CHROs: Are You Up to the Digital Challenge in 2019?

As an HR leader, do you want to be a trusted digital-transformation advisor to your CEO? Here are 5 things you can do right now.

Expert View

Gartner research shows 67% of business leaders agree their company must become significantly more digitalized by 2020 to remain competitive. For chief human resources officers (CHROs), that creates a tall order: How to satisfy the digital aspirations of the CEO and the needs of the workforce as operating conditions change — sometimes swiftly and radically.

Most corporate strategists tell us digitalization is going to transform their company’s business model, creating totally new revenue streams in new ways. But progress has been slow in actually executing digital transformation, and the results have often been disappointing.

In the digital age, business strategy is your strategy

The reality is, you can rarely transform the organization by playing it safe with incremental investments. You need to be bold and test entirely new business models, while also finding ways to reduce the risk that comes with that.

As an HR leader, how can you be a value-added partner to your CEO as the organization pursues its digital ambitions in this way? Here are five things you can do today.

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Bolster your business knowledge

It’s no longer enough for HR leaders to “understand the business.” Immerse yourself in the competitive landscape. Become more than conversant in the company’s financials. Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes. Confidently present a point of view on key business strategies.

Without this knowledge and positioning, you can’t properly influence, prepare for and lead business change, coalesce employees around the strategic ambitions — or plan the organization’s own talent and employee-engagement strategies. In the digital age, business strategy is your strategy.

Be prepared to challenge your CEO

Contract with your CEO to be their challenger. Ask their permission from the outset to be the advisor  who respectfully calls them out when you observe counterproductive behaviors in them, the C-suite or the organization.

This type of relationship is only possible when there is trust between you and your CEO. Building trust can take time. You can accelerate that by finding ways to connect informally in addition to your regular meeting cadence. Follow through; show empathy; be vulnerable and establish credibility. Having trust gives you license to circle back and say, ‘As we all talked about…this is why I’m challenging you on this issue.’

Demonstrate change leadership

To be a change leader — and to help your CEO and colleagues to become change leaders — you have to recognize and articulate where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow, and find ways to reinforce positive behaviors and outcomes as the organization transforms.

It’s common in times of stress for people to resort to their least effective behaviors. Your organization likely needs to encourage leaders and employees to be brave and innovate. Make sure the organizational practices and processes are aligned to support such behavior. For example, you can’t foster innovation and then penalize failure. Build a cohesive storyline around why a certain behavior is a good thing — and why it will take the organization where it needs to go — and provide ways for others to emulate productive behaviors.

Offer value-added insight

Translate the business model change into strategic talent goals you can articulate to the executive team — and the board. To prepare the organization to become its future self, you’ll need to have assessed  the talent implications of your business model change and prepare a creative talent strategy to enable the business to deliver against those changing needs.

Read more: Gartner Top 3 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2019

Partner with the CEO to identify and take action to retain critical employee segments, including executive successors, emerging talent, high-potential employees — and have a deliberate plan to nurture strong performers who might be a flight risk.

Provide those brilliant few insightful workforce analytics regarding turnover, attrition and engagement to shine a light on the state of the organization’s culture. You can use that insight to help solve real and pressing business issues.

Target some tactical quick wins

Amid all your strategic thinking, don’t forget to capture some quick wins that can demonstrate progress — and protect against change fatigue.

Push your CEO to message clearly about the organization’s aspirations and what is key to driving your transformation. Make sure talent processes don’t undermine your goals. If performance management is a burden, simplify it and find better ways to signal what really matters to performance. Improve employee experience to show employees you’re serious about enhancing their work lives and to demonstrate how what they do contributes positively to their own career development and the organization’s success.

Maureen Cahill, VP Executive Partner, Gartner Executive Business Services, is a former Chief HR Officer and is now a trusted business advisor for senior-most HR leaders across industries, supporting them in their pursuit of achieving excellence in their people strategies.


This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.


Gartner for HR clients can learn more about driving digital business transformation and read articles about the most important issues related to managing human capital and how CHROs at leading organizations tackle them in the CHRO Quarterly Magazine.

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