Before I get to my picks for the Top 10 CHROs, I want to give some background on why this list is important, and how you should use it to shape your enterprise moving forward. While every member of the executive team plays a critical role in successful organizations, aside from the CEO, a strong case can be made that the chief human resources officer (CHRO) is the real game-changer.

“HR” has evolved, and so too have the people leading human development and performance. Long gone are the days when power-hungry administrators place a death grip on all things necessary and rational. Today’s CHROs don’t gate progress; rather they are often the change agent fueling growth and development.

The modern CHRO is a sophisticated, yet eclectic mix of experience and skills, which often span many-core functional areas such as strategy, brand, operations, IT, and finance. In fact, in my work with CEOs, it is not at all uncommon to find successful organizations where the CHRO is the closest and most trusted thought partner to the chief executive – this was not the case even a few years ago.

CEOs have grown to understand that regardless of the business they are in, they are always in the people business. Understanding they cannot afford to get that wrong, they have sought out a new and different type of HR leader. Whether you are a CEO trying to build a world-class company, or someone trying to decide where they want to work, my message is a simple one – don’t gloss over HR.  Whether you like it or not, people, culture, and community matter.

So how do you judge the success of a chief human resources officer? The simple answer is you look at how badly people want to work for their company. I’ve often said that culture is the ethereal “X” factor that all “It” companies possess that other organizations so desperately desire and so rarely achieve. The CHRO is often one of the chief architects of culture, and they are most certainly its main steward, curator, and guardian.

So the longer answer to the question of how you judge the success of a CHRO is as follows:

  • Examine the talent they’ve helped to attract and retain
  • Observe the culture they’ve had a hand in shaping
  • Take stock of the progressive development plans and programs they’ve made available to the workforce
  • Evaluate the creativity, reasonability, and effectiveness of the compensation programs in existence
  • Look for (and find) great workforce dynamics, engagement, and satisfaction
  • Find a strong and well-positioned employer brand
  • Find HR’s hand (in a good way) in everything as an enabler and contributor to operations flowing all the way through to customer satisfaction.

While the above list is certainly not all-inclusive, it does start to paint a picture of the critical roles CHROs play in the success of any business enterprise. For a chief human resource officer, leadership, team, succession, purpose, culture, governance, and diversity are not just buzzwords – they represent who a CHRO is, what they believe, and where they work every day. The depth and breadth of the skills and talents possessed by this next generation of CHROs have taken them from not having a “seat at the table” to often making them a logical choice as a successor candidate to CEOs.

So, who are my picks for the Top 10 CHROs?

