There was a time when employees were expected to leave their personal views at home so as to maintain neutrality in the office on topics of politics, culture and social debate. But times are changing, as companies try to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.
Today’s employees expect their employers to take a stance on the hot topics of the day. A Gartner 2020 survey of more than 500 employees showed that employee engagement can drop by one-third when employees are disappointed with their employer’s stance on those societal and political issues.
The latest mid-year Edelman Trust Barometer study revealed roughly 80% of employees expect their company to act on issues such as vaccines, climate change, automation, misinformation and racism.
77% of people now say their employer has become their most trusted institution. We saw the shift from trust in government to business during the pandemic, when people realized governments were ill-equipped to develop and rollout vaccines. But businesses are expected to stay in this position for quite a while, which adds pressure to leaders to address their employees’ concerns rather than just shareholder returns.
New C-Suite Role
So, how are leaders supposed to manage this shift? There’s a new C-suite role emerging to help: the chief purpose officer.
This position is very new, and most companies are still trying to figure it out, but the evolution of this role shows that CEOs are taking corporate responsibility seriously. It’s a way for companies to step up! This is especially important for millennials and Gen Z, who support brands that align with their values and have no hesitation when it comes to calling for change. According to the Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, nearly 49% of respondents said they have made choices on their career path and potential employers based on the organization’s values and ethics. They are the force behind the Great Resignation, as they leave jobs that aren’t in alignment with their own moral code.
These generations want to work for employers who stand for a purpose that goes beyond just products and profits. They want to feel as if their work is making a positive impact on society. In the past, human resources, legal and public relations departments worked together to create policies, strategies and activities to support employees, as well as address diversity, inclusion and sustainability.
But not having one person dedicated to a company’s purpose can mean commitments made aren’t being met. We are seeing those responsibilities spread out across departments be combined into the chief purpose officer position, whose job is to supercharge those purpose initiatives.
A Culture of Purpose
Knowing that purpose is a key to employee motivation, companies are starting to line up their initiatives to be purpose driven and clearly identify their value system. They are going back to their roots and establishing or revisiting corporate purpose, which is an organization’s reason for being and the positive impact it delivers for society.
A CPO literally places purpose on everything a company does. He/she directly influences the way an organization operates by constantly asking the question: “Does this activity meet our purpose?” If not, they will oppose it and lead the company in a different direction. This position is capable of fostering more C-suite collaboration as it addresses societal challenges.
Another responsibility of the CPO will be constant pulse checking with employees so that they feel involved and that they are a driving force behind these purposeful initiatives. CPOs will also need to find quantitative ways to measure the results and benefits that are being yielded.
The Power of Purpose
Deloitte research from back in 2014 found that purpose-driven companies witness higher market shares and grow up to three times faster on average than their competitors. But we are just now seeing it in the mainstream, even though it’s been proven as a way companies can keep the best and brightest employees and reduce turnover.
No company has embraced the power of purpose more than Unilever who has more than 149,000 employees. Paul Polman, the CEO who led Unilever from 2009 to 2019 believed that purpose can help reduce tensions in the workforce and create optimum conditions for growth. In 2009, the company started the Unilever Leadership Development Program, to help senior executives discover their own purpose and use it to guide their work. By 2021, almost 40% of Unilever’s workforce had taken the purpose workshop, including hourly workers. In 2020, 92% of those who attended the workshop reported having jobs that inspire them to go the extra mile, compared with only 33% of those who had not attended one.
Today, other large organizations such as Cisco, Deloitte, PwC and others have dedicated chief purpose officers and more are being hired each day. Popular mental wellness brand Calm just announced Jay Shetty, New York Times bestselling author, podcaster and former monk will serve as its CPO. Deloitte data shows that 44% of businesses now have a dedicated C-suite leader overseeing purpose or sustainability at their company.
Find Your Company’s Voice
Purpose has another important benefit: it can help you find your voice.
Deloitte’s Chief Purpose Officer Kwasi Mitchell suggests defining your corporate purpose, and making sure your social purpose reinforces that. Purpose is why a corporation exists – it’s long-term value and how you respond in both business and societal contexts. But having an inspiring purpose statement isn’t enough. You have to have strategy attached so that it’s not just lip service, and there’s actually action behind it.
That purpose statement can help a company narrow its focus. Think about the causes people are passionate about. What’s the interest of the day? A CPO can help identify when the corporate voice should be used on political and social issues. Purpose should determine why you take certain actions.
Last year, only 10% of Fortune 500 companies had a chief purpose officer, but that number is growing. If your company is too small to dedicate a full-time position to purpose, consider other possibilities such as creating committees to define your purpose and align your initiatives to be purpose driven.
While some businesses have made great strides in purpose, there still needs to be more action from commitment to impact. The younger workforce is demanding it, so we expect this role to grow as the pressure from both inside and outside the workforce to do good escalates.