Top HR Leaders Say Companies Are Unprepared to Replace Them

As demand for strategic HR leadership grows, companies must pay heed to job satisfaction and succession planning for their top HR talent, according to a new report from recruiters Salveson Stetson Group. Sixty-one percent of HR leaders would leave their present post if the right job came along.

March 22, 2018 – Only 50 percent of chief human resources officers believe that their companies have a ready-now successor should they leave their job, according to a new survey of almost 400 CHROs and HR leaders by Salveson Stetson Group, a Hunt Scanlon Media Ranked Top 50 Healthcare and Life Sciences search firm.

While eight out of 10 of those surveyed said they are satisfied with their jobs, 61 percent said they would leave for the right opportunity – making the succession gap even more troubling. “As the demand for strategic HR leadership grows, it is crucial for employers to both take note of their HR leaders’ job satisfaction and have a formal succession plan in place,” said Sally Stetson, co-founder and principal. “HR plays a key element in executing a company’s business strategy, so ensuring that your company has a capable leader in place has never been more important.”

The survey of 382 regional HR executives – those making more than $200,000 annually and handling senior management responsibilities for their employers – was focused on gleaning insight into their attitudes toward their jobs, succession plans and what motivates them.

Culture Reigns

Close to 20 percent of the HR leaders said company culture was the top reason they would accept a new position. When asked to identify the most fulfilling aspects of their current role, they cited job responsibilities (46 percent), workplace environment (15 percent) and relationship with their bosses (14 percent).

“The HR profession has evolved greatly over the past several years, making the CHRO position increasingly complex,” said John Salveson, the search firm’s other co-founder and principal. “As more HR leaders join the C-suite, CEOs must better understand the unique demands CHROs face and create an environment that is both stimulating and rewarding for them. Regardless of how highly-regarded a CHRO may be, the potential to lose that executive to another company is real and sometimes unavoidable. Only a well-thought-out succession plan mitigates the risk of this loss given the true impact that strong HR leaders have on their organizations.”

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The survey of CHROs and senior HR leadership team members was conducted online. Respondents hailed from various sectors, including financial services, general services, life sciences, manufacturing and retail. Thirty-one percent of the HR leaders worked for companies with 1,000 to 5,000 employees, 23 percent for companies with 250 to 1,000 employees and 22 percent at companies with 10,000-plus.

Search Veterans

Specializing in $200,000-plus salaried positions, Salveson Stetson Group places executives at organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to non-profit entities. Mr. Salveson brings more than 30 years of experience consulting with a broad range of organizations, including life sciences and pharmaceutical companies, banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, professional service firms, healthcare providers, retailers, service organizations and non-profit institutions.

Ms. Stetson has more than two decades of experience as an executive search consultant. She has worked across diverse industries including life sciences and pharmaceutical, healthcare systems, manufacturing, telecommunications, non-profit and professional services. She also serves as practice leader for the firm’s human resources specialty practice.

Just recently, Ms. Stetson sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to further discuss the report’s findings and the current state of CHRO recruiting.


Sally, are CHROs engaged and satisfied enough to stay in their current role? 

A CHRO should take the time to learn more about the pressing and critical issues their businesses currently face. Armed with this information, they may be able to work with business leaders to develop potential solutions. Operating in a proactive manner, volunteering to take on important new initiatives, and building stronger relationships with key stakeholders can all contribute to a more satisfying position in the company.

Related: How Companies Can Build Up Their Defenses Against Talent Raids

With the CHRO role having evolved so much in recent years, what do these executives want from an employer in order to thrive in this role?  

Most CHROs look to work closely with a senior leadership team that is engaged, collaborative, open to new ideas and invested in creating a positive, innovative, employee-focused culture. A CHRO wants to ensure that his or her relationship with the CEO is one in which he/she serves as an advisor and sounding board. Having the ability to make a lasting impact on the business is typically important to a top HR leader.

“Due to businesses’ changing needs, there has been an increasing demand for a CHRO with a different, more sophisticated skill-set.”

Explain the importance of the CHRO role. 

A CHRO can positively influence how the CEO and senior leadership team approaches interacting, managing and developing the workforce, which is a significant lever in improving the company’s overall business results.

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We have seen a growing number of CHROs leaving their jobs to join executive search firms. What’s your take on this? 

Entering the executive search industry is an interesting option for either a CHRO or a business executive who has both a passion for the talent acquisition field and a strong entrepreneurial interest. It can be a very rewarding role if the executive is motivated by handling both business development and managing and executing searches. However, it can be a challenging transition into search if the executive is uncomfortable with the need to be involved in business development. Many people underestimate this role, and either love it or don’t enjoy it at all. The search industry will remain an interesting and challenging career option as more executives continue to move into entrepreneurial ventures.

Related: Key Factors In Selecting Your Next CHRO

What are the best steps companies can take to ensure a smooth CHRO transition?  

When a CHRO leaves and a new executive joins the organization, the CEO must have an assimilation plan to set them up for success. They should have a series of meetings with the CEO, individual members of the senior team and key customers to learn about the business, culture and the priorities this person will face. In addition, the new CHRO will need to meet with his or her team to learn more about the department’s level of talent and resources. All of these meetings will help the new CHRO to develop a 90 to 120-day business plan. The CEO should have regular ‘check-ins’ with the new executive to provide ongoing insights and perspectives to ensure a smoother transition into the organization.

Are we seeing increased demand for top flight CHROs?  

Due to businesses’ changing needs, there has been an increasing demand for a CHRO with a different, more sophisticated skill-set. A growing company may believe their organization would be better suited with a leader who can adapt to the scaling of a business. And due to the improved economy and job market, some CHROs have retired, while others have taken new roles. These changes have created new openings in the marketplace – a trend that will most likely continue.

Related: Data-Driven CHROs In Demand

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

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