  1. Tim Huval, CHRO at Humana (NYSE: HUM): #1 because the results speak for themselves. Huval was the first key C-level hire made by CEO Bruce Broussard when he took over the helm at Humana. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him in the two years since he assumed the CHRO role. During his short tenure, Humana has completed a cultural transformation, which should serve as a case study in change leadership, succession, organizational design, team building, talent acquisition, and stock performance. He is the total package – a team player people love to work with and for. With a diverse background in human resources, information technology, and operations, his business and leadership acumen is only exceeded by his commitment to making others better. Huval refuses to take credit for any of the many successes Humana has achieved over the last two years, quickly giving the credit to his colleagues and teammates. But those who know him will quickly point to the critical nature of his role in Humana’s transformation into the enterprise Broussard envisioned.
  2. Laszlo Bock, CHRO at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG): A true innovator in human performance, Bock has taken his MBA from Yale, and stints with McKinsey and GE to help create what is arguably the strongest employer brand in the market. Many of the latest trends in talent management have been incubated, implemented, and validated under Bock’s 9-year tenure at Google. Bock’s relentless pursuit of cracking the code on what makes people tick, makes people fit, makes people contribute, and makes people happy will likely keep him breaking new ground at Google for years to come.
  3. Russ Hagey, Partner and Worldwide Talent Officer at BAIN & Company: BAIN is what I like to refer to as the culture company. I’ve never met someone from BAIN who wasn’t smart, talented, and truly likable – that’s saying a lot when you’re talking about a consulting firm. Whether you look at employee engagement, Glassdoor reviews, or the fact that Consulting Magazine has ranked BAIN as the “#1 Best Place to Work” for 11 years in a row, it’s hard to deny Hagey’s impact on the firm, its culture, and its brand.
  4. Lisa Buckingham, CHRO at Lincoln Financial Group (NYSE: LNC): Ask anyone who knows Buckingham and you’ll find out why Lincoln CEO Dennis Glass is thankful she’s on the LFG team. Tough, creative, smart, insightful, compassionate, and very accomplished, Buckingham is a walking human omnichannel brand. In addition to serving as Lincoln’s CHRO, she is also the company’s Chief Brand and Communications Officer. LFG has established itself as a powerful employer brand, and a company with a strong and stable culture. A solid strategic mind and innovative thinking around talent and leadership will likely carry Buckingham all the way to the CEO chair assuming she could be pried away from Lincoln – she is fiercely loyal.
  5. Tony Galbato, CHRO at Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN): The Amazon brand is synonymous with innovation, which means it must maintain a robust talent pipeline and a rich culture. Talent and culture are not things Jeff Bezos takes lightly, and the person he entrusts with leading Amazon’s global HR organization is Tony Galbato – not a bad endorsement. Like Laszlo Bock, Galbato has driven many forward-thinking HR practices that have set the chinning bar for the CHROs of the future. Galbato has helped Amazon to be widely regarded as one of the best places to work, with one of the strongest employer brands on the planet.
  6. M. Susan Chambers, EVP, Global People Division at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT): Given Chambers is in charge of the nation’s largest private workforce of more than 2 million associates, it’s no wonder she has been named to Fortune magazines “50 Most Powerful Women In Business” 5 years in a row. Keeping a motivated, high-performance workforce spread across more than 26 countries is no small challenge, and Chambers has proved more than worthy of the task at hand.
  7. Ellyn J. Shook, CHRO at Accenture (NYSE: ACN): It’s a rare CHRO who oversees more than 319,000 employees in 200 cities in 56 countries responsible for generating more than $30 Billion in net revenues. That said, it’s one thing to be responsible for supporting the global HR needs of a sizeable enterprise, it’s quite another to do it well. Shook has created the engine known for attracting, developing, and retaining great talent who enjoy Accenture’s collaborative, innovative culture.
  8. Anne P. Byerlein, Chief People Officer at Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE: YUM): Yum! Brands have had its fair share of success over the past few years, and Anne Byerlein is the talent genius behind David Novak’s fast-food juggernaut. More than 41,000 restaurants in more than 120 countries create levels of people/talent complexity that few can imagine. Byerlein has a well-deserved reputation for being a true triple threat (strategic thinking, tactical precision, and a nose for talent) HR leader.
  9. Diane Gherson, SVP of Human Resources at IBM (NYSE: IBM): What do you get when your CHRO holds a patent in predictive analytics, has a Master’s of Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell, and is working toward a Ph.D. in Management at the M.I.T. Sloan? You guessed it – Diane Gherson, a CHRO capable of overseeing all HR related functions for more than 400,000 employees worldwide. IBM is not the old Big Blue of days gone by, but rather one of the most sophisticated and innovative people businesses on the planet.
  10. Susan P. Peters, SVP Human Resources at GE (NYSE: GE): Few organizations understand internal development and succession like GE, and Peters now leads the culture she is a product of. Joining GE in 1979 in a divisional HR role, later being tapped to serve as chief learning officer responsible for all training and development, and now having responsibly over HR globally for GE – Jack Welch would be proud. With Peters at the helm of HR, the legacy of leadership at GE will remain intact.

So these are my picks for the best HR minds on the planet – who did I miss?


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