Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
November 19, 2020

A 'Career Lattice' to the CHRO Role

Kamy Scarlett, chief human resources officer for Best Buy, says that she’s never viewed herself as the traditional CHRO. Rather than a straight career path through HR, her experience includes a variety of retail, operations, human resources and marketing roles that have given her a unique insight into leading the electronics retailer’s HR function — including having led retail operations for Best Buy’s Canadian and U.S. retail operations while also running HR for the company.

Earlier this year we spoke with Scarlett and several other top CHROs for a series of conversations about their path to the CHRO role and the skills that helped them reach the top job.

Scarlett shared her unique insights in February 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown sent the world into a dramatic period of change. Although much has changed in the intervening months, we believe the themes and messages from the discussion remain relevant.

Below is our interview with Scarlett, edited for brevity.

How do you think the expectations for the CHRO role will change over time?

First and foremost, CHROs must be business leaders who understand the changing dynamic of their organization. Talent is taking on a whole new approach. Historically, people are promoted up through their functions; now, you need to move across the enterprise. Skills are the new currency, rather than functional expertise. It's changing from a career ladder to a career lattice.

For the CHRO, you’ve got to define what skills the organization needs — not just today but also five years out. We’re growing a talent bench of business leaders, as opposed to functional specialists, and allowing our key people to transform at a faster pace while offering more career opportunities.

How do you personally get informed on what skills will be needed in five years?

We start with our organizational goals for 2025: to be the best place to work, to improve and increase our customer relationships, and to meet our financial goals. Against those three pillars are things like inclusive leadership, leadership development, higher levels of employee engagement and customer relationships. What skill sets do we need when we get there and where are we today?

After spending time restoring Best Buy to a position of health, we now have a strong platform to grow and transform. The skills for growth and transformation are very different than skills you need if you’re just trying to survive. You need innovation, customer-backed thinking, collaboration and role clarity.

What roles earlier in your career, either in HR or elsewhere, best prepared you for being CHRO?

I would say that the most important were line roles linked to sales. In retail, that’s the store role, because you’re closest to the customer. Customer experience depends on the employee experience being equally as important. I fundamentally believe that the brand promise you make to your customer and the brand promise you make to your employee must be equally respected. If you break your promise to a customer or an employee, the damage is irreparable.

How did your mentors influence your career early on?

When I was young and was coming up through a male-dominated company, a mentor told me, "It's okay for you to be you. You don't need to take on another persona. You're enough. You're doing great work." He also provided that open, honest and direct feedback that you need when you're going through your career at all levels, and encouraged me to always think beyond the current role I’m in.