Chief Impact Officer NOT Chief Executive Officer
Diversity as a culture not as a quota — M J Kinney Plant-Based Protein Expert, XPRIZE
A few days ago I wrote about the need for the 4th element in category design. Impact design — the impact the new category would have on the planet, communities, and society. This got me thinking about companies potentially needing to have a chief impact officer. But somehow that didn’t sound right. Creating another position that’s paid by the company to “monitor” impact.
Then it hit me. A few weeks ago I had read M J Kinney’s white paper on “what an equitable food industry looks like and how alternative protein can get us there”. M J had written it for XPrize. In the white paper, she talks about “diversity as a culture not as quota”. She talks about the need for women to get paid fairly, the need for diversity and representation. This in turn will contribute towards building a more equitable food industry.
“Women not only buy for themselves, they also buy for members of their household.”
M J is spot on! Impact too should be a culture, not a quota. Impact shouldn’t be reduced to ESG, sustainable goals, or measuring carbon footprint. Impact should be embedded into the culture of the organization. And so should diversity and inclusion.
But the question of who or which department should be responsible remains at large. In Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit, Kotler speaks of “marketing 3.0 is the stage when companies shift from consumer-centricity to human-centricity and where profitability is balanced with corporate responsibility”.
Being impact-driven is being human-centric. And it starts with the CEO. How often have we heard CEOs say “the buck stops with me”. Then impact needs to start with them. Think about it. CEOs are responsible for:
- Managing Investors
- Maximizing ROI
- Scaling the Business and much more…
He/she is the highest-ranking executive in an organization. In the American CEO, Drucker wrote, “regardless of its mission, the CEO is the link between the Inside, i.e., “the organization,” and the Outside — society, the economy, technology, markets, customers, the media, public opinion”.
According to my research, it's only in 1975 that also all Fortune companies had the title of CEOs. Prior to this, it was President or Chairman.
Since 1975, the world has changed. We face extinction-level threats. Much will lie in the hands of organizations and individuals' ability to make a positive impact. Why then should the title of the CEO remain CEO? I believe the title of CEO is redundant. The world doesn’t need CEOs the world needs Chief Impact Officers.
The Chief Impact Officer should be held responsible for upholding the impact design of a category. As Francis J. Aguilar says, “ Scanning the Business Environment” for:
- Organizational impact
- Socio Economic impact
- Environmental impact
- Political impact
- Technological impact
- Legal impact
- Moral impact
In essence, staying true to the Wicked7 clause. And yes managing stakeholders and ensuring the profitability of the organization.
I had the privilege of speaking with Tiila Abbitt, Founder of Āether Beauty. She is also the CEO. A much better title for her work is Chief Impact Officer. Here’s why.
Tiila spoke about the need for a 360-degree view on sustainability. She is so mindful of the impact, that she refuses the raise funds the “traditional” VC way. Her argument is that if she raises money via VCs she would be bound by their exponential growth metrics. She doesn’t want to compromise on the sustainability of her products and packaging “merely to gain market share”. She makes purposeful decisions on the need for each of her products in the market and the larger global problem it addresses. She will not launch any products that will bring harm to her children’s future. Therefore, she chooses to “crowd raise” the funds. Her ethos is, the community has supported us to grow to a USD 1 million business and they should be part of the company and our next stages of growth.
Tiila is also an unconscious category creator. She has created a whole new impact-driven cosmetics category which I call “elemental cosmetics”. She wasn’t actively looking to create a new category. She set out to solve the problem of what clean beauty means.
She is the very definition of a Chief Impact Officer. Not only is she a Chief Impact Officer for her company, but she is changing the face of sustainability for the entire cosmetics industry. She is educating her community and customers to ask for better options. This goes to the very heart of my Impact Design philosophy for category creators.
Founders like Tiila are in my opinion making the CEO title redundant and paving the way for an impact-driven economy.