The Rise Of The Chief Purpose Officer
Purpose is one of the hottest workplace topics, but statistics and insights around the topic can be difficult to find. This is in part due to misconceptions that softer engagement areas such as purpose, culture and diversity and inclusion are hard to measure and hard to attach business metrics to. Deloitte’s latest report “C-suite insights: How purpose delivers value in every function and for the enterprise” provides real insight into how corporate purpose has become a strategic imperative.
Why purpose, why now?
The terms “great resignation” and “great re-evaluation” have been in the news cycle, and with good reason. A record number of 4.53 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs last November. A likely explanation for this is the turmoil of Covid-19 has caused many to consider what’s truly important to them, and this means the search for purpose is rising.
It’s not just a re-evaluation of what people want from work. It’s a re-evaluation of which companies we choose to do business with. After all, 78% of consumers are more likely to remember a company that exhibits a strong purpose.
One way to supercharge your purpose initiatives is to hire a chief purpose officer. Kwasi Mitchell, chief purpose officer of Deloitte, believes this will become an increasingly common job in the future. “More organizations will be naming chief purpose officers or some derivative thereupon. The last time I had my team check, perhaps six or seven months ago, only 10% of Fortune 500 companies had a chief purpose officer.”
Purpose is also on the rise as many companies are currently reviewing their business strategies in light of the pandemic and changes to the world of work — and purpose needs to be at the heart of those discussions. “As we have thought about a refresh of our strategy, it was very clear that purpose was at the table with all the other major actors,” says Mitchell. “If you treat purpose and strategy as distinct, you don’t have them aligned in any way, shape, or form.”
Purpose has another important benefit. In today’s climate where companies are expected to take a stand on a multitude of societal issues, it can be confusing to find your voice. That’s where purpose comes in, says Mitchell. “Having a well-defined purpose narrows your focus. In many respects, it protects you against risk because what I frequently worry about in an organization as large as ours is that there are so many different interests — both external and internal. People are passionate about specific causes or think we should be taking a distinct stance on an item. Part of my role is helping the organization to understand when we use our voice on political and social issues. Purpose is another set of considerations tied to your core values as to why you’re doing specific things.”
Don’t conflate purpose with your ESG initiatives
As environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives have taken on more prominence over the last year, the lines between purpose and ESG are blending, most commonly in the shape of companies carving out a social purpose separate from their corporate purpose. “They should be one and the same,” warns Mitchell.
“You have your corporate purpose, and then the social purpose should reinforce what your core corporate purpose is. So, how do we show up in the communities in which we live and serve? Because of the pressures related to ESG, some organizations are conflating ESG with purpose, but they are distinct. ESG is just a reporting mechanism. It’s how you signal to the market and to stakeholders all the activities that align with specific guidance. But it’s not the why of an organization — that’s what purpose is. It’s that drive, your long-term value, your risk-taking capabilities, and how you respond to others in both a business and societal context. It’s why you exist.”
Connecting your people to your purpose
Individual purpose is an important part of the employee value proposition, and the search for individual purpose is starting to matter more and more. In the report, Leena Nair — current CEO of Chanel— shares this example from her time as chief human resources officer at Unilever. “The London School of Economics did a study on 3,000 people who’ve been through Unilever’s Discover Your Purpose workshop. People who feel they are living their purpose have 49% more intrinsic motivation and 33% higher job satisfaction.”
Delivering on your purpose
It’s not enough to just have an inspiring purpose statement. You have to have a strategy attached to it to turn those words into meaningful action. According to the report, 87% of employees agree or strongly agree that their company has a clear and defined purpose strategy. Furthermore, 79% of surveyed C-suite leaders said their company has a clear and defined purpose strategy that is integrated with core business strategy. However, 22% in this group also indicated that their company does not report on purpose-related data, which calls into question just how integrated purpose is.
Part of the problem is that purpose cannot be delivered by one person, or off the side of someone’s desk. That’s why the role of a chief purpose officer can supercharge a company’s efforts to be truly purposeful. Deloitte’s journey to deciding to carve out this role was the result of a fellowship within the organization. “We pull 25 of our best and brightest and have them work on large corporate projects. One of these projects was if we should create a chief purpose officer, and what the role and responsibilities would be, as well as where this role would sit within the organization,” explains Mitchell. Day-to-day responsibilities include working closing with corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion teams to strategize how to make the maximum impact.
Businesses also need to hold themselves to account to deliver on purpose. While 70% of C-suite leaders said their role is impacted by purpose, only a third of them said that their compensation is tied to their performance against those priorities.
Often, purpose is rolled out as a motivator or pointed to as a North Star with no real direction on the behavior changes needed within the business to make that purpose a reality. Mitchell has advice for those working to authentically live and deliver on purpose, while acknowledging the challenge that goals and metrics can be hard to come by. “What I’m hearing more and more is that there are many organizations that are starting to set up shared goals with their leadership team on topics such as sustainability and diversity and inclusion.”
A long road ahead
“Many businesses have made great strides to implement purpose across their operations, but there is still a long way to go from commitment to impact,” says Mitchell. Collaboration across the highest levels of the business to deliver on purpose will be the key to success.