New Manager

From CEO to Chief Purpose Officer

Naveen Khajanchi | Updated on September 19, 2018

The future belongs to companies whose leadership has awakened to a ‘purposeful purpose,’ which ensures that people, happiness and health, societal give-back, environment and energy conservation, gender diversity, performance and profits become by-products of this larger purpose.

If companies are to think beyond profits, chief executives must lead from the front

Most of us have a purpose in life. This is known to us at times, and sometimes we are yet to find it. Purpose, when found, energises us and we move towards it as if on auto pilot. This direction, when it becomes clear to us and we accept it, leads us to the end of our journey.

My purpose was to be happy and make others happier. It was a purpose while it was all about me, but became purposeful when a daily KRA of helping myself become happier, sharing and caring for family or friends and an unknown person on the road with some small action without any expectation, was implemented as a daily routine in my life. I made myself the Chief Purpose Officer of my company from CEO, and found that there was a paradigm change in my energy, resilience, agility, and happiness, in good times and bad.

When it comes to organisations, I believe the future belongs to companies whose leadership has awakened to a ‘purposeful purpose,’ which ensures that people, happiness and health, societal give-back, environment and energy conservation, gender diversity, performance and profits become by-products of this larger purpose.

Now, the CEO is under the scanner, which means that a lot of those extra perks that do not make sense will have to be given up (of course, with a balance) ... as CPO they own the process of this change/ transparency of really high order. This can only happen when the larger purpose of the CEO and company finds some alignment with the inner purpose of its employees, stakeholders and customers. Millennials as a generation have a strong need for this. CEOs beware! By not moving to CPO, you may not be getting the best out of yourself and the workforce.

The good news is that millennials are much more aware and tend to remain committed to their threads of purpose from an early age. So, if someone believes in contributing to the preservation of the environment, they will take positive action towards it, which will include shunning businesses that do not align with their beliefs. I clearly see this in my own daughter Avni’s case. She is against the use of plastic straws, which is why she will take steps to ensure that she and her family do not use them. My son Rushil’ s passion to save animals has led us to pay for transporting stray cats to people who can adopt them, or take them to a shelter, and at that time his pocket money can be used too.

Leadership - even those who are hugely successful - often find a vacuum in their happiness if they have not found meaning or purpose in their existence. At a work level, this means that they need to also define that for their organisations and align their employees to it. The time when employees would follow any command that the leadership gave is now past. It’s time to think deep, have a larger cause than mere profiteering, and create an ecosystem where deep listening and observations can unleash threads of an undefined purpose.

Stewardship is the new leadership. This is easier said than done, but the best way forward. For the people, by the people, needs to be the backbone. Self-directed and inspirational team members deliver much higher performances and have healthier lifestyles.

The Chief Purpose Officer must ensure that he communicates clearly and allows others to express without fear. Collaboration across departments should be the norm - it is “we as a company” that matters, it’s not only about “me". The CPO moves to the role of an enabler and facilitator, challenging the status quo for the larger good. So what steps does a CPO take – I can think of a few, how about you?

People and relationships are a priority

It is about ensuring that people are given freedom of choice to reach their targets within certain boundaries, trained for successful closure of their tasks and the team has higher an overall reward rather than individuals. Comparisons lead to disturbances. Make room for overall fairness as a culture and process, where people are treated with dignity. This also means that every employee is part of the family. For example, there are organisations that go beyond company policy and insurance rules to stand by their people and families, in times of medical emergencies, accidents and even mental health issues.

Giving back to society and development is not ignored; instead, it is encouraged and made part of the budget

This needs a drastic shift in the way the company thinks. Traditionally, businesses have always been run with a purely profit-making mindset, which leads to cutting corners for general employees and basic customers. But these are short-term solutions that ignore qualitative aspects such as benefits from employee health, safety or a sense of belonging.

Employees must be encouraged to volunteer their time for good causes organised by the company. These CSR initiatives are helpful in building a sense of purpose as people find meaning in social work and build deeper connections across ages and departments. Social initiatives do not always need to be external facing. For example, the company crèche and canteen run on a no-profit no-loss mechanism, with healthy food cooked and served by retired employees. To have someone known and trusted manage the crèche was a big relief for the parents (employees).

Environmental safety and care is built in thoughts and action

Environmental safety is of prime importance in every organisation’s vision. It is very important to follow up words with actions like using solar energy/ alternate fuel in company facilities. Battery cars and bikes with pooling can be encouraged. Energy efficient machines should be installed and sunlight should be carefully allowed inside the office to reduce overall electricity costs. Recycling and segregation should be made mandatory.

Technology is used optimally to enable and ease life and transparency

People are free to give feedback and also co-create any change in policy, which could be put to vote, with the management having the right to veto when it is against long-term business goals. For examples, employees wanted a policy that said there would be absolutely no work on weekends, but management explained that in a crisis (which can come anytime) it was important to attend to customers, otherwise business would shift to competition. To find a balance, office phones would not to be available 24X7. Email on weekends was restricted. An emergency/ crisis hub was set, wherein the customer could call and the concerned people would then be connected, on a case-to-case basis.

Responsibilities of a CPO

The Chief Purpose Officer is now tapping the "Power of the Collective" down the line. The key message should be that "we" are one, and "me" is an important part to achieving that. Employees should feel empowered about their work, see some threads of alignment in their purpose and the larger purpose of the company, the direction the company is taking, so that they are driven and dedicated. Storytelling and live sharing of small or big wins makes it a deeply embedded part of that culture. Damage control goes a long way in preventing employee burnout.

CEOs in their role as Chief of Purpose should learn to accept that good performance and profits are not more important than happy and healthy people, actually both can co-exist.

Welcome to the auto piloted leadership team, wherein alignment of purpose is a necessity not a choice any more.

(Naveen Khajanchi is an Alumnus of INSEAD. He is CEO of an executive search service, an executive coach and a family business advisor. For more details, visit: and twitter@naveenkhajanchi)




Published on September 19, 2018

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