People + Strategy Journal

Spring 2021

From the Executive Editor

Heads of HR have become “The Chief of Everything Else” within their organizations, and now must contend with all the challenges and opportunities that this exponential jump in responsibilities presents.

By David Reimer
From the Executive Editor

Adaptive Capacity and the “Chief of Everything Else”

For members of a C-suite leadership team, the swim lanes are usually obvious and well-defined—the executives who run finance, legal, operations, marketing, etc., know their role and generally stick to it. The same used to be true for HR. But in the last few years, as health and societal crises have roiled corporations, the swim-lane markers have disappeared for HR leaders. Increasingly, they are taking on the role of lifeguard, responsible for the entire pool.  

Shift the workforce to home? HR can take point on that.

Adapt our benefits and policies to address employee well-being? That’s for HR.

Help leaders process what George Floyd’s murder means for our organizational dynamics—and cascade our position and intentions in a way that drives meaningful impact? What does the HR leader think?

Analyze why our management ranks and succession processes are systemically non-diverse, and craft a strategy and to fix that problem? We’ll put HR in charge of that. 

Help articulate, from the boardroom to the streets of our communities, how our ESG goals are driving measurable impact? What is HR going to do about that?

Drive business process transformation—as well as culture transformation—to ensure that the way we live and work every day more fully reflects our strategic intent? HR can dig into that.

Manage dialogues among employees about hard topics, from racial injustice to the science of pandemics to the most divisive presidential campaign in memory? Come to think of it, HR could do that, too. 

Help determine a real estate footprint and space-usage strategies in ways that reflect outputs, engagement and well-being? You can guess the answer here, too.

Add it all up, and it is clear that heads of HR have become “The Chief of Everything Else” within their organizations, and now must contend with all the challenges and opportunities that this exponential jump in responsibilities presents. 

For this issue, we looked for practitioners, board members and subject-matter experts to talk about not just what they did to navigate the depths of a crisis, but also to share what they learned about the how of taking on new responsibilities. Specifically, we asked them to offer their peers and our readers a starter kit for taking on similar responsibilities in their own organizations.

In broad brush, this issue is divided into three sections. The first focuses on the takeaways of CHROs as they helped drive transformation or rapid adaptation, and how they and others are applying the lessons learned. 

The second section includes ESG leadership, employee social interest support, real estate planning and management, as well as diversity and overall employee well-being. 

The third section leads with a piece on showing up as an individual contributor, a functional leader, and a team player, while also showing up every day as a systems thinker coaching peers to maximize their impact. Public company directors articulate what success looks like from the boardroom when their gaze turns to the CHRO as the chief of everything else.  

George Barrett observes, “For all top executives right now, it’s no longer just about horsepower. It’s about adaptive capacity.” Our intention with this issue is to offer you a collection of practical tips, tactics and notes for your own adaptive adventures. Join the conversation. 

David Reimer

Executive Editor