Companies should create pathways for senior HR employees to feed into executive positions, as they have a deep understanding of the inner workings of the business.
Jacqui Curtis is the acting chief operating officer (COO) at the Australian Tax Office, a long-time AHRI member, the former head of HR at the ATO, and has spent much of her career working in HR.
One of the observations Jacqui made in an interview in this month’s print edition of HRM magazine, was that because HR is positioned to get a bird’s eye of all departments in an enterprise, it is well placed to think strategically, bring teams together and take a holistic, non-partisan view across the entire organisation.
That unique position, she said, makes HR ideally positioned for the top job. Yet she notes that chief HR officers (CHROs) are not commonly seen as feeder roles for COO or CEO.
Aligning HR skills with leadership requirements
Jacqui’s view aligns with the research perspectives of Korn Ferry partner Ellie Filler and University of Michigan professor Dave Ulrich, as published in the Harvard Business Review in December 2014. They looked at C-suite positions such as CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CIO and CHRO, and noted that after CEOs and COOs, CHROs were the next best paid with an average salary base of $574,000 – 33 per cent more than chief marketing officers (CMOs).
Filler and Ulrich also looked at leadership styles, thinking styles, and emotional competency or how HR “deals with such things as ambiguity, pressure and risk taking”. They found a striking similarity of traits among executives in the CEO, COO and CHRO roles.
Diversity of experience
With some provisos, the researchers thought companies should more often consider CHROs when filling the CEO role. One proviso was the need to have worked in roles other than HR. In that regards, they noted that the present General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy had, in the past, run the HR operations of their respective companies, among other roles that required a balance of technical and ‘softer’ people leadership skills.
Closer to home are business leaders such as Ross Miller, the general manager of St George Bank’s retail banking, who has previously led human resources in most divisions of the Westpac Group, and Professor Carol Dickenson, the senior deputy vice-chancellor at the Queensland University of Technology, whose background includes senior HR roles.
Professor Dickenson and Ross Miller are now in more general group executive roles and are seen as part of a pipeline of senior roles beyond HR. They are also members of AHRI’s National Certification Council, the body overseeing the certification of HR practitioners.
Like Jacqui Curtis, they have since moved to very senior executive positions from HR, and they both sit strongly behind AHRI’s certification strategy to build respect from within so it leads to HR certified practitioners being seen as possessing a commensurate degree of influence, authority and gravitas.
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 edition of HRM magazine.