Should CHROs be wise or young?

Should CHROs be wise or young?

Every time I catch up with my friends who are CHROs in reasonably large organisations, one thing strikes me instantly. They are all so busy. Their calendars are full and their mail boxes are overflowing. They have many problems to solve, decisions to make and urgent and important things to get done – a new acquisition to integrate, a big account to win, an IR fire in a factory to put out, some CXO hire to close out, some headcount reduction to complete, a disgruntled employee’s complaint to the CEO to resolve and so on. Having exited corporate life as a CHRO 15 years ago, I shudder at the thought of doing one of these jobs today.

This picture is a far cry from the image of CHROs as men or women sitting in a corner office on the 15th floor, coming up with great strategies, conceptualising new OD interventions, ideating on the next big HR breakthrough and generally flexing their grey cells and sharing their wisdom.

Does that mean today’s HR leaders are operational and not strategic? Well, if being focussed on results and getting things done under trying circumstances is defined as operational then every CEO of any business today is extremely operational. In fact, the divide between operational and strategic is irrelevant today.  

Since CEOs are focussed on getting things done, they are certainly likely to expect their CHROs to focus on execution and get things done too and that to me is good news. It is good news because it is indicative of HR being very close to business and business results.

In fact, leadership roles in HR are no different from leadership roles in other functions today. There is a huge premium on execution and on doing what it takes to keep the wheels of business moving.

That brings me to the rhetorical question – should CHROs be wise or young?

The fact that more and more Boards are hiring CEOs who are young and energetic is indicative of the sharp focus on execution that is demanded of the role.  

What is true for CEOs will be true for CHROs. I strongly believe that HR leaders of today and tomorrow need to be young and have the energy to cope with the huge operational demands of their roles. There is little room for those without the energy to act.

Of course, it goes without saying that the winning CHROs of tomorrow would be the ones who can combine their youthful energy with wisdom.

Like Joel A Barker said, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”