What it Takes to Become a CHRO

If you dream of becoming a CHRO, remember the number 60. By the end of this article, it will remind you of what type of people make it to CHRO and the CHRO hiring trends over the past several years.

Every year, HR@Moore surveys CHROs. Here are some interesting results:

  • 60% of CHROs were hired from outside of HR or outside of the company, and
  • 60% of CHROs have experience outside of HR during their career.

In other surveys, we see an increasing percentage of CHROs being hired from functions outside of HR.

If you’ve spent your entire career inside the HR function, you will find yourself at a disadvantage when seeking a CHRO position. Why is that? The role of HR is changing from tactical to strategic and most companies are struggling with this transition. The problem is, companies are discovering that the skills they need to make this migration are not typically found in HR. To obtain these skills, these companies have been bringing in leadership from areas like finance and operations. Specifically, they are seeking leaders that have financial skills, analytical skills and business acumen.

So, what’s a person to do if their goal is to make it to CHRO but they’ve spent their career in HR? All is not lost, but you’ll need a plan and dedication.

First, you’ll need to become comfortable with financial numbers. The good news is, there are quite a few free classes you can take on websites like EdX and Coursera to learn the basics. As you move up the corporate ladder, almost everything seems to need a financial justification. Recommended topics to learn are how to calculate an ROI (return on investment), NPV (net present value) and how to put together a business case.

Next, you’ll need to know the basics of data analytics. Everything these days is about data, how to analyze it and how to leverage it. Those that can have a distinct advantage over those that can’t. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Some of you chose the HR profession because you weren’t big fans of numbers. That’s okay, but you need to recognize that we have entered a data-driven world.

Knowing as much as you can about numbers is a must for all professions today. It has become a matter of long-term, professional survival. I’m not saying that you must become an expert in topics like statistics, but a great awareness of data techniques being used, data visualization tools and the types of business problems being solved with them would be hugely advantageous. There’s a large amount of material on the internet if you search for HR Analytics case studies, so again, the educational task here is free.

The final skill that you will need to learn is business acumen. This is the hardest thing for someone to learn because it only comes with experience and you may need to do something you never planned to do… step outside of HR. Business acumen, or “business savvy” is the ability to look at a situation or problem and be able to view it from multiple business perspectives. Someone with business acumen can make a better business decision because they can envision how that decision will impact the company in many different areas. If you’ve spent your career inside HR, obtaining these other perspectives is difficult.

What do I recommend in this situation? One option is to ask your company if a rotation outside of HR is possible. You may wish to spend several months in functions like Finance, Purchasing or Operations to see the business from their point of view, understand their goals and understand their challenges.

If the above option isn’t open to you, try to become a team member on a cross-functional project. The team discussions will provide you with exposure to how other areas think. If you’re high up in HR today but haven’t made it to CHRO, you can think of volunteering on a non-profit board. These boards will be comprised of members from several functional areas and often multiple companies.

The world has changed and so have the skill sets needed to become a successful CHRO. Companies are recognizing this, so if you dream becoming a CHRO, now is the time to set a plan to fill in missing skill sets. As a female entrepreneur who has spent 25 years in analytics, I hope that I have provided you with a clear picture of what’s needed so you can plan your way to CHRO.




About the Author:  Tracey Smith is an internationally recognized business author, speaker and consultant. She is the author of multiple books and hundreds of articles. Tracey has worked with and advised organizations, both well-known and little-known, on how to use data analytics to impact the bottom line. If you would like to learn more, please visit www.numericalinsights.com  or contact Tracey Smith through LinkedIn. You can check out her books on her Amazon Author Page.


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1 Comment


Thank you for sharing this information. The role of CHRO is one of my goals on my vision board. This was helpful in provoking thoughts on tools I need to perfect to get there.


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