The chief human resources officer (CHRO) role in Latin America is becoming increasingly strategic. Historically, the mandate of the CHRO in the region was narrower, focusing on talent management in local markets, and the function was largely siloed. Today, however, HR leaders are key C-suite figures charged with navigating a competitive global talent market, economic and social uncertainty, the rise of technological advancements and continued recovery from the pandemic — all while many companies in the region expand their international footprints, requiring CHROs with a global perspective and cultural sensitivity.
So what does it take to succeed as a CHRO in the Latin American market? To answer this, we analyzed Spencer Stuart data on the backgrounds and expertise of the region's CHROs. We also interviewed a dozen regional CHROs to learn from their experiences. Three themes emerged from this research:
- The CHRO as connector within the human system for transformation
- The CHRO as strategic business leader
- The CHRO as tech-minded leader
The transition from mere functional head to a strategic business leader is significant. To succeed, CHROs must be adaptable, flexible and able to address strategic business challenges, including talent management, international mobility and technology innovations.
average CHRO tenure in years
have experience outside of the HR function
were promoted from within the company
were hired externally
The state of play: The changing employer-employee dynamic
Workplace culture has changed dramatically over the past few years. Employees have different expectations of their employers, and more employers are adjusting how they engage with employees. Consider the topic of wellbeing. This rocketed to the top of CHRO agendas during the pandemic and became more relevant amid continuous economic and social upheaval in many Latin American countries. This landscape motivated HR leaders to examine their policies and procedures critically — especially when considering the bottom-line impact employee productivity can have.
“We have had to relearn a lot about our role and develop a perspective more focused on people's overall wellbeing,” said Maria Inés Gómez, vice president of people, communications and social management at Molymet, a chemicals company. “We are reviewing all our HR processes to ensure they meet our expectations.”
With an increasingly competitive job market, anything employers can do to bolster retention and improve employee engagement and wellbeing is beneficial. The rise in remote and hybrid working gave employees more opportunities around how and where they worked, including internationally.
“What was taken for granted about the desire to work in organizations, with certain criteria and guidelines, flew up in the air,” said Carlos Canzonetta, HR director at Boldt, an IT company in Buenos Aires. “People began to rethink whether they wanted to continue working the way they had been working.”
The growth of the global workforce also poses a severe challenge to CHROs and their organizations.
“With the political, sanitary and social situation in Peru, it is not as fluid as it was before to attract and retain foreign talent,” said Carlos Montalván of Grupo Intercorp. “Additionally, some young people who have studied or worked abroad before the pandemic and the current situation have also sought to leave. They found that they can also develop a career abroad, without the burden of the political and economic instability. These are cycles.”
Employees are also becoming more vocal about their desire to find purpose in their jobs. As Mey Ling Loo, CHRO of the Peruvian company Primax, put it, “They are not only looking for a place to develop a career but also a place that provides quality of life and balance.”
In response to this upheaval, employers are attempting to provide more targeted career development opportunities to attract and retain top talent, especially in competitive areas such as digital and tech.
“Today, we are bringing in younger, agile people that challenge, question and enhance things,” said one HR director in Mexico. “We are finding talent in other industries, but having the resources and attracting those people to our company is challenging.”
The new Latin American CHRO
Previously, “the HR role was not that visible and relevant,” said Gonzalo del Rio, CHRO of Falabella Retail Perú. But that perspective has changed. Now HR leaders are being pulled into conversations with executive leadership and are viewed as instrumental thought partners, helping companies achieve their talent management and other business goals.
So what does it take to succeed as a CHRO in the Latin American market?
The CHRO as the connector within the human system for transformation
Organizations are human systems that are constantly learning, changing and readjusting to work at their best and produce the expected outcomes. To make this ongoing transformation process intentional and successful, timely connections matter, and the CHRO is crucial. Effectively connecting multiple levels of that systems requires the ability to create the conditions for continuous alignment and readjustment between people and business, strategy and culture, routines and structure, behaviors and mindsets, and inward and outward looking.
Several of the CHROs we interviewed are seeking a closer relationship with their boards and CEOs to make this happen. Many HR leaders regularly meet with the board every few months and with the CEO even more often. “My challenge is to create and sustain the best possible marriage between the business side and the people side,” said Diego Pérez, a director and head of talent and organization at Grupo Romero Investment Office.
In some cases, CHROs attend different executive committee meetings (such as the compensation committee) between larger quarterly board meetings to reinforce the HR perspective. “Before, their priorities were more transactional, and today they are connected to the transformation of the business and the organization,” says Livi Betancur, HR leader at Grupo Bolivar. These priorities include talent management and allocation, retention, knowledge management and career development.
In this context, some CHROs say they are becoming a coach, adviser or mentor to the CEO. “During the pandemic the CEO and I developed a closer relationship,” said Falabella’s Del Rio. “The context demanded us to work together on different initiatives and make fast decisions, so we built trust and strengthened our relationship while also making many positive decisions about how to take care of our employees and avoid layoffs.”
As CHROs develop a closer bond with leadership and dig deeper into strategy, they are increasingly involved in other business imperatives such as sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). HR is tasked with connecting the dots between the specific business objective — increasing the representation of women in the talent pipeline, for example — and meeting that objective. For instance, HR might offer insights into adjusting talent acquisition strategies to better target women while ensuring the company culture fosters inclusivity. “I play the role of connector between multiple levels and stakeholders of the organization,” said one CHRO in Peru. “I connect different businesses, functions, leaders and business units around a common goal.”
Learning and development is another area that demands connection between the CHRO and leadership. “We have to have a strategy to retrain people or incorporate the concepts of upskilling given that the people's knowledge is within the company; if those people don't adopt the new technologies, we're in trouble,” said Jacqueline Balbontin, HR leader at Scotiabank Chile.
Molymet’s Maria Ines Gomez said that her company is testing a knowledge-sharing process that includes courses on relevant topics and a mentorship program where senior employees with decades of experience can share their expertise. In this way, HR supports the business's best interests while promoting internal mobility.
The CHRO as strategic business leader
Given that the CHRO function has been changing, and will continue to evolve into a more strategic and business partner role, any experience working across other functions can be beneficial when facing complex business situations. In fact, in half of the countries we analyzed, the majority of HR leaders had non-HR experience in their career history, which supports this up-and-coming trend (see figure 1).