Survival of the Fittest: How C-suite Roles Are Evolving - The CHRO

Part Five | The CHRO 

Strategist, business partner, right hand of the CEO and coach to the C-suite. Spearheading an agenda that is now central to organizational success: building a great place to work based on a compelling vision, sustainable purpose and vibrant culture. The future for the CHRO looks bright as the evolutionary process unfolds. But progress is still uneven. 

Key questions: 

  1. How has the human role domain evolved over 10 years? 
  2. What are the growing responsibilities for CHROs? How healthy is the current state of evolution?  
  3. How are the relationships between the CHRO and other C-suite roles evolving?  
  4. Is there a case for more specialist C-suite roles in the human domain? 
  5. How can organizations hire the fittest CHRO for What’s Next?  
Survival Of The Fittest CHRO

Key Messages

CHRO concerns have migrated to the core of the corporate agenda. Culture, values, sustainability and vision — factors once considered soft are now business foundation stones. The fittest CHROs are moving the organization from good to great. 

It is time to raise the bar for all CHROs. Strategy rests on human shoulders. CHROs who are well-rounded business partners are in demand. But some remain disconnected from the bigger picture of the organization. 

The CHRO belongs in the C-suite, alongside the CEO. The CHRO is increasingly the right arm of the CEO in culture-building, talent strategy and DE&I, coaching CXOs on their leadership implications. Some refuse roles that do not report to the CEO. 

The CIO/CHRO collaboration is critical. Talent strategy must embrace the implications of digitization on components of the business or the whole model. But candidates mistrust AI and the regulatory pressure is on. CHROs will need wisdom and purpose.  

A great place to work is no longer a nice-to-have. Organizations must be a community of people, rather than a group of staff — an imperative fostered by the whole management team and orchestrated by the CHRO.  

The CHRO’s role scope is widening. A great place to work means building new elements into today’s talent profile: diverse, inter-generational, inspirational leadership, new work relationship models emphasizing output above attendance, in a hybrid workplace.  

Whilst new roles are emerging in the human domain, pragmatism is essential. Multiple C-suite HR roles may signal an under-performing culture or management team. Whilst wellbeing, happiness and DE&I may need to be distinctive sub-species they do not currently belong to the C-suite and will likely be re-absorbed as organizations evolve. 

The career path to CHRO is widening, with CEO as a potential destination. Whilst some organizations still hire for technical skills, ever more are seeking business-oriented CHROs who have cycled through the HR domain as part of a wider development track. Given this, the CHRO may well be a future candidate for CEO. 

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CHRO concerns have migrated to the core of the corporate agenda 

“The top layer has to encompass a strong culture, values and a sustainable strategy and vision,” says one Amrop Managing Partner. “And that’s going to be key for whatever you do. Be it composing your management team, your workforce planning and so forth.”  

Today’s fittest organizations know that organizational success rests upon human shoulders. Furthermore, purpose, ethical values, principles and culture are critical in attracting and retaining today’s executives. They rank high for 90% in deciding whether to join an organization1

An Amrop Board Member cites a toy company. “We started working with them as a 100-million-dollar business, who many years later went public as a billion-dollar business. We helped them to appoint an HR executive from a major bank. She’s been instrumental in helping change the culture and driving this business to its next iteration as a public company.” 

Shining examples aside, has the HR role really grown in importance? “Yes, for sure,” says this Amrop Partner. “Five to ten years ago there was a discussion as to whether HR or ‘People’ should be on the executive agenda or whether it was more of a compliance, contractual, legal discussion. Many times we saw CHRO role positions put under the CFO. We rarely see that anymore.” 

The Amrop Board Member explains: “You might have the best strategy but unless you have the right people who can implement it’s all for nothing. It takes a CHRO to be a true business partner, to think strategically…to engage the CEO, board and C-suite around what it’s going to take to bring in the necessary people.”  

But for one Amrop Managing Partner, the human domain still faces a mountain: “It hasn’t really evolved, that’s the problem. There has been insufficient integration and strategic learning.” Why? “CHROs are still busy with payroll, hiring and admin, and there may be some succession planning, but they do it all in the traditional way.” Culture, sustainability and vision are often undercooked. 

This Amrop Managing Partner is cautiously optimistic: “I have seen some front runners doing really well. Invariably wearing the business hat —very strategic. This is “transformational HR.” What should the ultimate mission of the CHRO be? “To help the company to move from good to great. The best are helping the owner or the CEO to attract, develop and retain.” 

If you have a community really believing in the firm and the employer, then you have won. That needs to be fostered by the whole management team and orchestrated by the CHRO.

Right arm of the CEO 

As we have seen2, the CHRO/CEO is one of the critical  C-suite 'binomes'. The high-performing CHRO is “a well-rounded business partner who can truly complement a CEO,” says this Amrop Board Member. This has implications for the CHRO development track: “Someone who has grown up with just one discipline is probably not well rounded enough to be the CHRO of the future.” Instead this has to be “a deep generalist, with gravitas and credibility.” An Amrop Partner confirms that “the CHRO has a huge agenda, typically delegated from the CEO, for executing on the policies of the organization, generating an inclusive environment of freedom of thought, of being.” 

