For a better understanding of “Career Growth”, let us first try answering the question of what comes to our mind when we hear the 3 golden words in any company – “Chief Executive Officer (CEO)”?
The top boss? The dream role in a company? Power and influence? Salary?
These perceptions apart, the CEO broadly focuses on vital areas such as strategy making, setting the mission, vision, and culture of the organization, prioritizing capital investment, operations, marketing, finance, PR and much more.
Due to the above-mentioned areas that a CEO needs to work in, it has been a practical convention to choose a CEO who has a wide experience in Marketing or Finance.
The personnel from Human Resources, even higher-ups such as CHROs, are rarely considered for the top job. The simple reason being the above-stated roles and domains that the CEO must have expertise in are rarely touched by an average HR employee. The above things make students not preferring HR as a specialization.
Then can HR employee aspire to be a CEO? Can they never achieve the career growth they desire? Not necessarily.
We do have some exceptions of HRs making it as CEOs.
Some names that stand out are Mary Barra of General Motors, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, and Lisa Weber of MetLife.
Closer home, Renu Satti was given the reins of Paytm Payments Bank as CEO.
Are there any common traits apart from their ability to engage employees that these HR turned CEOs have that might help other HR employees to make that unconventional leap?
Traits that show that HRs can turn CEOs
1. Business knowledge
As for HRs, they have little incentive to dive into aspects other than their conventional roles of recruitment, induction, training, compensation, and benefits, retention, etc.
An HR who takes interest in other areas of the company’s business such as marketing, operations, customer base, strategy, and competition, holds an edge over his colleagues. These ultimately support their career growth. To develop such extensive knowledge, the employee has to get himself involved in cross-functional projects.
2. Staying updated with the business trends
Generally, an employee stays updated with the trends in his domain. HRs do that too. But to reach the top chair, they need to be updated with national and global business trends, developments such as Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, IoT, etc. and the effects they would have on their business.
3. Work in other domains outside HR
Knowing about other domains is well and good, but that is the difference between theory and practical experience. Unless an HR has worked extensively in other domains, they won’t get enough functional knowledge.
HRs must cash in on such job opportunities whenever their organizations open them. As they progress, they must acquire skills not only in HR but also in the art of General Management.
Renu Satti did the same when Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma gave her opportunities to work in sales, operations, and marketing apart from her HR role. She also headed the Paytm marketplace business development domain in its early days.
4. Strike a balance between your business and employee demands
Coming from an HR background, HRs have a natural bias towards employee demands. These might sometimes be in contrast to or even a deterrent to the business goals. Tough decisions such as downsizing, job losses due to mergers, pay cuts, etc. are a part of everyday business.
An HR employee aspiring to become a CEO must thus play a balancing act as a loyal employee base takes a lower priority than business targets in the long run.
5. Employee engagement
Now, this is something an HR employee is already good at. As they aspires to reach the top echelons of the corporate ladder, this skill becomes all the more important as they will be the face of the company.
They won’t be able to interact with as many employees as before. His communication with the entire organization would be via a few key executives. They must thus cash in on his people and leadership skills. They must use these to send out the right motivational message that spreads throughout the organization.
CEOs and HRs aspiring to be CEOs need to be effective decision-makers under extreme pressure. They must know how to guide the company’s ship through the rough sea of competition.
HRs have a deep impact on employees. But to fill the big boots of the CEO they must also positively impact people outside the company. Especially the stakeholders like customers, investors, governments, and society at large.
If a renowned researcher, Dave Ulrich is to be believed, the next generation of CEOs will have strong people connect, and that CHROs have more in common with CEOs than other CXOs. The HR job is full of challenges, but only through challenges can one achieve the career growth they desire.
The ball is in your court now, HRs.
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