Where in the World Are All the C-Level HR Executives?

Mar 1, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Take a 30-second break and go to your company’s career site.

No matter what industry you’re in, I’m willing to bet it says something about how amazing the team is — how the people are what sets your company apart from every other competitor in the space, and how talent is the major contributing factor to overall success.

It makes sense. From every day operations to the larger business road map, a company can’t excel without a talented crew every step of the way.

So naturally, companies should be doing everything in their power to attract and retain the best of the best, right?

In theory — yes. But in practice, HR is often one of those fields that’s considered an afterthought, only receiving the attention it deserves after a company has already “made it” (and sometimes, not even then).

Why HR can be an afterthought

This happens for a couple of reasons:

  1. For one, HR folks have traditionally struggled to prove the value of their efforts through concrete metrics.
  2. And for another, HR has, quite honestly, largely been stuck in the past. There’s been lots of buzz in the HR world lately about how the human resources field hasn’t been making the dramatic steps necessary to keep up with a changing business world.

As a result, having an HR executive on the leadership team is a rarity — and that’s a major problem.

A kick-ass team giving it their all is often what causes a company to launch into superstardom in the first place, right? Can you imagine what would have happened if Apple hadn’t attracted and kept a stellar marketing team, or if Google hadn’t been stacked with brilliant engineers capable of building a world-changing product? The outcome would have been completely different.

Sure, you can try and have people with other primary job functions — say, the COO — head the HR function and hope that everything works out. But with how competitive the talent market is today, having someone on the executive board who has dedicated themselves full-time to finding and keeping the best of the best human capital ensures a much greater shot at success.

It’s about clear access to the executive team

Some people might argue that the C-level is only a vanity title; that at the end of the day, the only difference between an Executive Vice President of HR and a Chief People Officer is the name of the position. But in the end, job titles, or even reporting structures, are not what matters.

What does matter is having someone with clear access to the executive team so they can bring their ideas to the leadership table. That way, HR executives can bring their expertise to every issue their company is facing in order to figure out what they and their department can do to find a solution.

Is your company undergoing rapid growth, and struggling to keep up with demand for products? An HR executive can head a company-wide hiring initiative to make bringing on top-notch people as quickly as possible a priority.

Does your company find itself struggling to meet key deadlines and goals? An HR executive can focus on assessing employee performance and making sure that every team member is on track to meet maximum organizational effectiveness.

Whatever challenge a company is facing, HR can play a huge role in helping to overcome it — if the department has a leader with a clear vision, the clearance to make key decisions, and the ability to collaborate with other executives.

To get there, you MUST state your case

Unfortunately, having an HR leader on the executive board is not an established practice, so senior HR people, it’s up to you to state your case. Show, through concrete metrics, how you’ve already helped your company, and how much more of an impact you can make if you’re given a spot in the C-suite.

And, if you don’t receive buy-in right away, be persistent. Having someone dedicated to human capital at the very top of an organization is just as important as having leaders of finance, marketing, technology, and all of the other traditional C-level roles.

If you truly want your organization to stay on the winning path and be the most innovative, efficient, and productive company possible, it’s well worth the fight.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.