Does hiring a star CHRO impact the employer brand?

In case of CEOs and other CXO roles, star hires definitely create an impact, but in case of CHROs, in the longer term, actions speak louder than merely being in the limelight

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Given the name and fame that back star leaders, the organisations that hire them definitely stand to gain. Not only does their reputation get a boost, but even their processes are impacted and they gain a positive outlook overall. It is just like hiring a hot shot CEO or a CMO, where the clients, customers, internal stakeholders and the employees of the company themselves start taking pride in the person hired. So, yes, in the case of CXO roles, the impact is definitely significantly positive, but what about star CHROs?

Like in any other domain, there exist some very popular figures in the HR community in our country. In terms of their performance, media coverage and social-media popularity, these people have a significant following. When a company hires such hot shot profiles, do they experience a positive impact on their employer brand?

“It is easier to make changes with someone with a legendry background and a history of phenomenal work. This is because, bringing in changes requires winning over the belief of the organisation, and that is pretty easy for someone who is well regarded and has a following”

Shailesh Singh, chief people officer, Max Life Insurance

Charisma and craftsmanship

As per Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers & Unicorns, it definitely impacts the employer brand. He believes that sometimes people are so impressed and mesmerised with the individual’s work and craftsmanship that people tend to get attracted towards them. He cites examples of famous surgeons and doctors who are very popular in their field. As a result, no matter which hospital they work for, people will seek them out. Similarly, in the advertising industry, many a time, when creative directors move to another company, the entire account moves with them, because the clients pay for the creativity and craftsmanship of the creator. “The individual’s craftsmanship, charisma and popularity attract a lot of people, and this applies to the HR world too,” shares Bhaduri.

Limelight can distract

A research paper published in 2007, called the ‘Superstar CEOs’, studied the growth trajectory of more than 250 award-winning CEOs between 1993 and 2002. It concluded that all such CEOs were doing fine in their personal lives but the firms they were working for had started underperforming after their having received such recognitions. The companies had underperformed both in terms of stock returns and returns on assets, over the one-, two- and three-year periods following the award.

One explanation to this phenomenon can be that, such people tend to get distracted on becoming popular ‘stars’ in their domain of work, given the increasing rate of outside interest. They start focussing on authoring books and sitting on boards. This can also be the case when an organisations gets a popular CHRO in its leadership team. There can be a reverse effect.

“A celebrity leader’s craftsmanship, charisma and popularity attract a lot of people, and this applies to the HR world too”

Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers & Unicorns

Team work

As per VDV Singh, former VP-HR, JK Cement, hiring a star CHRO may help but with certain conditions. “Those who possess business acumen and have proved themselves in the field, begin to be respected by the board and the HR function gets a space in the board, which eventually creates an impact internally,” enunciates Singh former HR leader from JK Cement.

Singh, however, believes that creating a strong employer brand requires team work. There have to be policies in place, an ideal environment and a strong culture to create a strong employer brand, which can only be achieved as a team. “I would say, the face of a popular CHRO with no strong team in place to support him, will only result in a short-term impact,” tells Singh former HR leader from JK Cement.

Track record

On the other hand, Shailesh Singh, chief people officer, Max Life Insurance, sees this phenomenon through two lenses. First is a short-term lens where he does agree that hiring a superstar CHRO gives an employer brand a temporary boost. “It is easier to make changes with someone with a legendry background and a history of phenomenal work. This is because, bringing in changes requires winning over the belief of the organisation, and that is pretty easy for someone who is well regarded and has a following,” points out Singh from Max Life Insurance. He cautions, however, that actions speak louder than words. If the popular CHROs fail to replicate their reputation in terms of their actions post hiring, then this positive impact will remain short lived.

“The face of a popular CHRO with no strong team in place to support him, will only result in a short-term impact”

VDV Singh, former VP-HR, JK Cement

Visibility

The impact will be different in smaller and bigger brands. The hiring of a star CHRO by a smaller organisation will catch the imagination of people more rapidly than if the hiring is done by a bigger organisation. In the latter case, building an employer brand and culture is a collective call. “Sometimes, in bigger firms, where things are performed in certain ways, there are no individual heroes. It is a collective effort by all. The overall impact of hiring a star CHRO may not be visible because the company’s brand is bigger than the individual,” explains Singh from Max Life Insurance.

Taking on a star CHRO can be rather eye catching and head turning, as it will definitely give a company’s employer brand a short-term boost. However, if such celebrity hires do not show real action on ground, the positive effect will soon wane.

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