CHRO Pulse Survey 2020

Korn Ferry surveyed 230 Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs). We explored how they’re at the heart of today’s challenging work environment and how the pandemic is impacting their function.

Building trust while squeezed in all directions

The coronavirus challenge has put HR leaders front and center as they navigate everything from employee safety to personnel changes. These issues have brought to light the importance for HR organizations to continuously adjust and create a culture of trust and transparency. Indeed, the survey showed nearly a quarter of CHROs said their top priority was to create a culture of trust and transparency, followed by 21% who said they want to break down hierarchies and drive more agility.

“Right now, HR leaders are tasked with a massive strategic workforce planning balancing act,” says Emilie Petrone, Managing Partner of Korn Ferry’s Princeton office and a member of the firm’s Human Resources practice. “They’re responsible for business viability and critical talent pipelines, organizational health and employee brand, both internally and externally. They have to ensure ongoing engagement and performance while also managing the experience of employees who are not going to be part of the organization’s future. That’s a significant push and pull.”

The future of talent

Nearly half of CHROs (45%) think talent shortage and talent fit will have the greatest influence on their priorities going forward, and the pandemic has only reemphasized that thinking. While it’s too early to tell exactly how today’s business environment will affect long-term hiring trends, HR officers are already rethinking what their companies will need. “What we might have been looking for in leaders six months ago in a strong economy may be really different from what we need for the next 12, 24, or 36 months,” Petrone says. “re-priorized internal capabilities and redeploying the right leaders to the right roles will be critical.” Indeed, upskilling current talent could become a much bigger priority for HR leaders in the future; according to the survey, 37% said upskilling the current workforce was the primary strategy for enabling success.

A lasting digital workforce

The global health crisis has shown that the future of work has invariably altered remote working. So it’s no surprise that 30% of CHROs said leveraging digital tools was also key to employees’ success. While certain corporate cultures will prevail in needing people in the office, many HR leaders are already rethinking what collaboration and innovation look like in a post-pandemic digital era. “Shared workspaces and team space may not be viable, historic business models may need to transform, and the way work gets done and decisions get made, will be more critical to business success than ever before,” Petrone says.

CHRO Action Plan


  • Ensure worker safety measures are in place and evolving
  • Scale best practices for employee engagement by increasing communications and trying to keep employees apprised of the goings-on of the company
  • Get through the change curve of the organization and help employees pivot, whether they are staying on board or being let go


  • Reevaluate the hiring playbook to ensure it’s up-to-date with what the company needs at varying moments going forward
  • Break down hierarchies and rigid corporate structures to navigate through crises with the least amount of damage as possible
  • Consider new skills that may be needed for future leadership and core capabilities by looking within


  • Develop a plan for how to pivot in the future, depending on what talent may be sitting out there and what solutions will be needed
  • Rethink digital enablement for the organization
  • Look to potentially drive transformation by building it instead of outsourcing

Download PDF