The four HR functions that matter most

15 Oct 2018

15 Oct 2018

As an accomplished CHRO, what can you do to set yourself - and your team - up for success and deliver on the promise of an engaged, responsive, and strategic HR function?

In short, the CHRO must establish a culture of performance excellence as well as identify and mentor promising candidates in four core functions: talent, total rewards, shared services, and business partners.


CEOs and boards recognise that the one non-replicable business advantage is people. The talent function, then, should explore and understand how best to engage, motivate, develop, and reward new hires to inspire them to stick around.

Talent leaders must also grasp the company’s strategy during its inevitable and continuous evolution - for example, expanding into new regions or business lines - and find candidates with the right mix of skills and experience to execute it.

Total rewards

Often overlooked as transactional, the total rewards function can make an important contribution to a company’s success.

Rewards are a critical component in attracting the right talent - and when they are properly synced with the business strategy, companies set themselves up for success.

Without this alignment, they often fall short of their goals or even fail spectacularly. Leaders within this function, then, must have not only a thorough understanding of compensation and benefits but also the acumen to work collaboratively with executives on tailoring these programmes to support the business. 

Shared services

As the “engine room” of HR, the shared services function is often overlooked because, much like total rewards, it is perceived as more transactional than strategic - a source of cost savings and little more. But this function also fields requests and captures a wide range of data from across the organisation. 

Those leading this function have a unique vantage point to identify important workforce issues and trends, spot opportunities, and even sound the alarm when the work environment shifts unexpectedly.

The leaders also oversee service excellence and transactional competence - a vital element in the CHRO’s agenda. 

Business partners

In larger organisations, HR often embeds members of its team in different business units, and these professionals report directly to those leaders (with a dotted line back to the CHRO).

As the face of HR throughout the organisation, business partners have a huge impact on the value of the department and how it is perceived.

These positions must be populated by individuals who are a strategic resource more than gatekeepers or risk managers so business units don’t lose faith in HR’s ability to support them.

And ideally, organisations would charge someone with directing these various business partners to help them execute a well co-ordinated HR strategy. 

Proven methods to unlocking the full potential of HR’s talent include rotating staff through key positions in other business units to give them a different perspective on the company as well as assigning team members to projects outside their specific area of HR expertise.

Through such initiatives, CHROs can build stronger teams and demonstrate lasting value for the business.

A version of this article was originally published in the Heidrick & Struggles Knowledge Centre.

About this article

This article was contributed by Heidrick & Struggles' human resources practice.