The role of chief human resource officer (CHRO) is one of the most important in any company — and it’s expanding. CHROs today must support an organization’s overall strategic direction across recruiting, compensation, talent and performance management, succession planning, training, development and more. And, if that wasn’t enough, they must grow their own knowledge in the quickly changing landscape of human capital capability and workforce planning, all while leading their respective organizations’ adaptation toward the digitization of everything.
As members of the C-suite, CHROs in today’s successful and forward-looking organizations can’t only focus on the day-to-day operations of the HR department. They must also provide high-level business guidance and leadership to the executive team as well as the board and shareholders. This requires effectively planning for sweeping changes on the horizon around how, where and why work gets done. Namely, new workforce models, leadership skills and talent needs are just around the corner. If the CHRO isn’t planning for it, who is?
In my mind, the role of the CHRO must evolve to become a “future of work expert.” The CHRO needs to understand — and strategize in advance of — emerging trends that will have huge impacts on organizations and workforces of the future. Here are a few key focus areas.
A New, Agile Organizational Structure
Organizations cannot continue to rely on traditional workforce models, but rather must adapt to become more nimble — and CHROs should own and steer those efforts. Specifically, they can design agile workforce models that enable companies to proactively anticipate talent needs, adjust in real time and leverage a variety of employment arrangements to achieve their goals.
The most critical way CHROs can take the lead is by adjusting recruiting and hiring strategies and facilitating new work environments to support what will be an ever-changing mix of temporary, contract, consultant and freelance contributors. They must become experts at maximizing remote workforces and championing the use of technology to engage agile workers for collaboration and training, and they must also prepare for compliance and legal issues related to agile staffing. Finally, they’ll need to align with other C-suite leaders on the role of agile employees — and how these employees will be managed.
For decades, the workplace has been structured as a highly controlled environment, with a reporting system that funnels down from the CEO. But the traditional structure doesn’t support the adaptability and collaboration the future of work will require. As a result, CHROs will need to break down existing functional silos and rethink traditional organization charts in order to make more agile structures possible. The era of hierarchical networks for organizing work will disappear as collaborative networks for decision making become the norm.
Understanding Behavioral Shifts To Secure Talent
With the labor market so tight, finding the right full-time hire for a specific need is increasingly difficult. That’s why shifting toward more agile workforce models — which aligns with employees’ preferences — is so important. Indeed, in our Randstad Workplace 2025 study, 68% of workers said agile work arrangements better fit their lifestyles. Meanwhile, 48% said agile work arrangements afford better opportunities for career growth and 56% said these arrangements translate to higher compensation.
Another major transition in the talent market CHROs must address is workforce flexibility. Employees are increasingly blending their personal and work activities throughout the day, and organizations that remain rigid will likely miss out on top talent. Today’s workforce is focused on work-life fluidity — not work-life balance. CHROs will need to work collaboratively, and gain executive and managerial buy-in, in order to get support for practices such as flex-time or job-sharing to enhance workforce flexibility.
Putting Culture And Diversity Front And Center
Company culture has taken center stage in recent years, becoming a make-or-break factor in hiring and retention. In turn, it has become a central concern for CHROs. In addition to leading day-to-day HR operations, CHROs must serve as custodians of culture, designing specific programs and strategies to ensure a healthy and engaged workplace where all team members feel they are valued and having an impact on the business. Certainly, the importance of workplace culture is only going to increase going forward.
No less critical to top talent today is diversity and inclusion (D&I), which means diversity in every sense: age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, background and perspective. Great CHROs are already focusing on the inclusion component of D&I. This should be a business priority, particularly given more diverse companies tend to outperform less diverse companies.
What’s more, millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, and they’ve brought with them a greater desire to imbue work with a sense of purpose, meaning and impact. To stay competitive in 2019 and beyond, CHROs will need to help organizations communicate not only the “how” of work, but also the “why.”
Ensuring The Right Future Leadership Competencies Are In Place
With unprecedented change in how work gets done and is organized, CHROs need to ensure the right kind of leadership is in place to support future needs. After all, many of the ways managers and executives have traditionally led are no longer relevant today. In fact, as I’ve written, many of the leadership competencies required in the future will actually run opposite to what today’s leaders have learned to prioritize throughout their careers.
It’s the CHRO’s role to ensure organizations are developing the right kind of leaders for tomorrow. Hiring for and nurturing those competencies to extend their organization’s leadership philosophy beyond management and control toward empathy helps team members decompress from the always-on pressures of work and empowers employees for innovation and decision making at every level.
The mandate for CHROs is a tall order: navigating ongoing disruption, minimizing organizational risk and understanding internal and external drivers of change. Today, forward-thinking HR leaders are already applying advanced technologies to analyze historic data and make predictions about the future. Only by bringing together this combination of vision, insight and strategy will CHROs be able to serve as “future of work experts” — and lead the charge in building the organizations of tomorrow.