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Some employers are redefining the role and expectations of their chief human resources officers (CHROs). HR at most big companies has been an afterthought, even as the makeup of the workforce has changed drastically and as compensation and benefits have become far more complex. The past 10 years, however, have produced a wave of “people” considerations, from the increased attention on diversity to the work-life balance demands of millennials, necessitating corporate action. One hallmark of the new thinking about HR is that it should be led by someone whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business. “Talent is a strategic asset of the organization – so much so that the people leading the talent function have to be more strategic thinkers,” says Mike McGuire, CEO of U.S. accounting giant Grant Thornton LLP. That’s essentially the thinking that Dominic Barton, managing partner emeritus of McKinsey & Co., expressed in Talent Wins. The book argues that recruitment and development must be central functions of companies, and that the CHRO should be on par with the CFO as the two most important lieutenants of the CEO. With the heightened attention to talent and culture and the increasing interest in having those functions led by well-rounded executives, it’s not hard to imagine a day when the CHRO job becomes a natural pathway to the CEO role. And thanks to the developing interest in talent management in boardrooms worldwide, CHROs with CEO-level ambitions have a better shot than ever before at securing board seats – experience that often is prized by CEO selection committees. “To be a good business leader, you need to understand HR,” Barton said earlier this year. “I hope we’ll see more CEOs coming from the HR function, and we’ll see more line leaders spending time in HR. There has to be a transformation there.”

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