HRO Today is celebrating its 10th year recognizing HR leaders with its CHRO of the Year awards. Here, former winners share their thoughts on the current and future state of HR.
By Debbie Bolla
It’s hard to believe that it’s the 10th year that we’re honoring CHROs for their many accomplishments to their organizations and the business world at large through HRO Today’s CHRO of the Year awards. Through the years, their achievements have been tremendous, and we’ve been here to witness it all: improved workflow processes; successful transitions through M&As; employee experience changes to boost engagement and retention; forward-thinking DEIB initiatives; successful HR technology implementations; supportive benefits and well-being programs; and more.
It’s been an honor for all of us at HRO Today to present these awards each year to innovative individuals. Often, it’s HR that does all the recognizing and no one recognizes them—but this program does just that. And its impact is felt. Tim Mulligan, CHRO of BenLABS, was awarded in 2016 for his work at the San Diego Zoo. “It was a great honor winning this award back in 2016 and I truly think it was the impetus for taking my career in new and exciting directions that I had not envisioned prior to then,” he says.
Because it’s all about HR. “HR is the heartbeat of an organization,” says Alex Smith, CHRO of the City of Memphis and 2020 winner. “It plays a critical role in ensuring that organizations have the talent to succeed through setting the strategy, advising, and administering the processes for recruiting and retaining talent.”
Mulligan agrees that the current and constant focus on talent has created an immense responsibility that ultimately falls on HR leaders’ shoulders. In fact, according to research from pwc, 63% of CEOs are concerned about talent and the availability of key skills. But HR often has the answer. “A strong HR department truly shifts and sets the culture for an organization, creating and administering top-notch, culture-specific, best-in-class employee experiences that engage, motivate, retain, and attract top talent,” he explains.
HR’s strategic work in alignment with the CEO and the rest of the C-suite in recent years has shifted priorities. “All companies have gone through a lot over the last three years due to COVID, supply chain challenges, worker shortages, our focus on human rights and adjusting to work from home in many cases,” says Brian Little, vice president, human resources – corporate functions for Intel Corporation and 2017 winner. “Great HR is great business strategy, integrating the people practices to achieve organizational goals. HR leaders must be exceptional business experts with the strategic lens of human capital management.”
Kevin Silva, EVP and CHRO for Voya Financial and 2018 winner, says HR leaders are changemakers, driving business goals forward. “A successful HR organization is tightly aligned with the board of directors, CEO, and each member of the senior leadership team in executing company strategy,” he notes. “HR can have a significant impact on an organization if their actions and activities underpin the strategy of the company – both financially and in regard to human capital.”
On the 2023 Agenda
What are the top priorities facing HR executives this year? Our roundup says that talent retention, the employee experience, well-being, and HR technology are the main drivers of the agenda.
The stress of the last few years has really added up. In fact, 76% of workers experience psychological symptoms of stress. Workers are seeking support from their organizations to help reduce burnout and improve their mental health. “Employee well-being is top of mind for us at Voya right now,” agrees Silva. “Although hybrid and remote work have been embraced by employees and many companies, there are also challenges to this new environment. Employees who work remotely can experience loss of focus, feelings of isolation and detachment, and a wide range of other mental health issues. Combined with the personal challenges and responsibilities employees face, these new realities require HR leaders, to prioritize employees’ total well-being.”
At Voya, the HR team is approaching it holistically by supporting employees through mental, physical, and financial well-being programs as well as being open to flexibility that is aligned to individual needs.
For Smith, it’s all about keeping top performers happy and engaged. “Talent retention is a top priority, so we focus on manager and leadership capability,” she explains. “I believe that the key to retaining employees is for managers and employees to have a healthy, respectful, and meaningful relationship. Enabling our leaders to establish trust quickly and set clear goals will make a difference.”
Mulligan sees the employee experience as key to retention. “At my organization, we are really focused now on scaling and inspiring, making sure we have the right foundation in place for an amazing workplace, scaling appropriately, and inspiring our people to do their best work, and feel a strong sense of belonging, inclusion, and adherence to our vision and values along the way,” he explains.
Little says HR feels the pressure of worker shortages—and he doesn’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. He looks to technology to help solve these challenges. “AI is very new to HR and will impact our field in a big way,” he says. “Its impact will be profound on hiring, talent management, and HR operations.”
Mulligan and Smith also have their eyes on AI and technology. “AI is changing the game. I believe HR for the future will focus on employer branding and culture and how to build talent who can problem solve and scale fast,” says Smith.
For Mulligan: “The thriving HR department of the future needs to be uber focused on the latest in technology and technological advance that affect the workplace, as well as cutting-edge leadership development programs, and adjusting to—and blazing new paths—in the new normal of a hybrid workplace.”
The future does look bright for HR. “The role of HR is evolving,” says Silva. “To be successful and thrive in the future, an HR leader must understand strategy and financial economics, as well as link all of their workforce’s efforts to the accomplishment of the strategy and financial goals.”
And there will be a need to recognize HR leaders—through the CHRO of the Year awards—for years to come. “I don’t believe there has ever been a better time to be in HR,” says Little. “Businesses need our expertise and our ability to execute through the most complicated situations.”