What is a Chief Purpose Officer? The role of Chief Purpose Officer is a position that’s on the rise. What does the role entail, why is it gaining in popularity, and do you need this role in your organization? We’ll answer those questions and more in this post, including tips for hiring a CPO if you believe you need one.
What is a Chief Purpose Officer?
The recent addition of Chief Purpose Officer to the c-suite may seem unusual, but it grew out of the familiar concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environment, social, and governance (ESG) issues that have been a key part of business models for decades.
While CSR and ESG departments handle many of the same issues, a Chief Purpose Officer takes this a few steps further. They ensure that their organization clearly articulates its reason for existing, impact on society, and values relating to social, political, ethical, economic, philanthropic, and environmental issues. They then work to integrate that purpose into all aspects of the organization, including strategy, branding, culture, policies, processes, and partnerships. They also communicate the purpose internally across the organizational hierarchy and externally to customers and stakeholders.
Corporate Social Responsibility Role vs. a Chief Purpose Officer
So what’s the difference between a corporate social responsibility role and a Chief Purpose Officer? Those in CSR and ESG roles may have previously been disconnected from the c-suite and even siloed in the company, but now, the CPO makes these issues central to the company’s everyday efforts.
So why has this role developed? Many point to the rise in public consciousness of social and environmental crises over the past several years, including the pandemic, the racial justice movement, and the climate crisis. The public has increasingly called upon organizations to articulate their stance on these issues. Thanks to social media, the public is now able to call out organizations that are silent on these matters and even those that are performative or inauthentic.
Additionally, employees are no longer willing to work for a company whose values do not align with their own. The pandemic changed the way we work and sparked what has become known as “the great resignation,” when millions of Americans left their jobs. COVID-19 pushed many of these workers to rethink what really matters to them, which resulted in some of them realizing their employer didn’t meet their needs or align with their values.
Workers want to feel fulfilled through their work and to feel good about the company they are working for—this is what sparks their intrinsic motivation and improves job satisfaction. Purpose is starting to matter more and more because employees and customers both want to be aligned with companies that stand for more than just profit.
Businesses can no longer ignore social and political issues; they must speak out and take action in order to recruit employees and retain customers. The Chief Purpose Officer makes sure that what the company stands for permeates through everything the company says and does.
How Much Does a Chief Purpose Officer Make?
It’s clear that companies can no longer make their statements and efforts around social and environmental issues an afterthought; the company’s morals and ethics must be central to all their activities. While the role is not yet found universally across organizations, notable companies have recently hired Chief Purpose Officers, including Deloitte, PwC, and Hasbro.
What does a Chief Purpose Officer earn in the US?
According to ZipRecruiter, they average at $76,305, with the 25th percentile at $32,500, 75th percentile at $97,500, and top earners at $163,000.
Since the role is still relatively new, this wide range in earnings may be due to a lack of data, but it may also reflect the fact that a CPO salary could vary significantly across different industries.
What Does a Chief Purpose Officer Do?
The role of the Chief Purpose Officer is much more than creating and following a purpose or mission statement. Yes, the role begins with examining the brand and identifying the values that are the essence of the company’s purpose, but once the purpose is clearly articulated, the Chief Purpose Officer works to make sure the purpose is embedded across the entire organization.
What’s key to this process is integrating the purpose into the core business strategy and making sure it is reflected in other company policies and processes, from how products are developed and produced to who the company hires or partners with. To ensure that the company’s purpose is reflected across the entire organization, the Chief Purpose Officer will communicate and collaborate both horizontally across various departments of the organization as well as vertically through the hierarchical structure, from new hires up to the c-suite.
The CPO participates in decision making processes to ensure that all activities are aligned with the company’s purpose. They lead initiatives that address social, environmental, political, and ethical challenges and track the company’s impact on society. The Chief Purpose Officer stays tuned in to the values of their stakeholders and communicates the organization’s principles and purpose consistently, both internally and externally.
