Leadership Matters

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

The CHRO as a Strategic Partner

When Kathleen Hogan became Microsoft’s chief people officer in 2015, it was her first purely HR role. However, her wide breadth of experience outside of the function — first at Oracle, then at McKinsey, and ulimately at Microsoft where she was head of services, overseeing thousands of employees — gave her unique insights into just how much HR can serve as strategic partner in running the business.

Hogan is one of several CHROs we spoke with this year to learn about their paths to the CHRO role and the skills that guided them. Below is our interview with Hogan, edited for brevity.

Looking at the past year and the unique challenges of 2020, what has been your most important learning?

I can’t think of a time that we’ve learned more about the importance of our mission, culture and values than during a challenging and unpredictable crisis. We found that the solid foundation we built over the last five years has been critical in guiding us in every decision we’ve made — both from an employee health and wellbeing perspective, and from a customer support and continuity perspective.

At its core, this pandemic is a very human and global crisis. I’ve been so inspired by how our people are leading with empathy, using our shared humanity as a guiding force and coming together to support each other across the world. Whether it’s how we’ve evolved our global benefits for our employees, or how our employees are supporting their communities, empathy for one another has proven to be a critical leadership capability.

You didn’t begin your career in HR, but was there any work experience that best prepared you for the role?

I can't say that there’s one in particular — on some level it’s the collection of experiences, and the more you can collect, the better. If I could pause time and collect even more experiences I would. But for me I started as a software developer at Oracle, and understanding that mindset helped me at Microsoft. At McKinsey, there are different skill sets you learn from consulting that can certainly be applicable as well. And then at Microsoft where I ran services, which covers 20,000 people and really focuses on driving a business, you learn about how essential people are to the company’s success. Partnership with HR was critical to achieving my business goals. When I took this role, I had the sense from the business side about how HR could be a strategic partner and help change the trajectory of the business.

How are you seeing technology play a greater role in HR?

Technology and AI can really help employees not just identify the skills they need, but also give them targeted learning assets in different modes. That’s just one way technology is empowering our employees, from a skills perspective. From an HR professional perspective, we think more and more there's a huge opportunity to use data and analytics to drive insights that can help change behavior. We’re super focused on privacy, but you can still take broad, anonymized data and use analytics and the power of AI to give your leaders insights that empower them to be better managers. And it goes without staying that leveraging technologies like Microsoft Teams has allowed our employees to connect, collaborate and stay productive.

What advice do you have for people who aspire to be CHRO?

I would encourage them to keep gaining people leadership skills. I would also encourage them to really lean in on data and insights. There is so much opportunity to be data-driven in HR, and so whatever your role is, figure out how you can continue to grow in terms of data and analytics. I'd also say to learn how you can get a view of the whole company strategy from wherever you’re perched. Lastly, I’d recommend you get mentoring or have a career discussion with people who are in a CHRO role — it’s been invaluable for me to learn from other CHROs.