What Is a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)? Everything You Need to Know

Amber Biela-Weyenberg | Content Strategist | February 16, 2024

Chief human resources officers (CHROs) have always played an integral role in their organization’s success by creating and executing talent management, learning and development, and other HR strategies while cultivating company culture and ensuring that the organization complies with myriad regulations. Simply put, a CHRO needs a wide range of skills to succeed.

The position, once considered an administrative function, has evolved in recent years. Fellow executives, including the CEO, now regard CHROs as trusted advisors and partner with them to develop business strategies and make critical decisions.

What Is a Chief Human Resources Officer?

A chief human resources officer (CHRO) is an executive who oversees the management of an organization’s people, which includes creating and enforcing the labor practices and policies that impact them. A company may refer to a CHRO as a chief people officer or chief personnel officer or employ someone who fulfills this role under a different title, such as vice president of human resources.

As the leader of the HR department, CHROs supervise several functional areas that affect a business and its employees, including recruiting and staffing, compensation, compliance with local and federal laws, employee and labor relations, employee training and development, benefits, and payroll.

Key Takeaways

  • A CHRO leads the HR department as a member of the C-suite and is sometimes called a chief people officer or given another title.
  • CHROs typically have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR or a related business field.
  • Competencies that help CHROs excel in their role include leadership skills, emotional intelligence, data literacy, business acumen, and the ability to communicate clearly.
  • The role of the CHRO has evolved from a mostly administrative position to that of a strategic business partner to other C-level executives, including the CEO.

CHRO Responsibilities

Organizations often say their people are their most valuable resource because achieving business goals is much more likely with a skilled, ambitious, conscientious workforce. CHROs use their extensive experience to help their organizations bring in, nurture, and retain the best people. These are some of their responsibilities.

Talent management

Talent management is an organization’s overarching strategy for managing its employees and covers several key areas.

  • Acquisition. Sourcing and hiring the best candidate for each role.
  • Onboarding. The process of helping new hires acclimate to the organization. Onboarding includes informing new hires of company policies, procedures, and culture, introducing them to people they should know, and giving them the tools and technology they need to do their jobs.
  • Retention. An organization’s strategy for keeping high-performing employees from leaving the organization.
  • Compensation and benefits. Includes salary, bonuses, vacation time, retirement plans, insurance, and other offerings that help with recruitment and retention. CHROs may want to review their company’s offerings regularly to ensure they’re competitive. CHROs are also responsible for ensuring pay equity.
  • Performance management. Developing workers to perform at their best in their current roles.
  • Training and development. Helping employees learn new skills to stay current and advance their careers.
  • Succession planning. Identifying and developing employees who can move into critical roles when they become available.

Employee experience

Includes every interaction workers have with an organization from the moment they apply for a job to when they leave or retire. Factors that shape a positive employee experience include people having access to the tools they need to do their jobs well, feeling respected and valued, and receiving fair compensation and equitable treatment.

Workplace culture

The collective sum of the behaviors, standards, and shared values in an organization’s work environment. While achieving a positive and welcoming workplace culture is every leader’s responsibility, CHROs oversee many areas that affect it, including the employee experience.

Regulatory compliance

Adhering to national, local, and industry-specific employment and workplace laws and regulations. For example, most CHROs must ensure their organizations comply with antidiscrimination, minimum wage, employee data privacy, workplace safety, family and medical leave, and other requirements.

Change management

Setting up processes to help employees deal with ever-changing business needs and giving them the tools to manage that change effectively. For example, mergers and acquisitions require lots of planning to ensure a smooth transition and minimize the adverse impacts on employees.

Human capital management (HCM) technology

Making strategic decisions in partnership with IT and other areas of the business to select, implement, manage, and train employees on applications that manage the different functional areas of HR. Picking the right technology can deliver increased business agility and value.

How to Become a CHRO

CHROs and chief people officers typically have spent many years working in human resources, mastering different functional areas before ascending to the C-suite. In 2021, 84% of CHROs and CPOs at Fortune 200 companies had at least 10 to 15 years of HR expertise, reports the Talent Strategy Group. While each journey is different, these steps can help you on your way to becoming a CHRO.

