Harnessing interpersonal skills to bridge digital realities, the new Chief Human Resources Officer stands front and centre in a hybrid world.

One of the greatest opportunities for the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) to shine has been in leading the post-pandemic transition to hybrid working. No longer seen as a background player, today’s CHRO has taken on a pivotal role in steering businesses towards success in a digital environment. The ability of CHROs to attract global talent and motivate employees in this new context can determine whether businesses thrive or flounder, highlighting the importance of the HR function to the overall health of any organisation.

Gone are the days when remote work was reserved for managers or directors, and only on occasion. Today, it is common for companies to let employees work remotely some or even all of the time, and many employees now expect this flexibility. In fact, an August 2021 report by PwC found that 41% of remote workers surveyed never want to go back to the office – up from 29% in January. According to McKinsey, barring work that must be performed on-site, most executives expect that employees will be at the office one to four days per week in the post-pandemic future.

In our Eight Executive Trends 2021, we predicted that hybrid working would be here to stay, putting the spotlight on the role of the CHRO. From talent acquisition to workforce engagement and corporate culture, the CHRO’s scope has been significantly broadened by the additional variables of a hybrid world. It is the HR leader who must navigate these changes by developing new processes and solutions, often in close collaboration with the rest of the C-suite.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

After a year and a half of facing major HR challenges and disruption, the CHRO has emerged as a key figure in guiding businesses towards stability in the hybrid future. Modern CHROs will need both excellent people skills and the willingness to adopt digital tools to build an inclusive culture that brings hybrid workforces together.

  • Today’s CHRO must keep the workforce engaged while addressing the new variables of hybrid working, including the return to the office, remote team leadership, mental health and wellbeing, and the prevention of location-based bias.
  • With access to an expanded global talent pool, innovative CHROs are reimagining talent acquisition and retention by focusing on the employer value proposition and investing in employee reskilling.
  • The new CHRO is a core member of the C-suite. Empathy and leadership skills are crucial to success, but so is fluency with technology and sharp business acumen.

Download full PDF 8 Executive Trends 2022


Laying the building blocks of a hybrid workplace

Many businesses that switched to remote work at short notice are now facing the challenge of when and how to return to the office. Uncertainty has been a key issue for leadership teams and, consequently, for employees. Worse still, a lack of communication on this subject can be detrimental to worker wellbeing, contributing to anxiety and even tempting some to set their sights elsewhere.

In this respect, it is up to the CHRO to establish a clear path towards the hybrid future. To ease the transition, astute CHROs are encouraging rather than obligating employees to return to the office on a phased basis. Part of that involves creating incentives that draw workers back to the workplace. As Agnieszka Kulikowska, Senior Partner Poland & Baltics, observes, “The office has changed from being a place to work to becoming a place to interact with people.” In order to facilitate teamwork and collaboration, HR leaders need to examine how they can foster a safe, inclusive and flexible environment.

As some colleagues return to physical offices, it is vital that their remote peers do not feel excluded or unfairly treated. In an August 2021 survey by PwC, executives cited corporate culture as the biggest challenge to making hybrid working successful. The CHRO must take the helm in building a corporate culture that cultivates a sense of belonging no matter where employees are based. Raphael Asseo, Partner Switzerland, points out, “Establishing an understandable, liveable and inclusive culture is essential for employees to take joy and pride in their work and their organisation.”

One way to ensure that workers are treated fairly is to implement consistent policies regarding matters such as working time, performance evaluation and information security. Whether at the office or working from home, no employee should feel at a disadvantage based on their location. CHROs should be equally at ease with digital tools and social skills as both are essential to building reliable, impartial systems and an inclusive culture in a hybrid context.

The hybrid workplace has also pushed concerns over employee mental health and wellbeing to the forefront. Barriers between working hours, rest and holidays have been threatened by the shift to remote working, and preventing burnout should be a priority for HR departments. The CHRO needs excellent people skills in order to regularly take the pulse of the workforce and to transmit a caring style of management throughout the organisation. Soft skills are especially important for managers to engage remote teams, and HR leaders should encourage managers to take a more holistic goal-oriented approach to performance.