What does the day-to-day of a Chief Purpose Officer look like? A day in the life of a CPO could include any of the following:
- Coordinating with corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability teams on various initiatives and strategies.
- Attending board meetings with other c-suite members.
- Participating in high-level strategy meetings to inform discussions and decision making around keeping company values.
- Reviewing research on stakeholder values and developing a stakeholder communication strategy.
- Communicating with employees on how their role reflects the company’s purpose.
- Reviewing company hiring practices to ensure new hires reflect the company’s purpose and values around inclusivity, equality, sustainability, etc.
- Reviewing the process for sourcing and supplying products from other companies that share the same values.
- Addressing concerns that may arise due to a lack of clear value alignment, such as a negative review that relates to the company's stance on critical social or environmental issues.
Examples of Chief Purpose Officer Decision Making
For example, CVS Health made the decision to drop tobacco sales despite a huge financial loss because it conflicted with the company’s purpose.
Patagonia is often cited as a company with purpose firmly embedded in all its activities. They recently announced they would stop putting logos on clothing since research suggests clothing with logos is less likely to be passed down to children and more often ends up in the trash. Despite the cost of making the change, this decision better aligned with the company’s value of environmental sustainability.
Signs Your Business May Need a Chief Purpose Officer
Did your business have a public relations problem related to a recent social or environmental movement? Was the organization called out on social media? Do you struggle to retain employees and attract talent, especially younger generations? These are all signs you may need a Chief Purpose Officer.
Reasons a company may want to hire a Chief Purpose Officer:
- You need to recover from a public relations issue.
- You received negative reviews surrounding a social or environmental issue.
- You want to gain an edge over your competitors.
- You want a guidepost for making responsible decisions as a company.
- You want to improve the job satisfaction and motivation of your employees.
- You want to attract and retain talented employees.
- You want to reach and satisfy younger audiences.
- You want to employ and retain Millennial and Gen Z workers.
- You want to increase the loyalty of your customers.
- You want to realign the entire workforce around common goals.
- You want to build trust with your community, customers, employees, and investors.
What to Look for When Hiring a Chief Purpose Officer
Hiring a Chief Purpose Officer is not a decision to make lightly. You’ll want to get input from those who will work closely with them on what their role and responsibilities should be and how the role will fit into the organization. Understanding the reasons for the position and what the role should accomplish will help to clarify what skills and experience you’ll want in that hire.
Start by looking back to your business values and the purpose of your organization—you’ll want to find candidates whose values align with your own.
💡 Learn how to Create Your Company Core Values.
The following skills and experiences may be sought-after when hiring Chief Purpose Officer:
- Extensive and up-to-date knowledge in social purpose and policy development.
- Experience leading transformation within organizations through advocacy, influencing, and persuasion.
- Strategic thinking and problem solving abilities.
- Strong communication skills, including working with individuals, teams, and large audiences.
- Experience building trust within an organization and with outside stakeholders.
- Comfortable leading, motivating, and inspiring teams.
- General experience in corporate social responsibility.
- Experience in leading diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
- Experience leading sustainability initiatives.
- Strong adaptability skills and a continuous improvement mindset.
- A drive to think outside the box and come up with creative and innovative ways of solving problems.
The role of Chief Purpose Officer is relatively new, so you do not necessarily need to hire someone who has had this role before. Many different roles might transition well into becoming a Chief Purpose Officer. Experience in other c-suite roles will provide the important leadership and strategy experience needed by a Chief Purpose Officer. Those who worked in corporate social responsibility roles or environment, social, and governance roles will be more likely to understand the values and issues that a Chief Purpose Officer focuses on.
Don’t discount people with other backgrounds. For example, Hasbro hired a lawyer as their Chief Purpose Officer. Experience in any complex, public-facing organization will be relevant. What’s most important is that the person leading this position understands and fully believes in your company’s purpose. They should align wholeheartedly with your own values.
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