Hand in hand with the CIO  

But the relationship with the CEO is not the only important one. An Amrop digital specialist sees the Chief Information Officer as working closely with the CFO, CEO — and CHRO: “at the highest level of the organization. If technology is becoming more and more important it should move from the executive leadership team to the board.” 

The CIO/CHRO collaboration is twofold: Firstly, talent strategy must embrace digitization in individual components of a business, or in changing the whole model – even more so for organizations transforming to digital service providers. Secondly, the collaboration concerns the automation of talent management processes, once the most human of all activities. Today, AI is joining the hiring team. “Many Fortune 500 companies employ AI-based solutions to weed through the millions of job applications the companies receive every year,” the WEF confirm.3 

No forward-looking CHRO can ignore the time and cost-saving benefits of AI at the candidate-entry end of the recruitment funnel. And its sophistication and reach are growing as machines progress from content analytics (such as CV scanning), to more interactive processes (such as real time candidate interviewing and assessment). AI is also widely used in internal talent management: employee evaluation and compensation setting. 

But the problems are stacking up. A global Amrop study4 revealed that while around half of senior executives would trust an AI to specifically assess their technical competencies or scan their CV, only around 15% generally trust it to intervene in a recruitment process. Around half would seriously mistrust a machine to conduct an interview. 

Regulatory scrutiny is intensifying. As raised in a previous Amrop article5, “An AI may have serious difficulty explaining how its results were derived, turning the algorithm into a black box.” There are also deepening concerns about fairness: “amplifying bias and discriminatory practices,” as the WEF reported.6 

AI use will require holistic leadership, not only complying with regulatory guidance, but aiming for moral excellence7 ‘beyond the letter of the law, to the spirit of the law.’  

The Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK (ICO) recently updated its guidance on AI and data protection, raising the use AI in recruitment as a reason.8 The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) has adopted final regulation on automated employment decision tools (AEDT) in hiring.9  

The CHRO as C-suite coach 

Back in the world of human interaction, this Amrop Partner views the CHRO as an agent of behavior change within the C-suite and even for the CEO. “I’m seeing some CHROs taking a coaching role to the rest of the leadership team.”  

The cultural impact of remote work, knowledge dissemination, training and development, employer branding and talent attraction are now “incredibly relevant,” he says. Leadership communication in today’s diverse and inclusive workplace is a concern. “Some traditional top leaders may tend to communicate in archaic terms in a way that may not be totally appropriate, relying on old anecdotes, not really understanding or using the right language.” 

Loose organizational architecture is giving rise to another coaching theme: “An agile organization with team leads and scrum masters and all sorts of different titles necessitates teaching leaders how to behave in that space.” 

An apex species? 

The CHRO is still a discrete presence in some organizations. But as one Amrop Partner observes10, the role must fully emerge from the shadows. “The companies where HR remains a box-ticking, or a legal, contractual, payroll exercise — those days are gone.”  

A slim top team should include the human domain: “The CHRO and probably the CFO are the only two that are definite. If you don’t have the finances and you don’t have the people you don’t have the company.” 

CHRO representation on the top team still varies by region, an Amrop Board Member reflects. “And some of what goes on in those regions and whether a company is multinational or not certainly would play in as well.” In the North American region “I’ve seen several situations where a CHRO has just been significantly elevated in profile and importance and contribution. They are now reporting to the CEO and a natural part of the top leadership team.” 


“Ultimately, employer branding is one of the key things going forward,” says this Amrop Managing Partner. “A great place to work is connected to culture, values and sustainability, and success of course is connected to that.  

“If your senior management team and CHRO are unable to build that great place to work, you will fail. So that’s the total focus: a community of people rather than just ‘staff’. That needs to be fostered by the whole management team and orchestrated by the CHRO.” 

And if these initiatives fail? An Amrop Managing Partner echoes Amrop’s research11 — sub-par organizations will continue to lose people to smaller equivalents where they can make more impact; sustainable organizations with “better values, a more reliable culture.”  

Another sees a more insidious problem. Without a strong culture, an organization is merely a series of short-lived transactions with a procession of disengaged new entrants. And relying on superficial data sets will not solve the problem: “My interviewees often talk about employee satisfaction ratings, engagement ratings… It’s mostly HR people copying HR people. They do the surveys, and they are happy.” Furthermore, as the failings of AI quantifiables emerge, so do the limits of ‘spot checks’.  

