Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
March 26, 2024

Confronting the Future Top-of-Mind Issues for CHROs

We recently participated in a roundtable featuring more than 100 global HR leaders at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where we discussed the current state and the future of chief HR officer role and the top challenges and opportunities CHROs face today.

The roundtable offered invaluable insights on the future of the HR domain, highlighted a range of issues for HR leadership and operations today, and posed many implications for the workforce. Below, we look at the key themes and insights that emerged from the discussion.

Overcoming the “ambition gap”

Our discussion opened by acknowledging the “ambition gap” in business today when it comes to HR. On one hand, more companies today recognize not just the critical importance of talent, but also the value a strong HR lead can bring — something highlighted by the function’s resilience and leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, many CEOs still struggle to effectively utilize HR.

The CHROs in attendance touched on a variety of pressing issues: their organizations’ readiness and planning for leadership succession; Gen Z’s entry into the workforce and its implications; and an evolving technology landscape. There was consensus that AI will shape the future of HR — but perhaps more in the long term than in the near term.

Several participants stressed the importance of understanding how the business runs, the dynamics the business is operating under, and how HR can play a pivotal role in business results. To quote one participant, the CHRO needs to “think like a business leader who is in charge of human resources.”

Many also emphasized the imperative of building a unified team, developing project management skills in the function, providing employee wellness and, importantly, seeking a seat at the strategic planning table.

Five-year planning: Shifting to disruptive work models

So much has changed in how the workplace functions in the past five years, but what lies ahead for businesses and HR leaders? Our participants predicted the future workforce to be reflected in fluid business models, advances in AI and automation, Gen Z's entry into leadership, a shift towards 24/7 operations, and increasingly flexible and remote workforces. The future is shaped significantly by the decisions made within each organization, emphasizing adaptability in constantly changing environments.

Many also spoke about an elevated presence in the function — where HR is seen as a true business partner, one considered in business decision making. Creativity and innovation will be key skills for allowing HR to help drive business success.

Future leaders: Mentors with high EQs

When we asked participants about the best leaders of the future, emotional intelligence was a common theme. A more holistic and transformative leadership model encourages HR leaders to focus more on risk-taking, adaptability, coaching, emotional and cultural intelligence, and technical prowess.

HR is also a key player developing a strong internal culture. Employee engagement and wellness were cited, as were transparency and inclusion. Also cited was strength in data-driven decision-making, as HR leaders manage increased data.

Reinventing HR

Our final questions asked participants to imagine the future: what roles they’d dream of adding to the function, and what they’d seek to fix if they could. In terms of new roles, a few interesting ideas stood out, namely chief experience officer, culture architect and enterprise optimizer. Others emphasized the importance of leaders who could lead HR efforts to redesign or reskill the workforce, integrate different teams, or implement new technologies (in something of a COO role). And, similar to the earlier discussions, many highlighted a more business-focused, strategic-thinking HR function.

Overall, the consensus was that HR’s future is complex yet exciting, demanding innovative approaches, agility, and a greater understanding of tech and business dynamics.