The pandemic and current economic uncertainty have reshaped what it takes to be an effective leader in 2023. Beyond business acumen, industry knowledge, and the ability to make difficult decisions, today’s leaders need the skills to navigate change and motivate a diverse workforce. This new C-suite requires interviewers and executive recruiters to modify the interview process to ensure they are asking probing questions to determine whether the candidate has the competency, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills your organization requires.
According to SHRM, “the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) is responsible for developing and executing human resource strategy in support of the overall business plan and strategic direction of the organization, specifically in the areas of succession planning, talent management, change management, organizational and performance management, training and development, and compensation.” Simply stated, a CHRO oversees all human resources (HR) functions and guides the CEO on HR matters. With so many companies competing for top leadership talent, targeting your interview questions to the CHRO role is essential to finding a candidate who aligns with the business’s vision and goals.
1. What is the most essential role of a CHRO in an organization? How has that evolved over the last five years?
The pandemic required CHROs to reimagine work and expand their role exponentially in terms of visibility and impact. Talent shortages, downsizings, and uncertainty led to employee burnout, anxiety, and disengagement. The increase in remote and hybrid work environments required CHROs to find ways to keep employees connected and productive. Realizing that a highly engaged workforce of top-performing employees is critical to successfully bouncing back from COVID, the presence of CHROs in the boardroom is increasing—and they are also being heard. CHROs with voices in boardrooms are business people with financial acumen that can link people and business strategy. As a result of this evolution, there has been a significant increase in CHROs transitioning to CEO positions. “CHROs have valuable experience in developing talent strategy and cultivating corporate culture, making them well suited to ask the right questions in the boardroom to identify concerns and encourage strong human capital management practices,” states Annalisa Barrett, Senior Advisor with KPMG’s Board Leadership Center. The question stated above will help you understand how the candidate’s people function evolves in response to changing market conditions to deliver on shareholder promises.
2. What makes you an effective leader?
CEO Works states that “great CHROs have a great sense of situational awareness and know-how to navigate in different contexts. They have a grasp of the most critical elements of the entire ecosystem of their business—from the changing concerns of all the many stakeholder groups to the complexities and dynamics of fluid markets and economies. As a highly versatile actor in this ecosystem, they fluidly advocate for the employee, partner with the business, and protect the interests of shareholders.” Strong CHROs know when to lead and when to listen and can weigh the pros and cons of varying options. Listen for examples of the candidate’s ability to build trusting relationships with employees and business leaders, collaborate, connect, inspire, keep employees engaged, and show empathy—all while acting strategically.
3. Tell me about your current organization as far as what you walked into, the changes that you made, and how you navigated the pandemic concerning:
- Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B)
- HR technology
- Professional development
- Performance management
- Talent attraction and retention
Companies need a new CHRO to come in and review and revamp existing policies and implement new best practices. By asking this question, you are assessing whether the candidate has a solid technical background and has played a pivotal role in business transformation and change management. During times of crisis and uncertainty, was the CHRO working to optimize working conditions to retain employees while recruiting new talent? In a high-tech world, how did he/she/they keep human touch part of the candidate and employee experience? Does the candidate have a proven track record of developing and executing strategies that enhance DEI&B initiatives and improve company performance and employee engagement?
4. What strategies have you used to keep employees engaged and motivated?
With low unemployment, labor shortages, and economic uncertainty, companies are placing more emphasis on retention in 2023. The candidate should recognize that employee engagement is essential to improved business outcomes, including increasing profitability (21 percent), productivity (17 percent), and retention—highly engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave their employer. When workers feel respected, seen, and heard, they are more likely to remain engaged and motivated. What strategies has the CHRO used in previous roles to ensure employees remained engaged and motivated? Possible responses should include creating an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated—through recognition, incentives, bonuses, and rewards. Did the candidate ensure employees understood the company’s goals and vision and how they individually contribute to the business’s growth and success?
5. In 2023, we want to improve our employee retention rate. What would you do to achieve this?
This question provides insight into the retention strategies the candidate feels would be most beneficial to your organization. Listen for indications that the candidate would first assess the current situation to determine why employees leave your company before implementing changes. This process could include reviewing all aspects of previous employees’ job experiences—from hiring practices, onboarding processes, manager relationships, professional development and training opportunities, and overall workplace culture. Once the candidate has a firm grasp of the current situation, the next steps should involve identifying areas of improvement and developing a comprehensive approach to employee retention and progress tracking. Areas of focus could include employee well-being, compensation and benefits, flexible work arrangements, corporate culture, and professional development and training. How will the candidate help to improve and leverage your internal mobility and upskilling strategies to retain top talent?
A CHRO should be a strategist, communicator, and change driver. “You need to look at your CHRO as being a business leader who’s driving growth and reinvention,” states Accenture CEO Julie Sweet. When interviewing for the CHRO role, ask probing questions to ensure the candidate demonstrates a growth mindset, a great sense of situational awareness, and is comfortable with and able to adapt to change.
This blog was written by TalentRise Senior Talent Consultant & Executive Recruiter John Jameson.