CHRO as Chief Ambassador

Receive this article in PDF. By entering the email address below, you agree to our privacy policies. More info about privacy policies at the bottom of the page.

I recently spoke with Mr. Richard Greene, the CHRO of Heidrick & Struggles. Rick is speaking at the CHRO Virtual Summit on 29 May, so I asked him how he sees his role as a CHRO, and what the key opportunities are for the Chief of HR to drive business outcomes.

How does the CHRO make a difference? 

In an era in which the overarching metric for businesses is how quickly they can accelerate change, the potential for CHROs to have impact is greater than ever. As a mix of Chief Talent, Culture and Employee Policy Officer, the CHRO – as much as anyone in the company – can enable and accelerate change, or impede it.

The CHRO’s ability to help the company accelerate change is determined through a mix of factors. These include the culture they help to shape, the systems they create to select and develop the right leaders, the employee policies they establish and the tone they set through their own behavior. An additional and often underappreciated aspect of the CHRO’s involvement in organization change is the role they can play as Ambassador for the CEO. An additional and often underappreciated aspect of the CHRO’s involvement in organization change is the role they can play as Ambassador for the CEO. @HeidrickCHRO ‏#hrcongress18 Click To Tweet

Think of an Ambassador in this case not so much as a diplomat, but as defined on as a ‘person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specific activity’. Alternatively, an Ambassador is an emissary or agent, a delegate, intermediary and negotiator.

What Does It Mean for the CHRO to Be an Ambassador?

The CHRO can be an effective ambassador by focusing on the following activities:

  • Engaging and coaching the leaders who cast the largest shadows in the organization, whose behaviors will most influence others, the CHRO can supplement the CEO in getting this group focused on the top strategic priorities
  • Creating cohorts of key managers who are tasked with and incented to drive specific outcomes that are aligned with the top priorities on the CEO’s agenda
  • Addressing directly those managers who are perceived to be at-risk (either performance risk or retention risk)
  • Organizing working groups to provide input for ideas and to create buy-in for changes the organization has underway, and then negotiating between the working group and others in management to align on realistic action plans
  • Demonstrating a unique passion for the company’s values, and being able to articulate the platform that the company creates for employees to deploy their skills in a way that allows them to make a positive contribution to the world.

What Is Required For the CHRO to Be an Effective Ambassador?

Firstly CHROs must have a deep knowledge of the business to credibly engage with managers throughout the organization and to create expectations of them. Beyond that it is almost vital to have a close working relationship with the CEO to have a mutual comfort level that you can represent them on strategically critical and sensitive matters. It is critical to gain TRUST that people can talk with you confidentially and that you are truly looking out for them, as compared with being political in your intent or trying to build an HR empire. Openness and Candor – being an Ambassador is about engaging with managers to create the changes the company is seeking to implement and negotiating to achieve what is possible; it is about avoiding inauthentic selling of the changes the company has planned. Furthermore the only thing is constant is change, therefore change management experience to understand and anticipate the dynamics and likely sources of resistance to the changes and how to work openly and collaboratively to address those in a way that creates real buy-in. Dave Ulrich is taking about the Leadership brand and I can only echo his thoughts – personal brand as a leader who is passionate about the business. Lastly the ability to balance between the needs of various stakeholders and avoidance of the perception that HR is a mechanism to execute management’s vision and plans at any cost.

How Can CHROs Put Into Action Being an Ambassador?

Focus on building bridges. Align with CEO and rest of management team on top priorities for change. It is also important to organize working groups to provide input and cohorts of top talent to drive strategic changes. As a CHRO you are the eyes and ears of the CEO on people related matters, therefore it is important to be able to advise and influence the CEO and management on both what is possible and what is not possible; then act as an honest broker between CEO and managers. Be ready to adjust and start by assessing your own style and whether you are creating an environment in which you are truly trusted and invited into sensitive matters that may impede the transformation process. Being an effective CHRO requires courage – be courageous so you can tell the Board, CEO and managers throughout the company what you truly believe, rather than a diluted version that matches what they want to hear. Lastly and ultimately, consistently seek win-win outcomes based on an informed view of the needs of various stakeholders


Richard Greene is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Heidrick & Struggles. He leads the global HR organization and talent strategy. Richard is a member of the firm’s Management Committee and Operations Committee, and works closely with the Human Resources & Compensation Committee of the Board of Directors.

Join Mr. Greene and an elite panel of CHRO speakers at the CHRO Virtual Summit on 29 May – online. For more information please visit: 

1 comment

Add yours
  1. Laura-Katrin Seitz

    I like the notion of CHROs as bridge builders, AND of courageous CHROs who dare to speak their mind. Richard nicely lays out the way to bring both aspects together: By working towards win-win solutions.

+ Leave a Comment