The New Face of HR

Feeling Liberated – what’s changed?

The days of “give it to HR” may soon be numbered. Too often, HR has performed as a “jack of all trades” function, burdened with absorbing responsibilities that don’t have an obvious home. But times are changing. Businesses must respond to a more demanding candidate pool about the strength of their culture and what it stands for. CHROs have a newly powerful voice and a captive audience.

Disruptive environmental forces are causing companies to rethink their human capital strategies and CEOs are leveraging HR executives more than ever before to determine:

  • How to maintain a coherent culture with a fragmented workforce, while effectively navigating new hybrid work models;
  • How to attract and retain talent as social media influences, societal pressures, and a changing competitive landscape have transformed candidate and employee expectations;
  • How to respond to sensitive political events when companies are expected to take a public stance and when staying out of the fray is no longer viable.
  • CHROs have visibly stepped up to apply their advisory skills to address these immensely challenging subjects, and strengthened their relationships with business executives in the process. HR’s leadership and capability has been evident through all of this in ways not recognized before. The upshot is that HR now has more influence than ever.

HR’s growing influence in boardrooms:

The percentage of directorship roles in the S&P 1500 with specific human-resources skills grew more than 70% from 2020-2022, from 11.3% to 19.4%.

Source: ISS ESG

Historically HR leaders haven’t always pressed enough for influence at the top, sometimes resigned to how companies chose to engage them. It’s now imperative that CHROs take advantage of this moment to recenter attention on the roles they have been trained to do.

Challenging outdated perceptions

Long-held preconceptions about HR have been difficult to shake off. Old stereotypes that HR revolves around paper pushing and tactical execution still persist, diminishing the function’s stature. Often misunderstood, the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of HR is sometimes conflated into a “hiring and firing” mindset. There’s still widespread ambiguity about HR’s core purpose. Perhaps, to some extent, this can be attributed to its diverse suite of services: organization development, total rewards, talent acquisition, employee relations, learning & development, employee experience, DEI, HR systems, data management & analytics – and more. That’s a lot to bring to the table!

Unfortunately, HR has not always been viewed as integral to corporate strategy, but rather, on the outside looking in – reacting to events versus helping to shape them. Given the level of energy companies are now expending on human capital to improve the employee experience and build culture, it’s time to shed the “give it to HR” mentality. Responsibilities HR is often tasked with – including office management, corporate services, event planning, and others – are no doubt important, but entirely different functional specialties. HR practitioners serve another purpose, bringing a different set of skills to the business environment.

In 2015, 60% of U.S. business leaders surveyed by Bamboo HR said that HR spends more time performing administrative and maintenance tasks than strategic tasks. We believe that in recent years a material shift has occurred.

The future

This is a pivotal stage at which HR has finally gained the prominence it deserves. Now it’s up to bold leaders to reimagine the future and unleash the power of HR capability. The courageous HR executive should:

Think like a business professional first, and HR practitioner second

HR’s ability to understand the business and demonstrate a commercial mindset is key to building credibility. It will lead to true business partnering relationships and a track record of success.

Lean into technology

The power of data: Empower business leaders to make better decisions. Building a robust people analytics capability will illuminate key insights needed to drive better retention and inform HR’s agenda.

Technology is the enabler: CHROs who embrace technology will propel their function to new heights, freeing up HR talent to focus on business strategy and on the company’s human resources rather than its tactical operations.

Respond to the moment

Now in the spotlight, HR leaders have a tremendous opportunity to deliver transformative outcomes for their companies and in doing so, expand the influence of human capital management at the C-suite level. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to amplify HR’s voice, champion its strategic role, and clear up old misconceptions.

After decades standing on the sidelines, HR has come into its own. HR’s new influence has been hard earned.
Keep up the momentum!

The Belonging Project

We launched the Belonging Project, conducting over 100 interviews globally with a diverse range of people. Our research reaffirmed our core belief: organizations that create a strong sense of Belonging are more successful – in business, employee satisfaction and longevity. Belonging is the proven cornerstone of success.


When we founded Hedley May, we made a commitment to make a positive impact on our broader communities. We focus on providing opportunity to the underserved through mentorship, internships, workshops and other career development initiatives. We are also dedicated advocates and supporters of numerous social mobility programs.