5 Things CEOs Look for in a CHRO

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Alice Koehn Benson

Founder & CEO

We’re lucky at Benson Executive Search. We get to work with interesting CEOs, companies and HR leaders helping them define what they really want and need from the function for their rapidly changing organizations. 

We are submerged in the changing role of the CHRO (and the HR function) and often get asked what it takes for the CHRO to really play a driving role in an organization’s success. 

CEOs view human capital as a top challenge, but they rank HR as only the eighth or ninth most important function in the company, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review.  While the HBR article was published three years ago, the paradox persists.

We have identified five core skills that CHROs need in order to play a critical role driving human capital strategy.

CHRO Skills: The 5 Imperatives

Today’s CEOs are looking for CHRO candidates who bring a deep understanding and proficient ability to:

Understand business drivers and financials

The CHRO should be able to read and understand the implications of a balance sheet as well as the CTO, the Chief Marketing Officer or the Chief Commercial Officer.  In addition, the HR leader needs to genuinely understand the competitive landscape, customer needs, product roadmaps, relevant technologies.  The ideal CHRO is a business leader whose functional expertise is HR, not the other way around.

assess workforce capacity to drive business performance 

This skill involves identifying linkages between people-related requirements and obstacles (at the macro and micro levels) and the achievement of corporate goals.  This HR leader needs to have keen insight into workforce capacity but also shortcomings and where those gaps need to be bridged.

 Identify drivers of company culture

Beyond fun and food, the CHRO must set strategies, policies, and programs to attract, retain and develop employees and to institutionalize desired operating principles. While the CHRO is not the single owner of culture, this leader must understand how others in the organization can drive it and continually reinforce it.  CEOs and leaders who understand that the right company culture drives organization success, rely on the Human Capital leader to help make it real.

Align all the human capital drivers

Strong CHROs understand how to align all the levers—employee engagement, development, rewards and recognition and the culture that drives the desired behavior.

Lead transformations, including M&A deals

Transforming businesses and M&A are a way of life in all sectors of the economy.  The Institute for Merger, Acquisitions and Alliances reports that in 2018 there were close to 17,000 M&A in North America alone. The CHRO must ensure that employees at all levels are motivated and prepared to embrace and drive change. Stagnation is what results in hanging on to the status quo.


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