Workday Global Study: CHROs Are Champions of Change

As ways of working and employee expectations change, the role human resources (HR) leaders have in how their businesses adapt to those changes is more important than ever.

During the pandemic, as work environments have changed across almost every industry, human resources (HR) leaders have been thrust into the spotlight. From guiding workforces to adapt to unprecedented restrictions on both work and everyday life, to keeping pace with ever-fiercer competition to attract and retain talent, the role of the CHRO has grown in both scope and weight of responsibility. 

The breadth of the role continues to drive important change. “Closing the Acceleration Gap: Toward Sustainable Digital Transformation,” our global survey of 1,150 senior business executives, 268 of whom were HR leaders, found that 64% of HR leaders are either confident or somewhat confident in their teams’ ability to accelerate transformation—and by extension enable business change. 

“HR has an opportunity to teach the organization how to see work, work relationships, and organizational and team design through an agile-experimentation lens,” says Dr. John Boudreau, professor emeritus and senior research scientist, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California (USC).

So, how specifically has the role of the HR leader evolved? And in which ways are CHROs using this opportunity to inspire and facilitate change across their organizations?

HR Leaders for a New Era 

The HR function has become even more aware of the contrasting needs and issues that are evident across different teams, and more adept at leading the right conversations at every level of the business. This awareness is feeding into an ambitious, attuned mindset: 37% of HR leaders in our research say they are somewhat or significantly ahead of the business when it comes to providing the talent needed to support new initiatives.

“The pandemic has really proven to everyone that it’s important to be able to pivot very quickly, to be very adaptable, and to feel comfortable doing a very wide variety of different things,” says Ciara Lakhani, chief people officer at technology platform Dashlane.

“The HR team needs to be ready to execute new responsibilities with confidence where there are no existing best practices.”

While many organizations—and their HR teams, in particular—have had to develop, at speed, new best practices on hybrid working, the climate of the last two years has necessitated a more intense focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I); scalable learning and development; and personalized hiring and recruitment strategies.

Listening to the Employee

The “Great Resignation” has only increased the pressure on HR leaders to create the best possible employee experience, as they fight to attract, engage, and retain talent. 

“People are voting with their feet,” says Workday Chief Strategy Officer Pete Schlampp. “Suddenly, the voice of the employee has a visible impact on the business, and companies have no choice but to pay close attention to it.” 

According to financial services company Prudential, in September 2021, 46% of U.S. adults in full-time employment were either considering or had actively undertaken a new job search. It is evident that, in light of the pandemic and the related disruptions, workers are reassessing what they want from their careers and thinking more carefully about how they invest their time and energy. But research from Sapient Insights Group shows that while this movement is set to increase globally in 2022, the sentiment driving it in markets such as Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and Asia-Pacific (APAC) focuses on increased flexibility, new career direction, and greater development opportunities. 

HR leaders cannot, therefore, make assumptions about attrition. They must build an accurate picture of the motivating factors unique to their own companies. This can only come from analyzing employee data relating to their skills, motivations, and engagement levels.

“One of the fundamental arenas for change will be in HR’s relationship with other disciplines.”

Dr. John Boudreau Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California

Data and Technology Can Streamline Performance

While HR leaders are confident in driving change, they’re aware that technology must play a greater role. Our research shows 43% are not confident in their teams’ ability to elevate human performance with technology.

According to USC’s Boudreau, this lack of confidence is often due to teams being overly comfortable with traditional methods and therefore failing to explore the possibilities offered by more novel emerging ones. “There can be a lack of a growth mindset, meaning [an inability to see] change or automation as a positive. There may be some outdated assumptions about digital transformation—such as that it replaces people in jobs—as well as insufficient technical talent.”

But if HR leaders can overcome these hurdles and embrace digital transformation fully, they have the opportunity to experiment and make their organizations hubs of innovation. 

According to Bilal Waris, head of HR center of excellence and operations at AirAsia: “The ability to understand the data—what to look for, how to dice the data, how to analyze the data, and how to present the story of what’s happening—all those capabilities are now needed more than ever before.” 

Dashlane’s Lakhani says these changes need to start straight away: “Onboarding has long been a neglected area; people’s first impressions impact their overall feeling about the company,” she explains. 

One way Dashlane is looking to elevate the onboarding experience is by using interview notes from successful candidates to tailor a program of relevant blogs and helpful information to prepare them for their start dates—to delve deeper into topics the candidates were excited or curious about, for instance. 

CHROs: Ready to Lead the Charge

Today’s CHROs are ready to lead on organizational change. Our research shows that HR leaders are more likely than other business leaders to have recognized the gap between where their business is and where it needs to be to compete (56%) and to lead the work to close it. 

“COVID-19 certainly accelerated change in work organization and work relationships; that evolution has probably accelerated changes that would have taken five to 10 years into just two years,” says USC’s Boudreau. “Those effects have been profound and will continue, and one of the fundamental arenas for that change will be in HR’s relationship with other disciplines such as finance, operations, IT, and facilities.”

It is clear that with the business environment in flux, senior management must work together more closely than ever, with the CHRO-CFO axis being a case in point. The Great Resignation is leading finance leaders to make increasingly complex projections as they guide companies through this new terrain, while rising recruitment costs and the need to integrate hybrid working models add further challenges. The CHRO—with the CIO’s help in designing a better employee experience—will be central to this redesign of the relationship between the business and its workforce.

Download the full report “Closing the Acceleration Gap: Toward Sustainable Digital Transformation” for more findings from the offices of the CFO, CHRO, and CIO.

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