The Changing C-Suite: Understanding the Role of Chief Impact Officers and Chief Purpose Officers
This article on the role of Chief Impact Officers and Chief Purpose Officers is an abbreviated version of a research report prepared by Kindred Concierge. Concierge is our on-demand research and insights team that helps our members get the data and information they need to navigate complex decision-making within their organizations. To learn more about the Kindred experience and member benefits, apply here. For existing members, log in to the member portal and maximize your Kindred experience through Concierge today.
As companies become more focused on environmental, social, and governance issues, two executive roles are helping drive their strategies. Chief Impact Officers (CIO) and Chief Purpose Officers (CPO) have increasingly shown up on leadership teams and governance structures of organizations across sectors and industries.
Among companies that have embraced the role of the CIO is BetterUp, which made headlines when it named Prince Harry the position earlier this year. Similarly, Hasbro and Deloitte each announced new Chief Purpose officers to lead the purpose-driven work of both organizations.
Over the past few years, defining an organizational purpose has become imperative for companies interested in long-term growth. To quote BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, “purpose is not a mere tagline or marketing campaign; it is a company’s fundamental reason for being — what it does every day to create value for its stakeholders.”
Indeed, a 2019 study from EY Beacon Institute and HBR study found that 85% of executives are more likely to recommend a company with a strong purpose. The Business Roundtable also defines the purpose of a corporation as generating long-term value for all stakeholders and promoting sustainability in business and society.
With the expectations for companies changing, the need arises for an executive to lead on defining a company’s purpose and encoding it across the organization. Given the focus on integrating purpose and impact, companies are looking to these executive roles to lead alignment, operationalize, measure progress, and be accountable for purpose at all levels of the organization.
Defining Key Responsibilities
Chief Purpose Officers and Chief Impact Officers have similar objectives to drive impact through the organization’s mission, vision, and values. However, there are key differences between the two roles that make them distinct. Generally, CPOs operate on a micro-scale internally, ensuring that a company’s purpose is embedded throughout its practices. On the other hand, CIOs tend to have an external focus around the impact of the business’ activities and how they align with the company’s mission and values.
Chief Purpose Officers
The CPO looks to ensure that purpose is demonstrated throughout an organization publicly and internally across strategy, branding, and culture. They also work to embed purpose-driven behavior and strategy throughout the company. Some specific responsibilities include:
- 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
Chief Impact Officers
The CIO role tends to be less common than that of the CPO and is more popular among nonprofit organizations. One major responsibility of the CIO is measuring and communicating the company’s impact. Some other specific responsibilities of this role include:
- Identifying the positive impact the company seeks to have and the strategies necessary to achieve them
- Tracking impact metrics to guide decision-making
- Communicating the positive or negative impacts of a company’s business activities
- Aligning impact strategy with an existing framework, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
- Serving as an ambassador to external stakeholders on the organization’s social, cultural, and environmental issues.
At Kindred, CIO Sarah Green-Vieux oversees research efforts regarding socially responsible leadership, advises enterprise members, and provides oversight and governance on internal processes, among other functions.
With environmental, social, and governance issues shaping the economy, workforce, and communities, purpose-driven companies feel a responsibility to drive impact on these issues. Chief Purpose Officers and Chief Impact Officers help align business decision-making to purpose and consider the impact of practices across operations. As more companies adopt ESG practices and embed purpose into their practices, expect the popularity of these roles to grow.
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