The case for the Community Executive Officer

The case for the Community Executive Officer

I love giving new names to community things, it’s become a habit of mine over the past couple of years. I stick ‘community’ at the beginning, middle and end of existing terms, tilt my head sideways and imagine the new meaning behind it.

It is important because I don’t think we have enough words to describe the things we do in community. Can we even be taken seriously as industry if we don’t have words to describe and have common understanding of the things we do?

Giving and exploring naming is a real opportunity to figure out and create meaning. It’s a bit of serious yet fun work that gives me a bit of creative freedom to seek meaning.

🌈 Also friends, this is how I have fun!

One such idea exploration is that of the Community Executive Officer, a twist on the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) title.

I was the Community Executive Officer

I didn’t specifically use the title at the time, but the Community Executive Officer title was inspired by my role at Ministry of Testing, a bootstrapped and community focused company that I founded.

I was the founder and CEO and community was at its core:

  • Community is the reason for it’s existence
  • It’s what I believed in
  • It’s the only way I wanted a business to exist in this world
  • Community is what helped grow the company
  • I didn’t invest in marketing and sales, I invested in community, which led naturally to marketing and sales
  • Every decision that was made considered the impact of the community
  • Culture and ethics were at the root of the company and community
  • Doing what felt right was a valid reason to make a decision

Basically, in a nutshell, if what we were doing didn’t align with our community values, we just weren’t doing it. To me this is common sense, this is what the culture evolved around—trying to make the best possible decisions for our people, within our ability and resources.

Of course, in addition to this as the CEO, I had to think about the direction of the company as a whole. So whilst community was at the heart, there were always business decisions to be made. The community business model was under constant evaluation. We had to be profitable (or die). And we had ambitions to do great things for our people.

What is a Community Executive Officer?

In simple terms, it’s the Chief Executive Officer who is utterly community-minded. They have a true conviction for leading a company with the community at the heart. There is nothing that would change their mind about adopting a different approach. However, they also understand that a sustainable business with happy employees is essential.

It's a tricky balance to find.

It means that in every business decision, questions are asked:

  • How are we working with the community to understand this?
  • What validation exists that this aligns with what the community needs?
  • How does this impact community?
  • How is it good for the community?
  • How is it a good thing for the business overall?
  • How does this impact our vision?
  • How does this decision impact our community flywheel?
  • Are we breaking any promises by moving forward?
  • How do our employees feel about doing the work?

The Community Executive Officer gets community and knows that there are no shorts cuts. They don’t need to be convinced that community is the way. They set the community culture in every business decision they make.

The business is there for the community, and the CEO knows it. And fundamentally this should mean that community will not get cut out of the picture.

Why do we need to talk about the Community Executive Officer?

There’s been lots of talk about community having leadership roles. How we need Chief Community Officers (CCO) and VPs of Community. I’m most definitely not arguing against that.

However, there are challenges to this approach.

One is that it is often a privilege for companies to be able to afford those roles. It’s easy to talk about how it all makes sense to have a CCO, but when reality sets in, most companies just can’t justify the cost. Even more so in times like now.

A restructuring of the company or a change in focus could make it all too easy to eliminate community as a core value, and therefore these roles could easily disappear, or perhaps not be given the authority that they need to take real action.

There is also a really big elephant in the room that no one likes to (publicly) talk about: community washing.


Community is the cool thing. Companies know it can work well. They know it brings results. The trouble is they want to inject it in, rather than have it truly as part of their company culture. There are so many companies out there at the moment that claim to be ‘community led’, maybe they'll get there one day, but most are not there yet. Many won't complete the journey.

The reality sets in when businesses start to realise how embedded community needs to be in the organisation as a whole. It turns out it is hard and slow work.

The thing about community is that so much of it is about culture. And culture is about everything you do. Culture and community come hand in hand. And really, this is why the Community Executive Officer is so important. Impactful community becomes embedded into the DNA of the organisation. There is no hiding behind it.

The CEO would not allow the community culture to be lost—they would say confidently, with authority, and with action:

“This is what we do here”

and

"This is the way."

Others will then follow.

Community builders can be great entrepreneurs and leaders

It’s time for a real shift.

The world has needed it for a long time. Businesses have existed for far too long with a transactional mindset. Community professionals as entrepreneurs and leaders are so well suited to leading the change we need in our world.

After all, if we can lead a community of a "considerable amount of people", why wouldn't we be able to lead companies too?

We need leaders who believe in community to show how amazing and profitable businesses led by people for people really look like. To show that there are better ways to build businesses. To tap into a more natural emergent way of creating progress with people, society and the planet.

Community needs to be the DNA of businesses, and what better way to bake that in than by ensuring it comes directly from the core leadership? 🌈

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