CHROs: Request an Invite to our Annual BigHR Event (Always sold out!)

3 Must-Have Soft Skills for CHROs: Dave Pace, CEO Jamba Juice (prior) and CHRO (Starbucks)

Uncategorized Apr 17, 2019

Summary of Guest Speaker by Emma Lokar, HR Intern

3 Must-Have Soft Skills for CHROs: Dave Pace, CEO Jamba Juice (prior) and CHRO (Starbucks)

Soft Skills
Dave Pace  shares his advice on the three soft skills you need to have to be a successful CHRO, and how to develop these skills to maximize your potential as strong HR leaders. Pace has the unique perspective of switching from the HR space into a CEO role after being in HR for most of his career, and shares a few tips for making that jump.

Business Acumen
Really understanding the nature and rhythm of the business you operate in is an essential skill for HR:
• What drives that business?
• What drives its strategy?
• What drives it profitability?
• What drives goals and objectives of the overall business?

HR leaders underestimate the amount of operating knowledge they gain through osmosis. You don’t have to get an MBA, work on Wall Street in finance, or for a big consumer brand in marketing. By just being in the room you actually learn far more than you give yourself credit for. In any organization there are three people that have a helicopter view of the organization: CEO, CFO, and CHRO. The CFO allocates the financial capital and the CHRO allocates the human capital. These three roles are truly thinking about what’s going on in the total business.

Expand your career and your business tool box… You develop that deep expertise that allows you to leverage that skill/knowledge.

Any HR generalist in an organization is getting the business acumen or some level of understanding. If you are an HR specialist and want to be a CHRO get to a generalist role. 

Have a Curiosity
If you are looking to be successful in the CHRO role you need to have an intellectual curiosity: “What do I need to know?”, “How do I learn it?”, “How do I go out and explore different things?”.  When you understand the various pieces of the business and the people who are in them you are gaining that business acumen knowledge through your curiosity.

How do you develop intellectual curiosity?
1 - Ask questions
2 - Observe and listen

People love to talk about what they do, what the aspects are, what they think about what they are doing, and what is important to them. Ask those people in the operations roles how they see the business outside of your HR lens.

You’d be surprised if you asked those question and dig in what you will learn.

Another aspect of exploring that intellectual curiosity can be done through observing and listening. Cross-functional meetings are a great place to learn from. Don’t just be in the meetings for your topic and catch up on emails waiting for your turn. Go into those meetings, listen, truly understand what the broader business picture is and what are the other function’s challenges are along the way.

Too often we get in a room where we are too busy thinking about what we are going to say when it’s our turn as opposed to observing those other functions.

Have Empathy
The third skill for being a successful CHRO is empathy. As the CHRO you are representing the workforce and your employee population. It is important you are not just a member of management, but you are also an empathetic leader of that organization.

Many CHROs are a good business partners, members of management, and have a seat at the table, but they are reluctant to be that advocate for their employee population. Often, they do not want to risk their seat by sharing unpopular views that might be counter to business objectives.

You are there to be that employee advocate and show that empathy. If you don’t, who will?

Your perspective may be unpopular at times, but in true cross functional management teams you will be respected for raising your voice for employees. It takes strength and courage of conviction, and that comes from empathy. Understanding what is needed on the people side of your organization, how employees are feeling, and the overall tone of the company. As an HR leader you need to be able to assess that and use it in those management meetings.

Not just being empathetic but being empathetic and applying it to the business. Having empathy for the total organization and its effectiveness.

Staying in Touch
As you move higher up in your organization it becomes even more important to continue to listen to employees. Pace shares that it is important to wander around, be visible, and gather people and let them set the agenda. In one of his previous roles he hosted breakfasts with those that wished to attend, and they talked about everything.

People respect honesty.

It is important as a leader to hear the heartbeat of the organization and be honest with employees about what you can and cannot change.

It is not often that you see someone in the CHRO role and move into a CEO role. Pace explains that it is important when making the transition from CHRO to CEO to have a sponsor and find someone willing to take that chance on you.

You also need strong leadership skills. Having that intellectual curiosity and business acumen helps you to be successful in HR, but working with those senior operation leaders in an advisory role outside of HR prepares you for stepping out of HR. Dave also shares that you need to have the courage to ask for it, and ask what you need to do to get there.

You cannot be afraid to ask for it, the worst they can say is no.


P.S.  If you are leading in challenging times, and crave the (virtual) company of a group of HR leaders, join us in the HR Circle Group each month for live video discussions to solve your most pressing issues and learn from other HR leaders like you. To learn more:


Request an invite to the always sold-out VIRTUAL BigHR Event the 2nd Friday each September.

For CHROs, CPOs and direct reports


Request An Invite

50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.