More than half of CHROs not career HR professionals

24 September 2015

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.

Research background

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.

Background and career of CHROs

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.

CHRO competencies

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.”



Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.