Episode 287: The Role of the CHRO and Business Acumen

Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on the role and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or CHRO. The CHRO (sometimes called VP of Talent or Chief People Officer) is an executive-level role that deals with managing human resources, as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. I want aspiring CHRO’s to know what type of skills and experiences they need to grow into a future CHRO role along with hearing from senior HR leadership how they are partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. 

Episode 287: The Role of the CHRO and Business Acumen With Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar (@MagicJMS)

I spoke to Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, Chief People Officer at Minted.com. Jay received his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan, with his dissertation on organizational change and diversity. After several years running a research lab in Silicon Valley, he went on to lead HR in multiple industries, including stints at Sun Microsystems, Taco Bell, BlackRock, Gap and Old Navy, Starbucks, and Riot Games.

Jay has been in HR at the executive level for about 20 years. I asked Jay how his background led him to his current role. “Before I was a Chief People Officer I spent most of my career alternating between specialist and generalist roles. It happened by circumstance, but it’s something I recommend to people regardless of their HR career aspirations. Being a specialist gives you a unique perspective on the challenges of creating something for employees and being a generalist gives you a unique perspective on delivering something to employees. Spending time in either role makes you better at the other and it’s something I did pretty regularly before taking on the role I have now.”

“The most successful #HR people are the ones who know the business and get stuff done.” - @MagicJMS #WorkologyPodcast #CHRO #BusinessAcumen Click To Tweet

Jay said that “mentors are people who have your best interests at heart; sponsors are people who have your best interests at heart but who also have the power to create opportunities for you. I was never really ready for the roles I got, but I was being dragged there by a group of sponsors who just believed I could do more and made opportunities happen for me, sometimes before I felt I was ready for them.”

We talked about what skills HR professionals need in order to move into a CHRO or HR leadership role. Jay said, “the three biggest ones: business acumen, drive for results and judgment. It’s hard to teach judgment; I think that comes from experience and having a learner’s mindset, but the others are definitely teachable. It’s why caring about your company’s product matters because it’s a faster path to business acumen. If you have the ability to see a problem, wrestle it to the ground and solve it, you’re going to be successful in a CHRO role.” 

Jay added: “I came out of graduate school thinking of myself more of a statistician than an HR person; I don’t think I knew what HR was when I came out of grad school. I think that has actually been one of the fastest paths I had to influence senior teams is being able to speak the same language as my business peers.”

The Shift From D&I to DEI: How Equity Changes Company Policy 

 Jay established the first D&I corporate goal in Gap Inc.’s history, led D&I for Starbucks and all of its umbrella brands, and incorporated D&I into all talent processes across six different industries, including hiring, performance management, and compensation. I asked him what HR leaders should keep in mind when it comes to improving D&I at their company and trying to create organizational change. Jay said, “my dissertation was on organizational change around issues of diversity, so it’s a topic near and dear to my heart and something I care deeply about.”

“The shift of talking about Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), which is what it’s been since the beginning of my career, to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) – adding equity is something that we’re trying to make up ground on. Diversity is about having different backgrounds and perspectives, inclusion is about making sure those voices are heard, and equity is about making sure that everyone is on an equal playing field. As I’ve been thinking about this issue, I think HR leaders need to tackle this both top down and bottom up. The CEO needs to believe in DEI as a core value, otherwise progress will be really difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. When I think about the case studies from organizations who have made real progress in DEI it’s because either a new CEO or the CEO had some sort of revelatory experience, crisis, or experience that caused them to wake up and realize that this is really important.”

“#DEI isn’t just a moral issue or a business issue. It’s both.”- @MagicJMS #WorkologyPodcast #CHRO #DEI Click To Tweet

The evolution of ERGs (employee resource groups)

“At the top, DEI is both fundamental to business success and also personal values. At the same time, we should foster bottom-up influence, which usually takes the shape of ERGs (employee resource groups). ERGs go through a lifecycle; they start out a little bit like social clubs with people who have shared experiences with other people. Then, they become learning vehicles, places where people want speakers to come in, it’s a place for people to take leadership roles they might not have had access to. It moves from a social connection to a learning vehicle, and then it begins to influence decisions and policies around the company. That’s when you start cooking with gas on ERGs. They influence senior leaders to think differently.”

In 2015, Jay wrote a LinkedIn post called “A Lack of HR Talent.” In the post, he writes about people choosing a career in HR because they “like working with people” and why that is shortsighted. I asked Jay to talk about this perspective since he wrote the post: “That one was the most widely shared of my LinkedIn posts. Getting into HR because you like people is important. You see people at their worst and most vulnerable. Wanting to support people and enable them to be successful is an important ingredient. But, to borrow a legal term, liking people is a necessary but insufficient reason to go into HR.”

“I wrote [in that post ]…I worry that HR will become a lowest common denominator function. It’s where people go because they don’t have technical skills to help their company in another way. I still believe you need more than liking people; you need to bring technical or hard skills to the table. However, since I wrote the post, I feel like I am seeing a significant shift. I’m seeing MBAs moving into HR, I’m seeing CHRO becoming presidents of business units in some spaces, people have to bring harder skills into these companies in order to be successful in HR.”

“Business decisions get made through data, so we need to think in terms of quantifying problems to get things done.” - @MagicJMS #WorkologyPodcast #CHRO #BusinessAcumen Click To Tweet

It’s interesting to delve into how a role like CHRO whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business works with the rest of a company leadership team, especially around DEI, culture and business acumen. I appreciate Jay taking the time to share his knowledge and experience with us.

Listen to the full podcast for more, including how Jay’s experience at large enterprise companies and startups prepared him for a leadership role, how his company shifted to remote work in 2020 and its top challenges, and the acceleration of his company’s technology roadmap.

This episode of the Workology Podcast is powered by DailyPay.

Connect with Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar


– Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar on LinkedIn

– Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar on Twitter

– A Lack of HR Talent (LinkedIn post)

– CHRO Job Description

– Minted.com

– Minted.com/jobs

Episode 285: The Role of the CHRO and DEI With Whitney Bennett

Episode 283: The Role of the CHRO and Talent Management

New Manager Training: The Feedback Sandwich

– Episode Transcript

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.


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