"That is a dramatic change in our profession. That is a dramatic testimony to how far we've come in what we do. … We've made this happen," Smith said. The main catalysts for HR's increasing prominence: the growing war for talent, the complexity of globalization, and increased regulation and legislation.
However, Smith's research indicates that, despite the ubiquitousness of CHROs, their function (and ultimately their value) remains murky to some—a fact that must change if HR is to retain their seat at the executive table.
The Ever-Evolving C-Suite
The progress of the CHRO role has been remarkable in its rapid ascent. And it comes at the same time that other C-suite positions are being diminished or even eliminated.
Consider the role of the chief operating officer. The COO position rose to popularity during the 1960s, Smith said, because the COO's oversight of internal operations helped complement the forward-thinking role of the CEO. For decades, the two formed a "dynamic duo" at the top of company leadership.
But after experiencing their heyday in the 1980s and '90s, Smith said, the COO's function slowly became incorporated into modern information systems. Individual business units gained more autonomy in their operations, making it unnecessary for many companies to have it as an executive function.
Chief marketing officers forged a similar path, originating in the 1960s and reaching their peak in the 1980s. Before marketing became streamlined and embedded into overall company operations, it was treated by most companies as a separate function. Today, less than 40 percent of CMOs report to the CEO.
These trends show that C-suite functions are far from static, Smith said, and CHROs current place at the executive table is far from certain.
The Ascent of HR
"HR has significantly evolved since its origins in personnel management," Smith noted. "Around the world, today we see the celebration of the coming of age of human resources, of human capital, of people management."