Posted: 20 May 2024 5 min.

How COOs align with the organisation’s purpose

Topic: Operational Excellence

Many COOs are increasingly empowering operations through a purpose-led transformation mindset that adapts and anticipates the changing demands of business and society – and inspires delivery through others. Here are 3 ways to accelerate the journey.

From the hundreds of COO Transition Labs Deloitte has delivered both in Denmark and globally, if there is one thing we have learned it is that the traditional scope of the COO role is quickly growing in scope and complexity.

To me this is a natural development, because companies’ relationship with society, their wider purpose, is also evolving. Most boards and executive teams are already managing the expectations of customers, employees and investors to demonstrate that they intent on playing a positive, impactful role in society. But of course it does not stop there. Among other things, this includes driving the growth of a sustainable economy, protecting vulnerable customers, managing global and local risk, and offering a compelling and differentiated employee experience in order to attract top talent.

In my view, the COO is at the heart of this purpose-led transformation in at least two ways:

  • First, as a proactive leader and facilitator of change in the organisation, the modern COO is uniquely positioned to sponsor a purpose-led transformation across the entire enterprise which promotes the culture, behaviours and core capabilities to drive end-to-end operational excellence and sustainable performance improvement.
  • Secondly, with a laser-focus on value creation and customer-centricity, COOs are equally well-positioned to translate ambitions into authentic, credible operational practices that stand up to external scrutiny. Authenticity is vital for businesses to connect with their customers, employees and communities. That is only doable with the support of the COO.

Why purpose matters
In my view, some COOs have already realised this transformative agenda and are working on it – others are still reluctant, hoping to leave it up to the CEO or CHRO.

However, leaving it up to others is probably not a good decision.

First, while corporate responsibility, advocacy and sustainability have been priorities for many companies for decades, they have often been managed in silos and peripherally to core business activities. Today, stakeholders expect companies to drive consistent impact through all aspects of their operations.

Secondly, while some sceptics might argue that leading with purpose is a luxury reserved for times of growth, many companies have actually demonstrated that purpose can also be a core driver of value creation when times are tough.

In other words, leading with purpose can be a critical element of a sound operational strategy: A unique and powerful capacity to integrate social innovation and economic value. Many companies that do this really well generate new revenue streams, enjoy price premiums, engage strong talent, drive operational efficiency, and gain access to more investors and lower cost of capital. On the other hand, companies that do nothing might essentially be gambling away their future. Are you willing to take that risk?

How to get going
Thankfully, most COOs are already working with purpose in some shape or form, but I believe we could – and should – do more on this agenda. Here are 3 elements to consider for COOs that want to put purpose into action:

  1. First, purpose requires enterprise-wide alignment. The highest-growth companies typically see purpose not as a tagline, but something to be measured all the way from operational excellence to customer touchpoints. Leading with purpose might sound simple, but it actually takes a lot of humility as a COO to take a step back and take in every single touch point to truly understand if your company is living out its purpose.
  2. Secondly, do not be afraid to share your own story as a leader. COOs are increasingly expected to connect with their audiences authentically, and sometimes distinctly from the organisations they lead. While everyone can, and should, tell stories, it is a strategic imperative for COOs, particularly in times of change and transformation. Use the opportunity to engage with people and provide a holistic view of the organisation.
  3. Finally: Listen. Purpose is not just about finding answers, but also about engaging with people, activating your curiosity, and looking at each decision as an experiment that will create impact and generate new insights. Leading with purpose will come not from always having the right answer at the start, but much more by being able to challenge orthodoxies, operate with empathy, and learn from new information so you can refine as quickly as possible.

For today’s COOs I would say that purpose-driven leadership is probably here to stay. Even from my own perspective I see how Deloitte’s clients everywhere are redefining why they exist beyond profit – pushing them to rethink everything from core operations to employee and community engagement.

To me, purpose-driven COO leadership is about creating a vision and culture that both energises and empowers operational teams to execute on the organisation’s “why”. Today, stakeholders expect companies to drive consistent impact through all aspects of their operations. In response, we are seeing more and more organisations re-evaluating their purpose. Purpose is slowly becoming a key element of a meaningful operating model – one that consistently secures better outcomes for customers, colleagues and the wider society.

Forfatter spotlight

Tore Christian Jensen

Tore Christian Jensen


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.

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