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12 Ways to Know When It’s Time to Leave a CHRO Role

Written by: LaCoya Shelton, CEO Revolutionary HR Consulting

Recently I came across an article “12 ways to get fired as CHRO” ( and found agreement in what many would consider colossal mistakes that could be made by HR leaders and that could lead to involuntary termination. This led me to think about the other side of the equation – leaving a CHRO role on your own volition. Knowing when it’s time to leave a company as its CHRO or head of HR can be a hard conclusion to reach. This is especially difficult for very dedicated, and sometimes overly optimistic HR leaders, as they can far too often remain in thankless roles operating in toxic, unsupportive environments that undermine excellence and in extreme situations may negatively impact mental health and physical well-being. Here are 12 ways to know when it’s time to leave a CHRO role:

1. Support from above is lacking or nonexistent. You find that HR is often “on its own” with little to no CEO support to advance the structures that support organizational progress and business imperatives, such as a robust performance management system or purposeful compensation strategies. Acknowledgement of HR’s integration with key company objectives and not just being viewed as “HR stuff” is essential to maximizing the effectiveness of you and your department’s work.

2. HR reports to finance without proper liaising. In other words, the CHRO role is layered over and does not have proper integration with the business. HR is too important to be placed anywhere other than the C-suite given the HR system is the intersection between business strategies and the human beings responsible for its success.

3. Intersection with other operational functions is not present. HR, Finance, and IT are all enabling functions in that they enable the business to accomplish its strategic commitments. For HR to be most effective, intersections must exist among these areas given the interdependent nature of the work. Challenge yourself to think of one single organizational initiative that does not necessitate the cross-functional involvement of HR, Finance and IT. You will be hard-pressed to find one. Yet often these functional areas operate in silos. HR leaders cannot be expected to function as CHRO and CIO and CFO. A close intersection is critical to HR’s effectiveness. Without this, HR is doomed to struggle at best and fail at worst.

4. There is an excessive labeling of “HR initiatives” – i.e., change leadership, performance management systems, succession planning, talent management, HR technology platforms. For these types of structures to be most effective they must be viewed as organizational priorities, not simply “an HR thing”. When this type of generic over-labeling occurs, it becomes clear the organization is not invested in these critical initiatives as they are not seen as essential to moving the business forward; and thus HR lacks the crucial support essential for making them successful.

5. Limited delegations of authority to line managers, supervisors and other leaders. In this undesirable scenario, HR - either local or at the system level - must approve far too many tasks germane to effective staff management, such as final hiring determinations, salary adjustments, or performance improvement plans, just to name a few. This creates a policing environment where leaders are not empowered and held accountable, but instead HR is placed in the unfortunate and ineffective position of parenting and babysitting. This leads to resentment toward HR and lack of ownership among critical layers of management.

6. You don’t control or have an HR budget (note items 7 and 8 that follow are related here). Critical, much needed investments in the workforce and HR technology platforms that support it are significantly hindered when HR does not have a dedicated budget outside of staff overhead. Moreover, investments in employee and leadership development outside of the HR department may get overlooked which threaten to further perpetuate a culture lacking accountability.

7. Little to no investment in HR technology. HR is mired down in manual transactions and siloed business processes while the organization dismisses or severely undervalues the critical need for robust HR technology.

8. Little to no investment in HR staff skill and competency development. HR inputs relate directly to HR outputs. An environment that lacks investments in HR staff development severely limit the outcomes HR is able to achieve for the organization and is to the detriment of service delivery and strategic ability.

9. HR is rarely or never thanked or worse yet is vilified. No further explanation needed here, folks.

10. Key stakeholder groups not actively partnering with HR as it relates to governance and HR priority setting. This is a clear lack of engagement, understanding and support of HR’s role and the implications it has for the workforce. A non-response or a “no” in response to HR’s invitations for joint governance is a strong sign of HR and the work it performs being deeply undervalued.

11. You don’t have primary influence over organizational communications regarding HR matters that affect the workforce. Communications is a critical area within HR that can and should be used as a strategic driver of information. If in your role as CHRO you are not engaged, consulted or viewed as the key if not the final decision maker regarding such communications, you may live to regret it. The story will get told with or without you; and if you’re not in the driver’s seat, you may not even recognize the work of you or your department in it.

12. Innovation, bias toward action, integration with the core business and courageous leadership from the CHRO suite is not desired. A “speak when spoken to” attitude from colleagues, the CEO or as a general outlook toward HR is a distinct signal to begin considering the next stage of your professional journey.

The role of CHRO is challenging to say the least and the demands for excellence and broad skills are ever increasing. There are demands on HR leaders to be tactical and yet strategic. People focused and yet data driven. Often, we must vacillate on a moment’s notice from a very acute, analytical assessment of a situation to a 100,000-foot strategic view – all while maintaining strong business acumen and focus on the human element of HR. The list goes on. These are skills not easily attained or maintained; however, are required and incumbent upon each HR leader to excel in. Continuous learning, professional development and growth is critical to lasting success in any HR leadership role. Equally important is knowing what elements outside of your influence and control directly impact your successes and having the wisdom and courage to walk away from an environment that is not setting you or your HR department up for success.

For more great insights regarding the role of the CHRO and the critical partnership with the CEO, listen to the March 2019 Revolutionary HR Consulting podcast Join the Revolution! featuring Dr. Ken Blanchard, Tim O’Neal President and CEO, Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona, Rebecca Shanahan, Founder and CEO at Shanahan Capital Ventures and former CEO Avella Specialty Pharmacy and Laura Ingegneri, Founder and CEO of the Human Resources Executive Summit and Retreat.

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