LEADERSHIP INSIGHTS

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Grace M. Palombo

Grace M. Palombo
Great-West Lifeco Inc

Jamie Wilson

Jamie Wilson
Criticaleye

Vicky Wallis

Vicky Wallis
Direct Line Group

Chin Seng Lee

Chin Seng Lee
Criticaleye

Gone are the days of the CHRO as simply the keeper of personnel files and payroll. Today's CHRO is a strategic powerhouse, a trusted advisor to the C-suite and a champion for the entire organisation. This transformation reflects the evolving needs of businesses in a competitive and ever-changing landscape. 
 
This shift necessitates a new skillset for CHROs. They must be strategic thinkers, able to translate business objectives into actionable HR initiatives and leverage data to identify talent gaps, measure the effectiveness of HR programmes and inform strategic decision-making.  
 
In this article, Members from Criticaleye’s Community assess the mindset, capabilities and skills that people leaders need to be a future-ready, high-performing CHRO. 
 
This is what they have to say: 
 
 
Grace Palombo, Executive Vice-president and CHRO, Great-West Lifeco
 
My mantra and way of keeping things simple is to return to my role's purpose, which is to increase the organisation's performance. If I narrow it down, my role is to grow and support the CEO and executive team's performance. When I went into one of my first leadership roles, I thought if I could increase the performance of the CEO by just one percent, such as to help them be a more effective communicator, or help them build a high-functioning executive team, then there is a tremendous ripple effect. 
 
The senior HR leader has three critical areas of responsibility. The core one is making sure you have a high-performing HR function. I make sure I have the best talent, that I'm developing talent in the function and that I have succession.  
 
It's also about ensuring HR has the proper and necessary programmes for the business. I call it being a ‘business relations person’, whether to the CEO, the executive team, the Board of directors and even the regulators. It's ensuring that they get the advice, direction and a little oversight to help them perform as well as possible.  
 
The third aspect of my job is the strategic, proactive part. That's being an ambassador and champion for the organisation on behalf of its people; being the culture keeper and the individual constantly focused on employee experience and engagement. Being a successful HR leader is having experience in all three areas and quickly moving from one area to another without letting any of them drop. 
 
 
Jamie Wilson, Managing Director, Group Services, Criticaleye 
 
Today's high-performing CHRO is a strategic architect, not just an administrative leader. They possess a multifaceted skill set, pivotal for nurturing an agile mindset within the organisation. This evolution is essential for staying ahead in a talent landscape that is continuously shifting, marked by rapid technological advancements and changing workforce expectations. 
 
At Criticaleye, we've worked with many businesses on leadership capabilities and fostering a high-performing mindset, over the years. In my experience, an effective CHRO drives the organisation's growth by promoting a culture steeped in continuous learning and development. This not only empowers employees but also ensures that the organisation remains adaptive and innovative. 
 
High-performing CHROs also excel in communication, adeptly conveying the HR department's strategic value to stakeholders at all levels. This skill is crucial for aligning HR's objectives with the broader corporate strategy, ensuring a seamless integration between the C-suite's vision and the workforce's execution. Such leaders are also at the forefront of advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion. By championing these values, they create a work environment that not only attracts but also retains a diverse pool of top talent, fostering a sense of belonging and community. 
 
This commitment to inclusivity is not just ethical but strategic, as diverse teams have been shown to be more innovative and better equipped to navigate complex global markets. In essence, a CHRO can be the cornerstone of organisational success, blending strategic insight with a deep commitment to fostering an inclusive, dynamic and learning-oriented work culture. 
 
 
Vicky Wallis, Chief People Officer, Direct Line Group 
 
As CHRO, you play a pivotal role in supporting and being an advisor to both the Board and the ExCo, regarding how to carefully manage a turnaround and ensure that you retain key people in the organisation. It’s also important to keep an eye on communication, stay clear on the plans you are putting together to execute the turnaround and how you will ensure that everybody in the organisation is on that journey with you. You also need to keep the Board appropriately aware of some of the risks that might be emerging during such a period and what [controls] you’re putting in place to manage and mitigate them. 
 
A high-performing HR function understands what's affecting the business and what people priorities will enable the business to succeed. It needs to be connected to the strategy and involved in the different definitions of that strategy — you then have to pivot, adapt and design a people strategy to support that.  
 
Increasingly, I think data-driven and informed decisions are going to be key. So, HR needs to be more comfortable and confident in using data to make decisions. You must be trusted and strategic in your thinking and views. If you remain too operational, you're missing an opportunity. 
 
 
Chin Seng Lee, Non-executive Director, Fei Yue and Board Mentor, Criticaleye 
  
If the last few years were about wellness and authenticity, 2024 marks a new era of BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear and Incomprehensible) which calls for a change in our world view. We’re currently experiencing choppy economic conditions, from the tech sector slowdown to China’s economic deceleration, geopolitical uncertainties and multiple ‘significant’ countries having elections in 2024. There are also local and regional conflicts affecting global trade and economic decoupling or sanctions, plus the deafening hum of Generative AI. 
 
From an HR perspective, CHROs are figuring out what the new leadership models and human capabilities will be that will re-define a company’s competitive advantage.   
 
In terms of human capabilities, CHROs are already working on building digital capability and competency. The next piece of work is to map out the ‘current use’ of GenAI to ‘near-term future use’ and ‘long-term future use’ in your specific organisation, layering this lens on the value chain. CHROs can then articulate a transformation glide path to steer the organisation and narrate a positive future.   
 
Many Boards are moving beyond their traditional focus on governance to look into talent and capabilities. Some Boards have renamed their ‘Nomination and Renumeration Committee’ to ‘Nomination and Talent Committee’ to reflect this new focus. There is no better time to be a CHRO in the evolution of the HR profession.   
 
CHROs who can educate, elevate and facilitate talent development and succession planning conversations in the Boardroom and embed this practice into the Board’s DNA (versus a once-a-year conversation) will be well appreciated. 
 
 
Bridgette Hall, Senior Editor, Criticaleye 

Whether you're considering stepping up to a Group role or need support to improve your influence with the Board or RemCo, Criticaleye provides HR Directors, CHROs, Chief People Officers and other HR leaders with access to experienced peers and insights. We support HRDs looking for leadership development solutions for themselves and groups of executives within their organisation. Please click here to speak to one of our team members about joining our global Community.

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