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Why CHROs aren’t taking recruiter calls

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Today, we take another look at why it’s so hard to recruit talented senior HR leaders right now. Plus, we hear from the CEO of Sollis Health about what lured him away from Peloton after six years.

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)

Wanted: CHROs

On Tuesday, we spoke with HR leaders and headhunters about companies scrambling to find qualified chief people officers. The pressures of the last two-and-a-half years — from public health concerns to building remote teams, from rapid hiring to conducting layoffs — have largely fallen on the shoulders of CHROs, driving some to retire, take career breaks, or switch gears to roles in consulting, VC, or private equity.

But that’s not the whole story. Some people leaders who have left in-house CHRO roles and gone into consulting or private equity say burnout didn’t drive them to change gears.

  • Tracy Keogh left her role as the CHRO of HP Inc. last year, after a decade with the company. But she didn’t make the move in pursuit of more work-life balance: She’s currently the chief people officer of the $4.65 billion private equity firm Great Hill Partners, where she does in-house HR and works with portfolio companies.
  • Keogh said more opportunities are opening up for people leaders in private equity — though Great Hill was founded in 1998, the firm never had a chief people officer until she joined. Keogh is a member of a network of HR leaders in PE — it recently had to break into regional chapters because it got too big to coordinate nationally.
  • Chris Tobin, who stepped down from his role as SVP of People at Intercom in July, also said his departure was a long-planned transition away from being a full-time HR leader within a company. Now focused on advising, Tobin is far from burnt out, he told me, despite the “very atypical and nonstop” demands of the last two-and-a-half years.

In other cases, HR execs are simply hunkering down at their companies and ignoring calls from recruiters. Kathy Zwickert, who retired from her role as chief people officer at NetSuite in 2017, has noticed this as a board member at tax software company Avalara, which struggled to find an experienced CHRO who was willing to move to Seattle.

  • Zwickert attributed the slow recruiting process not to an exodus of HR leaders, but to a pandemic-era hunkering down.
  • “When the return to the office started happening, people were deciding they didn’t want to and they were going to leave. That was a huge challenge for HR,” Zwickert told me. “I think it made [senior HR leaders] more attached to their company. They just felt like they’d been through a war together, and a lot of them are just sticking around.”

At the same time, the pipeline of strategic, business-oriented HR talent is weak, some people leaders told me. Part of the reason for that is the move away from “academy companies” known for training up HR talent, such as GE, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Yahoo, Intel, and HP.

  • Younger HR pros are now staying at these companies for only a couple of years before moving on to a startup and learning in a “trial-by-fire” environment, said Robert David, executive director of the nonprofit Community for Strategic HR Partnership.

Some HR leaders are still putting emphasis on training the next generation. At HP, Keogh touted the fact that more than 40 of her employees had gone on to lead HR organizations at other companies.

  • Tammy Polk, the CHRO of Formstack, said she has her team do yearlong rotations through different specialties within HR: recruiting, learning and development, HR insights, total rewards, benefits and compensation, HR business partner generalist roles. Part of the goal here is to teach HR pros to handle complexity, she said.
  • “Most people leaders cannot manage the gray areas. They’re very black and white,” Polk said. “If you can train people to live in risk, they’re going to be a much stronger business partner.”

Bye, Peloton

Brad Olson’s six years as an exec at Peloton were “formative in [his] career, fast-paced and exciting,” he said. But a call from a recruiter seeking a CEO for Sollis Health left an impression, partly because Sollis lives with multiple sclerosis and spends “more time than most in doctors’ offices.”

Protocol news writer Nat Rubio-Licht sat down with Olson to hear about how he decided to leave Peloton to become a first-time CEO for Sollis Health, along with the biggest lesson he learned at Peloton.

Read the full story.


Low pay is the top reason employees decide to quit, followed by a lack of opportunities for advancement. Learn how an effective compensation plan can help combat these two major reasons.

Learn more


Here’s one possible reason your Slacks are going unanswered: 42.7% of workers say they take naps during the workday, according to a new survey from Sleep Foundation.

  • Managers (52.6%) were more than twice as likely to say they napped during the workday than individual contributors (21.8%) were.
  • Managers also tend to go to bed 50 minutes earlier than ICs (9:56 p.m. vs. 10:46 p.m.), and start work 22 minutes earlier on average.
  • Employees who start work later receive more negative judgment from ICs than they do from managers, however. Almost two-thirds of managers said they respect colleagues who start later than they do, compared to 54.9% of ICs, the survey found.

Some personnel news

Anyone else having a bad case of Great Resignation whiplash? It’s hard to keep up with which tech companies are growing, shrinking, floating, or sinking. We’re here to help.

⬆️ Elon Musk told Twitter employees that he’s not going to cut 75% of the company’s workforce, Bloomberg reported.

⬇️ Zillow laid off around 300 employees, but told TechCrunch that it continues to hire in “key technology-related roles.”

⬇️ The NLRB put out a complaint against Amazon CEO Andy Jassy over his comment that Amazon employees would be “better off” without a union, Vice reported.

⬇️ Fitness and wellness app maker Mindbody cut staff, according to several reports.

For more news on hiring, firing, and rewiring, see our tech company tracker.


Flexible work and resignations are at historic highs and employees are questioning if their compensation matches their worth. What are business and HR leaders supposed to do about this? BambooHR surveyed full-time, salaried employees and discovered the top 2022 trends surrounding compensation and what employees really want.

Read the takeaways

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

IT outsourcing companies in India are cracking down on moonlighting in order to protect corporate secrets. (FT)

Is your company ready for climate risks? (Harvard Business Review)

So-called long social distancing has kept an estimated 3 million people out of the workforce, costing the U.S. economy $250 billion in the first half of the year. (Bloomberg)

Winter is coming for Big Tech, and young tech workers should be prepared. (Insider)

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com.

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