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The Essential Capabilities of a 21st Century CHRO

Change is clearly a dominant theme in the 21st century. With modern trends like the digital revolution, globalization, talent shortages, greater workforce mobility, and a multigenerational workforce, long-established business models are facing disruption on many different fronts, and companies seeking to maintain competitive advantage must be more agile and flexible than ever before.

One of the keys to business success in today’s volatile economic environment is attracting and retaining the best talent. As such, industry leading organizations are recognizing the importance of the role of HR leaders to their continued success. Once known for simply managing traditional personnel and administrative tasks, roles for Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) are evolving beyond siloed people initiatives.

The success of a company’s efforts to attract and retain key personnel is directly linked to business success and profitability. As a result, many organizations are now asking their CHROs to work directly with the executive team to create a talent strategy that aligns with the company’s business goals. Modern CHROs have become key strategic business partners with CEOs and CFOs and work to create effective strategies for a dynamic workplace environment that involves constant change.

The role of a 21st century CHRO has expanded dramatically in terms of complexity, corporate impact and breadth of responsibility. In order to succeed in this expanded role, CHROs must have a diverse set of skills and knowledge that spans different disciplines and industries. In this blog, we will discuss the scope of work of a modern CHRO, along with some of the essential qualities that are necessary for success in this expanded position.

Essential Capabilities of a 21st Century CHRO

People are a company’s lifeblood. The goals, profitability, and ultimately the success of any organization lies squarely on the shoulders of its personnel. As the owner of everything having to do with the availability, utilization, motivation and longevity of personnel, the human resources (HR) department holds important keys to business success. As such, the leader of the HR department (CHRO) should be responsible for aligning the talent strategy with business strategy:

  • Succession planning
  • Talent recruitment, retention and management
  • Corporate culture
  • Organizational and talent performance
  • Training and development
  • Compensation packages

In order to accomplish this, the CHRO needs to act as a bridge between the executive team and the needs of company personnel. The CHRO should be a valuable partner to the CEO, working to unleash the organization’s potential by building, assigning and managing talent.

In a world where talent is the key differentiator between companies, CHROs in industry-leading organizations are sophisticated, strategy and data-driven professionals who work closely with the CEO to help improve company profitability. Essential tasks, capabilities, and qualities necessary for a CHRO to act as an effective strategic partner to the executive team include:

Facilitate Data-Driven Decision-Making. Industry-leading organizations are applying data analytics in many different areas, including the HR department. HR departments are sitting on a goldmine of data – recruitment data, training data, career progression data, productivity data, staff satisfaction data, absenteeism data, and more. Today’s CHROs need to be fluent in the new analytics technologies available (e.g., SaaS solutions) and leverage this data to make strategic decisions about their company’s workforce. The bottom line: successful CHROs are using data analytics tools to assess and monitor employee performance, engagement and happiness, and make better decisions about personnel recruitment, promotion, development needs, and deployment.

Manage and Steer Company Culture. Building an appealing corporate culture that stays intact as the organization grows and evolves is essential for hiring, talent retention and employee happiness. CHROs need to be the custodians of corporate culture and create programs and strategies to help ensure an engaged workplace where all team members feel valued and have an impact on the business. In addition, today’s employees want to feel a sense of purpose in their work, and CHROs can help fulfill this need by effectively communicating not just the “how” of work, but also the “why.” Finally, a strong company culture starts at the top, and it’s the CHRO’s job to make sure the company’s culture is aligned with the CEO’s vision and business goals.

Facilitate New Work Environments. Traditional, rigid workplace schedules are no longer meeting employee expectations. These days, most workers (especially Millennials and Generation Z) value collaboration and work/life balance and want greater flexibility in their work environments. As organizations struggle to attract and retain talent, today’s CHROs must work to create flexible work options that encourage collaboration, optimize productivity and innovation, allow employees to follow their preferred work style, and positively impact employee engagement.

Create an Agile, Flexible Workforce. The rise of flexible staffing strategies is changing the nature of the modern workforce, allowing companies to effectively cope with a changing business environment and maintain competitiveness. Smart companies are now asking: what percentage of my workforce should be core full-time employees vs. contract or temporary staff? CHROs should be actively involved in answering this question and implementing a flexible staffing strategy to better manage their workforce, improve operational agility, and reduce costs. Today’s CHROs must be experts at utilizing remote employees, advocating for the use of technologies for remote worker training and collaboration, and handling compliance and legal issues related to remote workers.

Diagnose Problems. When an organization is not performing well or meeting its goals, the CHRO should be able to provide valuable input on why, given that most problems are people problems. As such, CEOs and CFOs should work together with CHROs to diagnose and address problems. CHROs need to be willing and able to do the often-uncomfortable work of identifying dysfunctional relationships and/or behaviors within the company and taking appropriate action(s) to remedy the situation.

Prescribe Actions That Add Value. To succeed in a rapidly changing business environment, companies need to be flexible with their personnel, and CHROs should seek to identify and recommend actions that will unlock latent value. A few examples include:

  • Actively searching for individuals who can contribute value and then coming up with creative ways to release their talent
  • Moving someone from one manager to another to improve performance
  • Arranging coaching or professional development for an employee to strengthen a critical skill
  • Creating a new work group that brings people together from different areas to improve innovation
  • Reassigning a manager who will struggle to grow in a critical area that will be necessary for success down the road in their area of work
  • Identifying reasons that collaboration is not happening and addressing them


Given the ever-changing nature of work in today’s disruptive business environment, the job of a 21st century CHRO is more like that of chief transformation officer. The CHRO is certainly responsible for the HR team, but the bigger mandate is to positively impact the whole company – everything from employee happiness and company culture to the bottom line. A modern CHRO must have the ability to see the organization’s bigger picture, effectively predict future change, think strategically, and develop actionable steps that will improve business success now and into the future.

In order to effectively contribute to their company’s success, 21st century CHROs must have or successfully develop the skills discussed in this blog. A good partnership with an experienced and qualified staffing agency can also be highly valuable in developing an effective workforce strategy, but care must be taken to choose the right partner for your unique organization. Astrix Technology Group has been dedicated to servicing the scientific community for over 20 years as a leading provider of staffing and recruiting services. With offices and affiliates across North America, Astrix offers resources when you need them, where you need them. If you are interested in learning more about our services, or in discussing your workforce strategy with one of our scientific staffing experts, don’t hesitate to contact us.