HR Heal Thyself – Korn Ferry CHRO Survey Reveals Serious Gaps in HR Talent Including Low Business IQ

-- Tolerance for Ambiguity Most Critical Competency for CHROs --

-- Creating an Agile Workforce Top Talent Challenge --

-- Right Culture Most Critical to Bottom-Line Goals --

-- Wide Majority Don’t Take Advantage of HR Analytics --

LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- A new Korn Ferry (NYSE:KFY) survey of Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) shows that as the HR function becomes more strategic and high-profile, HR professionals need to step up their game when it comes to business insights and achieving results.

Editor’s Note: Survey Results at end of news release

When asked which skills are most lacking when searching for HR talent for their own teams, respondents’ top answer was business acumen (41 percent), followed by the ability to turn strategy into action (28 percent).

According to the survey, competitive pressure on the business is the top factor for increasing the complexity of the HR role compared to five years ago.

“Disruptors such as digitization and globalization are creating an environment of constant organizational change,” said Joseph McCabe, vice chairman in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise. “HR leaders must understand the business challenges that occur as a result of these disruptions, including the impact on the business strategy, and be able to quickly adapt and act.”

More than half of respondents (52 percent) said a tolerance for ambiguity, defined as the ability to work in conditions of uncertainty and change, is the most important competency for a CHRO. In addition, nearly half (44 percent) said creating an agile workforce to meet evolving demands is the top talent challenge organizations face.

The top way to meet long-term, bottom-line goals, according to the survey, is creating a culture where people are most engaged. Only 1 percent of respondents cited altering compensation and benefits packages as the top way to long-term success.

“HR leaders need to create a culture of allowing people to take chances, to be agile and adaptable to meet challenges of today and tomorrow,” said McCabe.

The inability to align talent strategy with business goals is clearly a frustration for HR leaders. When asked why a CHRO would voluntarily leave the company, the largest percentage of respondents (36 percent) cited the inability to directly connect HR efforts to tangible business outcomes. When asked why a CHRO would get fired, not linking tangible business outcomes to HR efforts came in a close second, behind the CHRO’s inability to work well with or lead others.

“Today’s CHROs are judged both on what they do and how they get things done,” said McCabe. “While it’s critical that HR must act quickly to adapt to changing business strategy, it’s also important to take the time to align their team and other key leaders to foster engagement and a shared vision. It’s no surprise that CHROs reported aligning talent with business strategy (34 percent) and employee engagement and retention (24 percent) as the top things that keeps them up at night.”

The majority of respondents admit they are not using all available tools to align business and talent strategies. Two-thirds (64 percent) said they do not have strong HR data analytics integrated into their business planning process.

The study found that of all other members of the C-suite, besides the CEO, CHROs work most closely with the CFO. Finances are also top of mind for boards of directors, as respondents cited executive compensation as the top board area of focus for HR.

“More than ever, CHROs play key roles at the highest levels within organization, leading critical talent strategies that are core to executing on crucial business priorities,” said McCabe.

About the Survey

The global survey of 189 CHROs took place in late 2016.

Survey Results


What do you see most lacking when searching for top HR talent?

Business acumen 41 percent

Analytical skills

7 percent
Relational skills 3 percent
Intellectual horsepower 10 percent
Ability to turn strategy into action 28 percent
Diversified experience 6 percent
Technical skills 1 percent
I don’t find it difficult 4 percent

What is the No. 1 reason a CHRO would voluntarily leave a company?

Not being recognized for efforts 15 percent
Having an underperforming team 2 percent
Inability to directly connect HR efforts to tangible business outcomes 36 percent

Inability to align the organization around a change agenda that the CHRO was hired to drive

35 percent
Compensation 3 percent
Other 9 percent

What is the No. 1 reason a CHRO would get fired from a company?

Having an underperforming team 7 percent
Personality issues/inability to work well with or lead others 37 percent
Inability to directly connect HR efforts to tangible business outcomes 34 percent

Inability to align the organization around a change agenda that CHRO was hired to drive

21 percent
Low employee morale/engagement 0 percent

What’s the No. 1 Thing that Keeps You up at Night?

Managing increased oversight from the board 4 percent
Aligning talent strategy to overall business strategy 34 percent
Creating a robust, working succession program within the organization 13 percent
Implementing successful M&A integration strategies 2 percent
Employee engagement and retention 24 percent
Serving as a confidant to the CEO 6 percent
Building a high-performing global HR team 5 percent
Understanding the business' key drivers and what will make it succeed 12 percent

What factor has had the greatest impact on increasing the complexity of the HR role compared to 5+ years ago?

Board pressure and involvement 4 percent
Increased breadth of responsibility 12 percent
Managing a global workforce 7 percent
Building an “innovation” culture 9 percent
Competitive pressure on the business 29 percent
Gaps in existing workforce, shortage of skilled external talent 20 percent
Utilizing and interpreting Big Data correctly to inform talent strategies 9 percent
Increased scrutiny and pressure from regulatory bodies 10 percent

What is the most important competency for a CHRO to have today?

Tolerance for ambiguity – Ability to work in conditions of uncertainty and change 52 percent
Empathy – Ability to assess team culture and identify strengths and weaknesses 6 percent
Confidence – Ability to make bold, yet informed decisions 20 percent
Composure – Ability to remain emotionally steady when pressure is high 5 percent
Energy – Ability to sustain analytical thinking and motivate others 11 percent
Adaptability – Ability to listen to and accommodating others’ methods 6 percent

Which area do you feel is most crucial to meeting your organization’s long-term bottom-line goals?

Leadership development 30 percent
Recruitment 4 percent
General employee training and capability building 6 percent
Building the right culture where people are most engaged 59 percent
Altering compensation and benefits programs 1 percent

Besides the CEO, with which other C-Suite member does the CHRO work most closely?

CFO 35 percent
CMO 2 percent
CIO 1 percent
COO 28 percent
Heads of lines of Business 34 percent

What is the top talent challenge organizations face when trying to optimize their workforce?

Ensuring there are the optimal number of employees in place to effectively operate 3 percent
Building a strong leadership pipeline 20 percent
Creating an agile workforce to meet evolving demands 44 percent
Implementing more proactive vs. reactive hiring strategies 9 percent
Enabling leaders in organizations to create real value and drive innovation 13 percent
Creating a common view of what great leadership looks like across an organization 11 percent

What area has the Board of Directors’ been most focused on regarding HR?

Executive compensation 40 percent
Broad-based compensation 3 percent
Benefits and health care reform 5 percent
Succession planning and talent issues 33 percent
Attracting and retaining talent to meet evolving business needs 13 percent
Creating and maintaining a diverse workforce 3 percent
Other 4 percent

To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: “We have a strong HR Data Analytics function that is integrated into our business planning process.”

Strongly agree 1 percent
Agree 18 percent
Neither agree nor disagree 17 percent
Disagree 43 percent
Strongly disagree 21 percent

About Korn Ferry

Korn Ferry is the preeminent global people and organizational advisory firm. We help leaders, organizations, and societies succeed by releasing the full power and potential of people. Our nearly 7,000 colleagues deliver services through our Executive Search, Hay Group and Futurestep divisions. Visit for more information.

Korn Ferry
Tracy Kurschner, 612-309-3957

Source: Korn Ferry