53% of Chief Human Resources Officers are not career HR professionals and many switched industries at least twice, research by Aon Hewitt shows. Although more importance is placed on functional skills than behavioural skills, the study shows that newly appointed CHROs feel less confident about their functional competencies. According to the consulting firm, the HR department of companies should divert some energy from developing others to the development of its own leadership.
In its recently released ‘Developing the Next Generation of CHROs’ report, Aon Hewitt, the global talent, retirement and health solutions business of Aon, studies the journey to becoming a CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer). For the research, the consulting firm interviewed 45 CHROs around the globe, 58% male and 42% female, from 10 industries, including pharma, retail, financial services, and multi-business.
The overall conclusion of the study: evolving needs of the business, the volatile economic environment, and the changing face of talent are shaping the selection of CHROs, with diversity in experience becoming a key factor. Of the CHROs surveyed, more than half (53%) are not career HR professionals, of which a third has no background in HR prior to assuming their current CHRO position. A quarter (24%) has a mixed background, while 13% comes in from the consulting industry.
Almost three-quarter (73%) of CHROs changed industries at least once, of which 42% indicate to have switched more than three times. According to the CHROs, changing industries have an important role to play in expanding horizons and preparing someone for the job. Aon’s research shows that the CHROs that never changed their industry have an average tenure of four years as CHRO, while those that changed more than three times have the highest average tenure as a CHRO of seven years.
Top CHRO competencies
For CHROs soft skills and competencies are becoming more important, hereby outpacing technical skills. According to Aon, the success of the CHRO and the followed HR strategy depends upon the CHRO’s soft skills. The researchers asked the CHROs to name the top competencies required and rate themselves on these competencies when they first took on the CHRO role. This shows that the CHROs feel well prepared when it comes to the behavioural skills ‘strategically thinking’, ‘driving change’ and ‘influencing others’, ranked 4 out of 5. Yet while the functional skills are rated important by more CHROs, between 84%-86%, they are feeling less secure about these competencies, with ‘executive compensation’ rated especially low at 2.9.
“Those well-equipped to achieve the greatest success will have diverse skill sets, be adaptable and agile, and gain hands-on learning from working through real life situations and acquiring knowledge across disciplines and industries,” explains Neil Shastri, Leader of Global Insights & Innovation at Aon Hewitt.
The research concludes that the number of people taking on the CHRO position without any background in the function is alarming and HR has not been doing the best job in developing its own leaders. “HR is used to helping other parts of the organisation with succession planning and leadership development, but could improve in the area of developing its own leaders,” concludes Dave Kompare, Partner at Aon Strategic Advisors & Transaction Solutions. “To build a strong bench for the future, HR must work on creating an environment conducive to the growth of future CHROs from both within and outside the function. It must also look for ways to help CHROs of the future pick up critical experiences that matter in the CHRO position.”