1. Bring a diversity of experiences

Typically, a CHRO has a bachelor’s degree in HR, business administration, or a related field, and many have an MBA or MS degree in HR. But it’s not uncommon for CHROs to come from outside the HR organization, bringing related expertise in finance, people analytics, or labor relations from working on the operational side of the business. Even for those who started in the HR organization, it’s important to develop a variety of competencies, such as project management, recruiting, training, and benefits administration, as well as softer skills, such as interpersonal communication and team building. Most commonly, CHROs hold the title of director or vice president of HR before becoming a CHRO.

2. Hone your leadership and social skills

The ability to lead is essential for future CHROs. They must instill confidence, act proactively and decisively, and guide their teams and companies through difficult, and sometimes crisis, situations. Advanced social skills, such as active listening, clear communication, and working well with people from different backgrounds, are also important. CHROs must deal with high organizational complexity, possible visibility with social media, and must be able to handle sensitive situations with a human touch.

3. Acquire a deep understanding of the business

The best CHROs understand their business and can speak its language as well as their C-suite colleagues. This is critical to ensuring that the HR organization’s hiring, training, diversity, culture-building, safety, and other efforts align with business priorities as well as industry and government regulations. And it’s also essential for effectively partnering with the CEO as a strategic advisor.

4. Continue to learn

Like doctors, lawyers, and accountants, CHROs must keep current on the latest research, regulations, industry trends, innovations, and accreditations. That includes staying up to date with current compensation levels for key roles, changes in employment laws, advances in HCM technology, rulings in landmark HR-related legal cases, and the latest thinking on talent recruitment and management.

5. Build your network

Sometimes landing a senior HR executive job or being aware one is available comes down to who you know. Grow your network by attending HR events, joining professional associations, and staying in touch with peers in the field. Ensure that your boss and close colleagues understand your ambition so they can support you along the way. You may also want to find a mentor who has taken a path similar to yours.

Qualifications and Skills of a CHRO

While there’s no one path to becoming a CHRO, the following qualifications and skills are desirable:

  • A master’s degree in HR or a related business field
  • Experience in a variety of HR functional areas
  • Experience managing individuals, teams, and projects
  • Leadership experience
  • Experience with mergers and acquisitions
  • Strong listening and communication skills
  • Advanced problem-solving skills
  • High emotional intelligence
  • Competence in building and refining work cultures
  • Data and digital literacy
  • Business acumen

The Evolving Role of the CHRO

The role of the CHRO has evolved from a mostly administrative position to that of a trusted advisor and strategic partner to the CEO and other C-suite members. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed CHROs front and center, as they were charged with keeping their organizations operational while protecting the health and safety of their workforces and adhering to fluctuating guidance and industry regulations. Hiring freezes and worker shortages also required them to quickly develop plans to upskill employees and find creative ways to account for talent gaps.

In a 2023 survey by consultancy Mercer, CHROs identified the following three areas as those they wish they’d known more about when they started in their roles: HR data analytics and insights (41%), non-HR topics, such as finance (40%), and how to work with the board of directors (39%). When asked how they see the role of the CHRO changing (multiple responses were allowed), 79% of survey respondents chose “more strategic managing in the face of disruption,” 60% chose “increased use of technology and automation,” 54% chose “greater dependence on predictive analytics,” and 41% chose “focus on skill-building across the organization.”

Help Your Workforce Connect, Grow, and Thrive with Oracle ME

Amid talent and skills shortages across industries, CHROs are feeling more pressure to improve the employee experience to retain top performers. Oracle ME, part of the Oracle Fusion Cloud Human Capital Management suite of applications, helps HR teams keep employees engaged through personalized experiences that meet their individual needs. The applications include features for guiding employees through professional and personal activities, delivering responsive HR service, streamlining employee communication across the organization, and strengthening employee-manager relationships to build connection and promote overall well-being.

CHRO FAQs

What does a CHRO do?
As the leader of the HR organization, CHROs oversee hiring, onboarding, training, compensation, performance management, culture, benefits, and other “people functions” in line with company objectives while ensuring the company complies with government and industry labor regulations.

What education is necessary to become a CHRO?
Most CHROs have a bachelor’s degree in HR or a related business field. Many also have a master’s in HR or an MBA degree.

How do CHROs work with CEOs?
CHROs partner with their CEOs to create talent management and other HR strategies to support the business’s main goals. They offer CEOs their advice and insights on all employee matters and their impact on the organization.

6 CHRO Strategies to Connect Employee Success and Business Growth

CHROs face a chasm between employee expectations and business goals. Here’s how to bridge the gap.