The Rise of the Chief Purpose Officer
The Rise of the Chief Purpose Officer
The newest member of the C-suite and their role in building a purpose-driven corporate future
"It’s easy today to lose perspective on how the world thought about sustainability, let alone ESG, circa 2010. You know, if we go back 10–11 years ago, there weren’t chief sustainability officers at most companies, even at the Fortune 500.”
-Rob Bernard, former Chief Sustainability Officer, Microsoft

There’s a new Officer in the proverbial C-Suite town following hot in the footsteps of the Chief Sustainability Officer-- the Chief Purpose Officer. After speaking with business leaders from industries spanning manufacturing to technology to education and venture capital, Intentional Futures has found that decision makers are going further in their search for purpose in their organizations.

While now commonplace and expected, the concept of a Chief Sustainability Officer belonging amongst the CEOs and CFOs of large corporations was novel and innovative just a decade ago. In the words of Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s inaugural Chief Sustainability Officer: “It’s easy today to lose perspective on how the world thought about sustainability, let alone ESG, circa 2010. You know, if we go back 10–11 years ago, there weren’t chief sustainability officers at most companies, even at the Fortune 500.”

While great business minds from companies around the world are now emphasizing a focus on sustainability and their impact on the environment, the role of their influence on social impact and justice are just now being realized. Simply adding a new byline to a mission statement is not enough if companies hope to actually move the needle on their social aims. Since the Movement for Black Lives, many companies rushed to reevaluate their DEI policies and practices but few have much to show for their initial efforts.

Instead of leaving the change to chance, some companies are implementing an entirely new C-suite position: the Chief Purpose Officer. These positions are often accompanied by celebrity status-- Simone Biles was recently appointed Chief Purpose Officer of the app-based mental health service Cerebral. Biles, a mental health advocate and celebrated public figure, was in the perfect position to raise awareness around the need for mental health resources, particularly in underprivileged communities.

The Chief Purpose Officer is typically embedded within every facet of the organization, with the following responsibilities (according to Kindred):

  • Identifying corporate purpose by defining relevant values and activities
  • Incorporating purpose into the core business strategy
  • Advising on decision-making processes to ensure business activities align with stated purpose and values
  • Leading initiatives to align operations in addressing environmental and social challenges
  • Educating staff on corporate purpose and how their work contributes to the company purpose
  • Collaborating on activation campaigns that create social and environmental impact
Hunting for the How

Simply having a Chief Purpose Officer at an organization, while a nice overture, is not in of itself a true indicator of real change. True progress lies in the empowerment and influence of the person in that position.

Questions an organization should ask themselves before implementing a CPO could include:

  • Where does the CPO sit in the hierarchy of the organization?
  • Does this individual have real authority versus influence?
  • Are there business accountabilities that the CEO and Board take on as well that are aligned with the direction of the CPO?
  • What systems, accountabilities and measurement mechanisms are in place to ensure the broader organization will pay attention and shift behavior?

The creation and implementation of the Chief Purpose Officer role at organizations large and small is an important step in entrenching purpose at every level to ensure it extends beyond a statement. At Intentional Futures, we’re focused on the greater Stakeholder Centered Strategy-- an operational methodology transforming how businesses create long-term value. Our hope is that more businesses adopt this way of thinking in their own purpose-driven journeys.

In our search for the “how” of implementing purpose in impactful ways, Intentional Futures has had the opportunity to engage with influential business leaders and thinkers in our podcast, the Hunt for the How. Check out some of the episodes below for more:

Episode 1: Setting the Stage with Jon Iwata

Episode 2: Integrating ESG into business strategy with Rob Bernard

Episode 3: Operationalizing purpose with Fran Dunaway

Episode 4: Purpose versus profit with Shalinee Sharma

Episode 5: Transformative beginnings with Deborah Benton

Have questions or would like to learn more about how Intentional Futures can partner with your organization? Send an email to michael@intentionalfutures.com or christiana@intentionalfutures.com