Vice President of Human Resources

Milly Christmann
Milly Christmann

Table of Contents

Many HR professionals aspire to become HR vice presidents. Is there a clear understanding of what that role does, or how and when an organization needs it? For a peek into the role of HRVP, read on.

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What Does A Vice President of Human Resources Do?

The head of the Human Resources function is ultimately charged with ensuring the Company has the right talent, trained to perform and in the right roles to achieve Company goals and objectives. That is where the complexity begins. Here are some of the key roles an HRVP must play:

Lead the HR Team

The HRVP creates the strategic direction and is responsible to lead all HR departments which can include talent acquisition, total rewards, compliance, learning & development, and others depending upon the size of the company.

Ensure Effective HR Operations

Payroll, benefit and leave administration, and employee on/off-boarding are key elements of HR operations and therefore impact the overall employee experience. If these basic operations are not effective, the company risks talent loss in higher than standard turnover rates.

Ensure Legal Compliance

The Department of Labor set Wage and Hour laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC; www.eeoc.gov) enforces discrimination laws. States all have their own unique interpretations of many current laws. The HRVP must ensure the company is operating within the guardrails of all applicable state and federal labor laws at all times.

Collaborate with the Executive Team

The HRVP works with the heads of each functional area to determine both the talent needs and implications on functional and corporate goals. They gain alignment on strategies to ensure each functional area has the personnel resources required to achieve its goals.

Why is a Vice President of Human Resources Important?

Achieving business goals through a company’s employees is a vital element of a successful business planning strategy. The HRVP is an enabler of people and organizational productivity through several key functions:

  • Engagement. People give their best when they feel their best. HRVPs drive policy and processes geared to satisfy both intrinsic and extrinsic needs of the workforce.
  • Talent development. Once you staff an organization, in order for them to perform at high levels, they must be trained and developed both in soft and technical skills. HRVPs can oversee learning and development (L&D) strategy and then measure effectiveness through a performance management strategy.
  • Talent acquisition/retention. HRVPs have a great influence in driving employer branding which is key to effectively attracting, developing, and retaining employees. Diversity, in all of its visible and invisible dimensions, often starts in talent acquisition but is maintained through a culture where it is both understood, appreciated, and valued.
  • Culture. The HRVP plays an integral role in creating the right company culture by defining culture as “the way things get done around here.” Culture can be the driver of engagement, talent development, talent acquisition, and employee retention.

How To Become a Vice President of Human Resources

The career path can be linear, climbing straight up through the rungs of the HR ladder, or nonlinear, traversing other functional areas, often coming in and out of HR. While there is not a single, clear-cut pathway to this title, there are important bases to cover to be qualified for this role. Here are some of the biggest ones:

Education

Education comes in many forms both formal and informal. In terms of formal education, get the basic 4-year degree. Even if the degree is not HR-centric, it will give you a broad foundation on your experience can build on. While a degree cannot guarantee success in reaching HRVP status, it can enhance your chances. From there, enrich your formal education by taking the time to learn the business you’re in: how they make or lose money, what challenges they face, and why and how goal-setting works for them. Along the way, focus on honing your communication skills, both written and verbal.

Experience

Seek opportunities to assume different specialist roles within the HR function including recruiting, compensation and benefits, employee relations, learning, and development or labor relations. If a permanent opportunity isn’t available, consider a temporary assignment or a rotation to gain experience. Also, consider taking on roles outside of HR (sales, operations, marketing, etc.) to better round out your understanding of business as a whole. Experience outside of HR can be very valuable to leverage later when they become functions you use as an HR leader.

Certification

While the benefits of certification can be argued in some circles, current job postings suggest they are worthwhile at higher levels to illustrate in-depth understanding and maintenance of HR knowledge through the continuing education required to maintain certification. Certification cannot guarantee success but certainly can enhance your readiness to assume senior leadership roles.

Build a Network

Having a healthy network is critical to success. Create your own opportunities by building an effective network both inside and outside your company. Find a mentor, join HR groups, be active in the HR online community, find advocates for your work, etc. You don’t have to be an extrovert to build a strong network.

Important Skills of a Vice President of Human Resources

As with most roles, a blend of soft skills and technical skills is critical to being effective. These are some key areas of knowledge:

Emotional Intelligence

As defined by Daniel Goleman in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, emotional intelligence refers to “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” This is the underlying skill used ineffective leadership, conflict resolution, influencing, negotiating and communication (both written and verbal).

Technical Competence

There are key bodies of role-specific or technical, the knowledge that comprise the basics of any HR function. It is critical to be versed in these areas even if you have never held a role in them: Employment law, labor relations, employee relations, total rewards (compensation & benefits), talent acquisition, learning & development, workforce management, organizational effectiveness, organizational design and technology management.

Strategic Planning

Planning and organizing skills are essential, but being able to connect seemingly unrelated elements and weave them into an actionable plan is the essence of strategic planning. HRVPs rely on this to flesh out how the company can use its personnel to advance the goals and objectives determined by the executive leadership team.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Vice President of Human Resources

Titles don’t always illustrate the true scope of control. In large companies, layers of HR executives can exist. In these cases, you could have HRVPs report to senior HRVPs or chief people officers (CPO) or chief human resources officers (CHRO). There is a great deal of inconsistency because company size plays such an important role in structure and title so that HR directors in large companies can exist with far more scope, responsibility and compensation than CHROs in smaller companies.
Large enough to have an HR team to lead. Typically when a company becomes more specialized due to growth and separate functions (sales, marketing, operations, etc.), it may be time to hire an HRVP. Until this time, hiring a fractional HRVP to guide growth is a viable option for companies.
Milly Christmann
Milly Christmann

Milly Christmann is a high energy, operationally oriented talent management leader with extensive expertise in human resources, sales management, service and operations. She is recognized for collaborating with leaders to achieve their business goals by unleashing the power of an engaged workforce. By using process improvement, technology and strong, impassioned people skills as well as by attracting, developing and retaining top talent, Ms. Christmann drives change that matters.

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