Purposeful leadership 

One answer to winning the talent war - and federating a new generation of employees who no longer feel married to the firm - lies in a magnetic raison d’être. “Part of that is purpose-driven leadership; how to engage people differently,” says this Amrop Board Member. “All too often, companies don’t pay enough attention to the disruption caused by people leaving and constantly on the spinning wheel of replacing them. It’s not just about the costs of an executive search firm, it’s the integration of people into the organization, the onboarding, and what has to take place in the first few years. And if you don’t get it right, you’re constantly churning through people. Too many organizations still do that.” 

Derived from its extensive groundwork on wise decision-making, Amrop proposes a holistic approach that balances a leader's individual, socio-environmental, and business purpose. Purposeful leaders display five competencies and mindsets: vision, courage, integrity and authenticity, learning, empathy and accountability. 

Going with the flow 

When it comes to organization design, CHRO’s need to oversee shifts towards greater agility and fluidity. They must also address their effects on people. These are not always positive, says this Amrop Partner. “Even though we say, “it’s great, agile, with these loose organizational definitions”, many people actually find them fragile and hard to navigate. They’re comfortable knowing ‘I report to this person’ ‘this is our defined space’ ‘this is my box’.”  

There are similar HR implications for remote working “and what that does to an organization in terms of culture, how leaders communicate, the dissemination of knowledge, of training and development.”  

In this mobile landscape, an Amrop Managing Partner points out that a front line CHRO presence remains vital. “They have to be part of the strategy, of the business success, which means being connected with the customer team.”  

Role proliferation

Do we need new C-suite species? Amrop Partners call for common sense. And global Amrop assignment data (mainly large mid-cap organizations) over the past ten years broadly confirm their view. One observes: “Suddenly we had the Chief Happiness Officer. They must be joking to call a chief HR role that.” For another, Partner, wellbeing and happiness are the natural product of a healthy organism: “what you do and how you do it. If you need that, it’s evidence of a problem that you haven’t been able to solve on a bigger scale.” 

An Amrop Board Member acknowledges that even if some new roles are meeting a need, drawn into sharp focus by the pandemic, they have no place in the C-suite. “I don’t think it’s a particular skill set that the CHRO needs, it’s one of many areas within the domain where you need people with the requisite expertise.”  

An Amrop Partner is observing the emergence and disappearance of species. “The landscape will be equally busy. It’s just different agendas. We’ve seen that throughout, many roles come and go. Not to neglect their importance, I think they’re incredibly important.” DE&I looks set to remain a distinct concern — at least for now. But even if DE&I has become an essential part of the CHRO and leadership agenda, “it doesn’t need a special C-suite title or role.”  

What of the ‘Wellness’ or ‘Happiness’ Officer? These are parts of talent retention and performance, he believes: “The traditional workplace of the 80s and 90s where you shut up, did your work and should be happy to have a job doesn’t fly with many people anymore.” 

And the sand dunes will continue to shift: “Once we have recognized what this new organizational set-up means, there will be new agendas. Then we will see new species of leaders, then merging back in once we’ve handled that issue.” 

Origins and Perspectives

What will be the source of tomorrow’s CHRO? For some organizations, it will be business as usual. They will hire for “technical skills, compensation and benefits, talent attraction and retention, probably all part of a CHRO’s formative years in their development as an HR executive,” says this Amrop Board Member.  

But the underlying trend is elsewhere: “I have also seen many companies seek a businessperson to spend a period of time in the HR role to bring the business mindset, and then complement that person, when they’re in that role, with what they don’t know from an HR perspective.”  

A future CEO  

More than sales or marketing executives, “I see more a really well-rounded CHRO as being that next feeder pool [for CEO] as long as they have that exposure.” After all, there is a notable precedent: “Years ago, CFOs were not necessarily the natural successor to a CEO.” An Amrop Managing Partner concurs: “If we look at culture, values, and sustainability then it could be any CXO who takes the CEO role based on his or her ability to drive exactly these topics. And personal credibility. 

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1 ‘The Amrop Talent Observatory’, (2021), Amrop. 

2 ‘Survival of the Fittest: Ecosystem’, (2024), Amrop. 

3,6 Walk-Morris, T., ‘These are the flaws of AI in hiring and how to tackle them’, (2022), The World Economic Forum. 

4 ‘The Amrop Talent Observatory’, (2021), Amrop. 

5 ‘Survival of the Fittest: the COO’ (2024), Amrop. 

7 ‘Wise Decision-Making: Stepping Up to Sustainable Business Performance’ (2018), Amrop. 

8 ‘Guidance on AI and Data Protection’, (2023), The Information Commissioner’s Office. 

9 Francis, Simon R.D., Zagger, Z.V., ‘New York City Adopts Final Rules on Automated Decision-making Tools, AI in Hiring’ (March 10, 2024), National Law Review, Volume XIV, No. 70. 

10 ‘Survival of the Fittest: Ecoystem’, (2024), Amrop. 

11 ‘The Amrop Talent Observatory’, (2021), Amrop. 

Photo by Nong on Unsplash

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Survival of the Fittest V: The CHRO