Posted: 07 Oct. 2021 4 min.

When COOs embrace organisational purpose – and how it can change everything

Topic: Operational Excellence

When I recently joined the advisory board of a social start-up, what felt most overwhelming was the incredible sense of purpose in this new-established organisation. It’s time for us COOs to listen and learn.

Let’s be honest, purpose is a relatively new word in the COO vocabulary. I know this from my own life. Besides being a partner at Deloitte, I’m actually also the COO of Deloitte Consulting. My job here is to make sure that our organisation runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and that we are making the right operational decisions.

Yet, change might be on its way. Going back to one of my blogs from a while ago, I wrote about how more and more COOs are becoming transformation champions in their organisation. What I see is that, with growing frequency, the COO leads the strategic business planning and transformation initiatives that put corporate-level strategies into action – and effective COOs are already seeking to deepen their organisation’s capabilities across a variety of areas, striking the right balance between legacy business, innovative capability areas, market expansion and M&A.

This trend is still very relevant, but there might be a second trend missing in order to complete the picture, and that trend is the increased focus on organisational purpose. Using purpose, many COOs are already instrumental in creating a sense of meaning for the people that work in the organisation. That’s something we need to be even more aware of, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Joining the advisory board for PLAY
Feeling a sense of purpose in our work is something that became very present to me a few weeks ago when I joined the advisory board for a new social start-up in Copenhagen called PLAY.

The concept is simple: PLAY wants to take vulnerable young people that are somehow left out of society and give them a new start and a new path moving forward to get their lives back on track. And there are some moving stories, I’ll tell you that. Just seeing a capable young person with so much to offer who sits alone in a basement doing nothing, wasting life because the parents can’t handle their own problems, is just heart-breaking in itself.

Of course, I have no experience with how to help these young people, but I do know a lot about how to build a business and scale it to maximise impact, and that’s my role in the advisory board.

But what was amazing about meeting this start-up was not about process optimisation or business acumen, but the amazing sense of purpose that had completely pervaded the organisation.

I was honestly so inspired by this commitment, and it was mind-blowing to see how much they wanted to make a difference for someone who really need some help. And, to be honest, it also reminded me that I rarely meet this kind of selfless and self-sacrificing motivation in my own work life – and that’s something that I would like to change.

Purpose can change everything
Going back to the world of business and the many ways in which companies are transforming right now, I really do believe that we shouldn’t forget that we can still touch people’s hearts.

I see this with the COOs I meet: Of course there will always be a focus cost-control and efficiency, but I think that many of us are realizing that we cannot create broad, transformational change in our organisations if there is not a purpose behind the things we do.

I’m sure you all know companies where people feel this purpose – and I’m sure you see how these organisations can somehow make the impossible happen because they have seen the light, and because everyone shares a vision of where they are going. Whether it be market disruption, digital transformation, sustainable innovation, social innovation or something else, these companies are challenging the status quo because they have ignited the purpose among their employees and used it as a platform for building their business.

I’m still at the start of my own personal journey, but there are a few reflections so far:

  1. Seeing how many COOs who have started to include purpose in their toolbox is great progress, especially at this moment when the war for talent intensifies, and when major digital and operational transformations are needed to future-proof the organisation. 
  2. Feeling a purpose is not a one-size-fits-all concept, and we have to make room for different interpretations and different viewpoints. In this sense, purpose is closely connected to the diversity and talent agendas, which are also about exploring differences instead of supressing them. 
  3. And finally, the inspiration is out there, but we might need to look outside our own everyday territory to find it. Helping a social start-up has definitely been an eye-opener for me, and it has given me so much inspiration as to how I can fuel that purpose and passion in my own work at Deloitte and for our many clients.

Every day, I see how organisations are moving into the post-corona world with so much energy, determination and innovation power – and COOs are at the forefront of this journey. A year ago, many of us feared that the pandemic would pause or delay these important transformational journeys, but in fact, the opposite has happened: companies everywhere are accelerating digital and operational transformations to match the new reality, and the ambitions have never been higher. I really believe that there is a purpose to everything we’re doing right now – and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.

Forfatter spotlight

Tore Christian Jensen

Tore Christian Jensen

Partner

As a part of the Strategy & Operations practice Tore has worked with analysis, development and implementation of operational strategies. Tore has deep experience with aligning business models to changing market demands through optimisation of business processes and aligning systems, organisation and governance accordingly. He has industry experience from manufacturing, transportation, consumer products and energy. His main focus is on on the operational core processes but he also covers administrative support processes. As a program manager Tore has been leading transformation projects for international clients heading multiple parallel projects and reporting directly to executive committee members. His responsibilities cover everything from initiating assessments, identifying opportunities for improvement to building business cases and following up by designing solutions and driving teams through implementation.