These CHROs say business knowledge is key to being a successful HR leader

During the pandemic, CEOs and CFOs started to rely heavily on HR teams. With a seat at the table, HR’s decisions and insights can have a ‘ripple effect’ across organizations.
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The Office/Peacock via Giphy

· 3 min read

Toby from The Office may have impressed on the world the idea that HR leaders spend their days sitting quietly behind closed doors, but a lot has changed since the aughts, especially for people professionals. The CHRO role, for one, has become more forward-facing. No more hiding in the backroom at Dunder Mifflin.

HR Brew checked in with Ola Snow, CHRO of Cardinal Health, and Pablo Brizi, CHRO of Hilton Grand Vacations, about how the role of HR leaders has changed and why having a deep understanding of the business overall is important for long-term success.

Zoom in. The role of the CHRO has evolved considerably in recent years, thanks, in part, to the Covid-19 pandemic. As worker safety and remote work became companies’ top priorities, CEOs and CFOs started, for the first time, to rely heavily on HR teams, and have continued to work in close concert with them on business decisions.

“Not only are we HR leaders, we’re really business leaders. We are in strategy conversations, not just talking about HR and people strategies,” Snow told HR Brew. Conversations, she added, went beyond Covid safety and into how to ensure “our people have the skills to bring our business strategy forward”—discussions that HR likely wouldn’t have been a part of 20 years ago.

In some companies, it’s now the norm for CEOs to rely on HR professionals to understand what employees need and how to implement organizational changes, according to executives interviewed by Insider last year. With a seat at the table, HR’s decisions and insights can have a “ripple effect” across organizations, resulting in, for example, the onboarding of new top talent.

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But how? Snow, whose healthcare company employs around 44,000 workers worldwide, recommends that HR professionals focus not just on employees, but on who employees serve. “Go out and talk to customers about what they need in a salesperson that’s going to support their business,” she suggested. “Really learning about customers and issues and challenges and opportunities that they face every day, I think, is incredible for any HR leader to do.” Understanding customers’ needs, she said, can help recruiters make better hiring decisions.

Brizi agreed, adding that budding HR leaders should get to know people in various functions, even if their business, like his, has thousands of employees. “You can make a greater impact from an HR perspective if you have a well-rounded understanding of your company and the people who work there,” he told HR Brew via email. And “stepping out of that [HR] bubble and expanding your knowledge of the organization as a whole” can pay dividends career-wise. “Demonstrating your commitment to the growth of your company can lead to well-deserved recognition and advancement in your role,” Brizi wrote.

To that end, Snow also suggested finding mentors, who for her have included fellow business leaders within her organization, as well as her predecessor, Carole Watkins. “She was really passionate about the business, knew the business, [and] really made me a better business person.”

Not an acceptable substitute for a mentor: Michael Scott’s Somehow I Manage.—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.