, headquartered in New York, describes the modern CHRO as something of a new breed: “They are business leaders first who happen to lead the HR function. They understand the financials and are able to contribute well beyond human capital.”
Talent is the driving force behind any company’s success. A CHRO sees to it not only that good people are aboard but that the company is perpetually evolving and developing leadership as well as its HR team. The position calls for an ability to see the big picture and help leadership keep on the path toward its business’s goals. “CHROs should aspire to be counsel, coach, and consigliere to the CEO – because the best are,” says Mike, who previously served as senior client partner in the HR practice at Korn Ferry as well as a contributing senior client partner in its global sports practice. “They act as a bridge between the executive leadership team and the CEO, managing the way decisions are made and are responsible for guiding, developing, and coaching across the C-suite. By virtue of their strategic views of interrelated issues across the enterprise and their knowledge and understanding of all aspects of talent and business, good CHROs – and they aren’t all good – use talent as a business opportunity and know how to connect talent back to the business goals and challenges of their organizations,” he says.
Finding such individuals is straight forward enough, if one understands the nature of today’s CHRO. What can make it tough, however, is the reduced talent pool. “Traditionally, HR executives haven’t had the same career development steps as, say, someone coming up through finance,” Mike explains. “The academic path for HR professionals has failed to emphasize hardcore business skills, and once HR professionals enter the profession, they have rarely been moved into line roles to gain an understanding of the business. We are seeing this being addressed in the last decade, but it will take time.”
Building a Team of Talent Drivers
Allegis Partners, which is part of the Allegis Group, addresses the issue by asking insightful questions from the moment it takes on an assignment. The first thing its recruiters want to know is what business challenges the client hopes to solve. “Once we understand the business objectives, market trends, and dynamics, we can then create a specific position description for the candidate that is going to strengthen the leadership team and address the concerns and strategic needs of the company,” Mike says. “We never just search for the person they think they want. We have to have a point of view on the industry as well as our client company’s position in that industry. We look for candidates that can build and strengthen teams, identify and resolve business structural changes, implement significant technology change, manage complex labor issues, and probably most important, if necessary, coach an incoming or sitting CEO.”
Hiring, of course, remains a vital part of the CHRO’s job, both at the senior level and below. But there’s a difference in approach to those duties. “If the CHRO is not involved in C-suite hires, they are not doing their job well!” says Mike. “They should be intimately involved in all executive-level and C-suite hires and that of board directors. Beyond that, they have an obligation to create a consistent framework for assessment and consistent standards for performance and potential that gets driven as deep into the organization as they need. They are developing core sets of competencies that are going to apply to all levels in an organization. If a CHRO has built a strong team of talent drivers within his or her organization, he or she shouldn’t have to micromanage other levels of the hiring process.”
When conducting a search, Allegis Partners stays in close communication with the client company’s CHRO. It’s a two-way street of giving and getting information that ultimately leads to finding the best candidates for any given job. “Most of our more successful searches have been when the CHRO takes an active role in the search because they are the keeper of the talent strategy,” Mike says. “When we do our stakeholder meetings during the initial kick off of a search, we speak with line executives throughout the organization around the profile they think will be successful in that role. We find they are very open to us providing great insight that they may not have shared with someone inside the organization. We translate that back to the CHRO providing him or her with a perspective, outside his or her own lens, bringing more color and texture to what exactly will be the right fit.”
Moving forward the search firm stays in constant touch with the CHRO, be it seeking answers or offering guidance. “They know where the talent gaps are, and we have access to a large pool of talent in a wide variety of industries,” Mike says. “By building and maintaining that relationship, we are often able to help fill roles through our relationships with our sister companies like Major, Lindsey & Africa, an expert in placing general counsel and other in-house legal talent, or through the expertise of our colleagues in other Allegis Partners’ practices like our board and corporate governance practice. We nurture that relationship to help them build a best-in-class team because we want to see our clients succeed.”
While other search firms, particularly the biggest players, have taken to offering clients a wide range of ancillary services, at cost, Mike says Allegis Partners provides all that as part of its everyday recruitment work. “We are leading with advice and counsel and not commercializing those conversations,” he says. “We are talking to, and informing, our clients about succession, talent mapping, compensation benchmarking, assessment, and market intelligence. We are even facilitating the successful on-boarding of new leaders as part of our normal search process. We don’t look to monetize this advisory work we do for our clients – rather our goal is to develop trust that is needed for long-term relationships with our clients. It’s not just about recruiting anymore. Being a part of the fabric of our client’s organization is what sets us apart from our competition. It is the foundation on which we have built our firm.”
Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media