Expert opinion: Chief Impact Officers are disrupters

Prince Harry at BetterUp, Kat Borlongan at Contentsquare, and now Julien Denormandie at Sweep: what are Chief Impact Officers (CIOs) up to? The migration of this role from start-up environments to the infrastructure of established corporations is a clear indication that organizational impact is now a strategic imperative. While corporate social responsibility (CSR) has shaped corporate policies over the past decade, the recent surge in CIO appointments reflects a similar paradigm shift, spurred by multiple factors.

The rise of impact leaders

First and foremost, the intensifying public discourse on the climate crisis, underscored by widespread alarm over numerous summer wildfires in Europe and North America, is a primary driver of change. This shift is further propelled by the tightening of regulatory frameworks. In 2023, the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) expanded its compliance requirements, mandating a wider range of businesses to report on their social and environmental performance.

The call for greater corporate responsibility is echoing louder from all directions. The quest for meaningful work among young graduates, the heightened scrutiny from business partners, and the escalating expectations of society at large have all signalled the necessity to extend the reach of CSR initiatives.

The era of simply ticking regulatory boxes is over. Crafting an impact strategy now demands a comprehensive reevaluation of a company’s entire operational framework. The leader at the helm of this strategy wields the power to challenge and potentially transform the status quo.

Chief Impact Officer: a multi-faceted role

Chief Impact Officers (CIOs) typically shoulder the responsibility of measuring their organization’s impact and crafting strategies that align with growth goals. However, the breadth of this role can vary significantly based on the company’s industry, stage of development, and the individual’s profile! For instance, Prince Harry’s mandate at BetterUp includes promoting mental health awareness, propelling the company’s social mission and impact, shaping the platform’s vision and user experience, and expanding their global community.

At Contentsquare, Kat Borlongan’s focus is on technological impact, addressing areas such as digital trust, data privacy, digital accessibility, UX education, and ‘UX for good.’ Her role also involves orchestrating collaboration across various departments — from operations and product innovation to marketing and CSR— to sculpt the company’s strategic direction. These varied roles underscore the CIO’s multidisciplinary nature.

CIOs are often seen as catalysts as change, with the potential to revolutionize a company’s culture and business model. In theory, they have the leverage to innovate the company’s offerings. For leaders, bringing a CIO on board is a commitment to initiating meaningful change within their organization.

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While the appointment of a C-level executive to oversee impact is a commendable step, the true measure of commitment lies in the ability to translate intentions into tangible outcomes: demonstrating measurable progress and transformation.

For CIOs to effectively fulfill their role, however, it is crucial that they are included in the strategic decision–making process. As it stands, only half of CIOs hold a seat on their company’s executive committee.

CIOs & multidisciplinary action

The position of Chief Impact Officer, while symbolically significant, requires individuals who have successfully navigated business challenges and are capable of innovating within a value creation framework.

This role is not isolated from an organization’s core operations; it is intrinsically linked to the fusion of economic performance and social contribution. The true measure of this role’s authenticity and effectiveness is its ability to cultivate new business propositions.

Engaging an organization’s employees is crucial for a CIO’s mission to thrive. Harnessing collective intelligence is key to the multidisciplinary nature of impact strategies. CIOs, in collaboration with various departments such as management, HR, marketing, finance, and procurement, can drive change at every level of an organization.

The goal for CIOs is to embed impact within current practices and to innovate where deficiencies are identified. They are also tasked with broadening a company’s horizons by fostering external connections that can lead to expansion and growth.

As agents of change, CIOs should be empowered with the authority and recognition needed to open up and evolve value creation models. The reputation and trustworthiness of businesses and their leaders hinge on this commitment to transformation.

Constance Nevoret

Written by: Constance Neverot, Executive VP Sustainable Development Mantu & Chief Executive Officer LittleBig Connection

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