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What Good is a Chief Good Officer?

By Melissa J. Anderson

Recently, an article appeared in the Huffington Post calling for a Chief Good Officer, a C-level executive who would fill the gap between marketing and operations. Deron Triff, CEO and Co-Founder of Changeagents.com, explained that the CGO would be the “next evolution of the corporate social responsibility manager, but with a real seat at the table.”

But if CSR doesn’t have a seat at the decision making table already (Chief Responsibility Officer, Chief Sustainability Officer, etc), will giving it a new name really change that?

Triff writes:

“The CGO position fills a gap between the operational nuts and bolts of building a robust corporate social responsibility program and the marketing/advertising functions that drive customer acquisition and loyalty. Working alongside the other chiefs, the CGO would be on point to create brand purpose and action that bring a company’s social justice and environmental values to life. This is the chef who blends financial and social “bottom lines” into a tasty dish that is as engaging as it is impactful for consumers.”

Recognizing that corporate responsibility, at its best, should encompass operational, branding, and human capital issues is admirable, but it’s not a new concept. And it doesn’t need a new name. What really needs to happen is for boardrooms and C-suites to understand that long term planning for a sustainable corporate future is good for the the planet and its people, good for the bottom line, and good for employees.

If that’s not already obvious to at least some of a company’s executive management and board directors, pulling a chair up to the table and plopping the CGO label onto it isn’t going to change anything.

The issue is more of a cultural one – is the company interested in long-term planning directed toward diverse definitions of sustainability, or is it engaging in a near-sighted quarterly view of its impact and its balance sheets?

And second, to play devil’s advocate, if all of the “good” activities we associate with corporate responsibility, diversity, and sustainability are taken off the operational and marketing chiefs’ plates and pushed under another executive’s purview, will they drop out of their sight completely? Is creating another silo really the way to encourage responsibility to flourish?

What really needs to happen is for corporate responsibility to be taken seriously at every level, by every executive. “What ‘good’ have you done?” should be a question asked on every quarterly or annual review. In fact, Novo Nordisk’s attitude toward corporate responsibility may be a more impactful model – rather than asking how values-based activities help the bottom line, employees are asked how their financial targets further the company’s values.

Who gets a seat at the table is obviously an important question – and there’s no question that corporate responsibility should be represented at the highest levels of decision making. But simply squeezing in another executive is not the way to achieve real results – it’s a process that will take time and effort, and will require culture adjustment at every level of the corporation. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with another one of the ineffectual managers that Triff was taking about.

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