Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) for Your Company

The concept of a CHRO or CPO is gaining in popularity, and for very good reason. A CHRO can be particularly effective in helping an organization plan for an execute on a significant growth initiative. Here is everything you need to know about hiring a CHRO

By David Bradshaw, SVP Client Services
5th August, 2022
David is a highly experienced consultant specializing in business strategy, lean operations/automation, and human resources. He holds a Master's degree from the University of Cambridge, UK, and an MBA from Quantic School of Business and Technology.

A CHRO can be particularly effective in helping an organization plan for and execute on a significant growth initiative. If you are considering hiring a CHRO or CPO for your organization, here is everything you need to know.

What Exactly is a Chief Human Resources Officer?

A chief human resources officer (CHRO) is the most senior HR executive at an organization - a strategic thinker who sets the course when it comes to talent acquisition, management, development and relations.

The role of a chief human resources officer is to make sure that the business has access to the talent that it needs - both now and in the future - and that all employees are happy and satisfied with their jobs. This includes making sure they have the right skills, motivation and support that they need to do their job well. Other important responsibilities include advocating for the workforce to other senior leadership, ensuring that the HR function is executing well, taking responsibility for legal compliance, and setting the tone of the organization to ensure a positive, healthy work environment for all employees.

The concept of a CHRO or CPO is gaining popularity, driven by employee supply and demand dynamics, changing attitudes of the workforce, and more sophisticated tactics employed by the competition to attract and retain talent.

HR Manager vs. HR Director vs. CHRO vs. CPO

Before we dive in, let’s talk terminology. First of all, let’s talk about the difference between traditional HR and the more recent concept of People Operations (PeopleOps). It would be fair to say that traditional HR is stigmatized. It is seen as an administrative field that is not directly related to the product of a company. From an employee’s perspective, HR is often viewed as the ‘fun police’ - an untrustworthy bunch of people who pretend to look out for you, but really only has the interests of the company at heart.

Whether this reputation is deserved or not, the sentiment is out there, and it isn’t helpful to anyone. In a recent attempt to shake off the image problem of HR and to genuinely change the way that employees are viewed and treated by organizations, the concept of "People Operations (or PeopleOps) has emerged. Although there isn’t a universally accepted distinction between HR and PeopleOps - the two certainly overlap - the PeopleOps movement is firmly people-first and its agenda is to advocate for and support employees, ensuring a positive employee experience.

The truth is that whatever the title, Human Resources professionals and PeopleOps professionals tend to do a blend of both.

Now with that out of the way, let’s look at some common HR roles, in order of increasing responsibility and impact:

HR Managers are typically responsible for running the HR function within an organization. This often includes staffing and line-managing the HR department, and taking responsibility for day-to-day HR operations. HR Managers usually have 5-10 years of experience in the field, although this can vary a great deal depending on the company and industry. HR managers are typically tasked with managing day-to-day personnel issues within their designated departments. They may have to supervise staff, oversee recruiting efforts, handle disciplinary matters or reviews of job candidates, handle wage and salary administration tasks such as administering pay rates or conducting wage surveys to ensure fairness among employees at all levels of compensation.

HR Directors are more senior versions of HR Managers, and will often have more autonomy and decision-making authority. They will usually have a stronger voice with senior management, able to influence the company strategy, at least in the talent management arena.

Both HR Managers and Directors may be responsible for the entire function, especially at smaller organizations, or they may be responsible for a subset (e.g. recruitment) at larger organizations.

An HR Officer (either CHRO or CPO), as we discussed above, is a senior executive ultimately responsible for talent strategy. What differentiates the CHRO from the CPO is the emphasis they place on their roles and their success metrics. A CHRO may be more concerned with legal compliance and efficiency of process, whereas a CPO will value employee experience/engagement, customer service, culture development and retention above cost-cutting.

Again, the roles are not mutually exclusive and it is quite rare for a company to have both a CHRO and a CPO. Inevitably, both the CHRO and the CPO will have to worry about both sides of the coin.

What are the Benefits of Hiring a CHRO?

A CHRO can have a major impact on the success of a company, and as workforce attitudes change and the war for talent becomes even fiercer, the role will continue to grow in importance. Here are some of the most powerful effects a CHRO can have on any organization:

  • Ensuring the company has a plan for growth it can deliver on
  • Establishing a healthy, positive workplace culture that drives innovation and encourages the right behaviors
  • Reduced turnover of your most valuable employees
  • Increased engagement and productivity of the workforce as a whole
  • Accelerated development of your most promising employees
  • Significantly reduced legal exposure

What are the Challenges of Hiring a CHRO?

Unfortunately, finding a CHRO is not easy - it takes time, effort, patience, and perhaps a little bit of luck. There are three major hurdles to overcome:

  1. Finding the right candidate
  2. Knowing you’ve found the right candidate
  3. Closing the deal

Finding the right candidate is tough because there just aren’t that many good ones available, and the demand for them is strong and growing. The search can take six months or longer. Assessing candidates is a bigger challenge. Most HR professionals are experts in the recruitment process. They know how to present themselves positively, and it can be very difficult to differentiate the fitting candidates from the rest. But the biggest challenge is yet to come - and that is closing the deal once you’ve identified the right candidate. CHRO candidates are in demand, and they know it. They can afford to be very selective about where they work, and will often only consider roles that offer significant autonomy and personal opportunity (not to mention a handsome compensation package). At the offer stage, be prepared for a detailed negotiation on the scope of the role and the package.

Conclusion: How to Find the Best CHRO Candidates for Your Business

If you have made the decision to hire, my best advice (especially if you are not an HR expert), is to not go it alone. Seek the help of an experienced organization who will be able to help you navigate the difficult waters of appointing a CHRO. Senior HR professionals are generally a highly networked group, and you’ll need a way to break in to this network to get access to the best candidates. Good staffing partners will have access to this network, and will be much better placed to help you write an attention-grabbing job description and assess candidate fit.

If you are a smaller organization, you have a more compelling option available to you - engaging a Fractional CHRO. HR service providers, NorthstarPMO included, have exceptional pre-vetted senior HR professions ready to serve your business on a part-time basis. As well as saving you time and money (you may only need a few hours per week), you can be up and running much quicker than attempting to direct-hire.

Whichever way you go, be sure to avoid the costly mistake of hiring the wrong CHRO - it can tear management teams apart and have devastating effects on employee relations.