Casting a wider net in the global talent pool

The flexibility of hybrid working has made the market for talent much more dynamic. Jessica Whitehead, Senior Partner UK, explains, “Many professionals are making different decisions about their careers. There are plenty of opportunities, and it is a very candidate-led market, so talent acquisition is high on the agenda for many organisations.”

Many professionals are making different decisions about their careers. There are plenty of opportunities, and it is a very candidate-led market, so talent acquisition is high on the agenda for many organisations.

Jessica Whitehead, Senior Partner UK

Even though talent acquisition is a priority, most companies have struggled to fully adapt to this fast-moving environment. McKinsey reports that nearly two-thirds of organisations transferred in-person recruiting events and activities to remote settings during the pandemic, but only one in three have reimagined hiring from the ground up.

Successful HR leaders understand that adjusting to hybrid recruitment involves more than simply moving traditional processes online. Remote work has transformed the rules of recruitment, as Rodrigo Escudero, Director Peru, notes: “Nowadays, companies are competing for talent not only with other companies from the same country but with the entire market. Therefore, it is crucial that they build an attractive employee value proposition.”

With younger generations representing up to two-thirds of the workforce, a major challenge for organisations is both recruiting and retaining talent. Strategic CHROs know they must understand the full talent cycle, from attracting candidates to measuring retention. Since top candidates often take job offers out of desire, not necessity, the employer brand is even more critical. This is one reason why sustainability and corporate responsibility have become bigger priorities for many HR departments.

Nowadays, companies are competing for talent not only with other companies from the same country but with the entire market. Therefore, it is crucial that they build an attractive employee value proposition.

Rodrigo Escudero, Director Peru

To remain competitive, HR leaders must continue focusing on engaging and retaining talent. “The new biggest trend is working remotely from abroad, also known as the ‘workation’. Many companies are discussing this, and I believe that more companies will allow employees to work from abroad in the future.” Such flexibility can be especially attractive to globally mobile younger candidates. Meanwhile, CHROs would be wise to invest in relevant training opportunities for their workforce, which can help attract talent and improve retention.

Identifying the skills of a people-first leader

The modern CHRO will play a key role in leading organisations through the challenges of the hybrid future. A sense of empathy and effective communication skills are even more vital in a context where leaders are often conveying ideas and reaching agreements through digital platforms. At the same time, an appreciation of data and technology, along with overall business knowledge, are fundamental for CHROs to reimagine the employee experience in a way that benefits people and the organisation as a whole.

When searching for HR leaders, recruiters should look for evidence of soft as well as hard skills. The CHRO must be able to lead and build partnerships across the C-suite while also demonstrating warmth and receptiveness towards all levels of the workforce. Behavioural assessments and insightful referrals, including those from former direct reports as well as colleagues, can all help to shed light on a candidate’s leadership history and suitability for the role.

Above all, today’s CHRO should be motivated by a sense of purpose to drive the business forward by caring for its most important resource: human talent. The CHRO is no longer a side role or a crisis management figure within the executive leadership team, but a core member with far-reaching influence. Asseo shares a telling example: “I’m searching for a candidate for an organisation where the former CHRO was very much appreciated, so the bar is high. It’s great to see that the leader left on such good terms. From the first day until the last, the CHRO role should be a positive, rewarding journey.”

Download full PDF 8 Executive Trends 2022


KEY TAKEAWAYS

After a year and a half of facing major HR challenges and disruption, the CHRO has emerged as a key figure in guiding businesses towards stability in the hybrid future. Modern CHROs will need both excellent people skills and the willingness to adopt digital tools to build an inclusive culture that brings hybrid workforces together.

  • Today’s CHRO must keep the workforce engaged while addressing the new variables of hybrid working, including the return to the office, remote team leadership, mental health and wellbeing, and the prevention of location-based bias.
  • With access to an expanded global talent pool, innovative CHROs are reimagining talent acquisition and retention by focusing on the employer value proposition and investing in employee reskilling.
  • The new CHRO is a core member of the C-suite. Empathy and leadership skills are crucial to success, but so is fluency with technology and sharp business acumen.

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