As the competition for top-notch faculty increases, human resource (HR) departments in higher education are experiencing a key transformation—and this shift has important implications for colleges and universities.
Traditionally, campus HR departments have largely been “personnel shops,” says John Thornburgh, a senior partner at the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. In other words, they have focused mainly on the basics of administration, compliance, developing and enforcing rules and regulations, and other tactical elements of managing employees.
However, today’s campus HR departments are becoming much more strategic in their approach by focusing on how they can recruit, attract, develop, and retain the best employees for their institutions. This shift reflects the changes that have occurred in the private sector, Thornburgh notes, where companies are investing heavily in the tools and staff needed to hire and retain top talent.
“The chief human resource officer role is being looked at as a much more strategic leadership position than it has been in the past,” he says. “What we’re seeing now is the need for an HR leader who is transformative in developing and driving a high-performing employee culture.”
This change affects the skills that chief human resource officers need to be successful. According to Thornburgh, here are three key attributes that college and university leaders should look for in a CHRO:
A vision for how to make the institution a distinctive place to teach or work.
A big part of the CHRO role is to identify what makes an institution stand out and how to “sell” the organization when recruiting employees. “You want to be able to signal to faculty that they’re working and teaching in a unique place that has a clear mission and a special character,” Thornburgh says.
This is an important aspect of the job, he says, because if recruiting is simply reduced to compensation, then the “haves” would be draining faculty and research talent from the “have-nots”—which would be “detrimental” to higher education.