Allstate’s CHRO says HR leaders need a business-first mindset

There’s a shift happening among HR leadership, and maybe you’ve observed it, too. Talent heads who left the industry to explore the operational and financial side of the business are making a return to HR, and they’re in high demand. 

Robert Toohey, Allstate’s new CHRO who joined the company in March, is a member of this cohort of boomerang HR leaders. Prior to his appointment, he served as the president of the talent management startup Pymetrics and spent years leading business and operations within the world of media and telecom. His appointment spotlights a new trend in which companies are tapping CHROs who are more strategic, data-savvy, and results-focused. 

As I’ve already noted in this newsletter, leaders with tech experience and a track record of guiding large-scale talent transformation have become highly sought after in recent years. At Allstate, Toohey saw an opportunity to find talent that can drive innovation and help usher in a digital transformation within the global insurance behemoth. His business expertise and experience in non-HR roles were considered an asset. Toohey spoke with Fortune about his plan to transform how Allstate thinks about the role of people in improving corporate performance and the broader shift toward hiring business-minded HR leaders. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Fortune: What was the problem Allstate wanted you to solve when they approached you?

They were going through a big transformation and taking the company into the digital ecosystem. That included how the workforce does its jobs and how we handle customers.

When they approached me, I think it [was] helpful having business experience and then being on the people side. The company was already on the digital transformation journey and one of the things they realized was that the people part was critical.

We’re really going to change how we work and how we do things at Allstate whether that’s how you promote employees, how you move them around, or how you can really create excitement for them.

How are you bringing your experience from Pymetrics, and its focus on matching talent to skills, into your new role? 

People all want to succeed at their job, and it is up to both the person and the company to try to help facilitate that.

This is not an HR thing. It’s a business imperative, and I think that the relationship of an employee to the company can be tightened and elevated with technology. If you think about the consumer experiences you have every day—your bank, your coffee—these tools know you and they create an experience for you. Why don’t we do that in the workforce? We create experiences for the company, but can we create an experience for employees and create more engagement together?

What’s one of the top initiatives you’re most proud of thus far? 

We’re really understanding our employees and building data infrastructure. That’s not something that an employee will feel yet, but technology and data are going to be the two core things we need to make all of this [innovation] come to light. The goal out of the gate is to give leaders, managers, and people more data so they can do their jobs. 

What’s an unpopular opinion you hold about HR that others might disagree with?

HR needs to run like a business. We are a business, and people are what make your business run. We’re a service provider to the organization through people, so everything we do must have a business outcome. Everything. 

We’re undeniably a cost to the business, so what are we giving back? We want to give the company a great workforce that’s going to help it move forward. If it’s not helping grow the business, or if it’s not helping our customers, we should think about why we are doing it.

Amber Burton
amber.burton@fortune.com
@amberbburton

Reporter’s Notebook

The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.

There’s a leadership take to be considered even in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death. Dozens of leaders put out public statements yesterday following Buckingham Palace’s announcement of the Queen’s passing. Companies like Aston Martin and Cisco posted tributes, as did business titans like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. The Amazon billionaire responded to a tweet from former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a short message: “I can think of no one who better personified duty. My deepest condolences to all the Brits mourning her passing today.”

Read the full round-up of how companies and leaders responded to the news here.

Around the Table

– The person who coined the term “quiet quitting” says it was supposed to be about standing up to exploitative employment practices—and reintroduces the original quiet quitter. Business Insider

– Return-to-office edicts have some tech companies feeling uneasy because many of their products make remote work possible. It makes for an odd situation when a video conference company asks employees to work in person. Axios

– Blackrock released a statement countering claims made by elected officials that its ESG funds hurt shareholders. New York Times

Watercooler

Everything you need to know from Fortune

Work-from-home delivery. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has no plans to institute a return-to-office policy for corporate employees. But he did acknowledge that hardware teams tend to meet more frequently because “it’s a little harder to invent remotely.” —Colin Lodewick

Pay bump. Annual raises could almost double over the next year, according to a survey from payroll software company Salary.com. A quarter of companies said they would increase standard raises from 3% to nearly 7%. —Sheryl Estrada

Home sick. Offering employees even one hour of sick leave is associated with a lower risk of dying, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study also found that mortality risk would decrease 5% if federal law mandated employers offer 40 hours a week of sick leave. —Alexa Mikhail

Did a chatbot write this? A.I. chatbots might be able to teach us how to be more empathetic leaders, writes Michelle Zhou, the CEO of Juji, an A.I. company. They’re better suited to some of the soft skills required of leaders because they’re programmed to be deferential and nonjudgmental. Plus, they’re great listeners. —Michelle Zhou

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