Business as a force for good: Why we became a B Corp

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It’s B Corp month.

To be honest I’m not sure why February is B Corp month but, if my Twitter stream is anything to go by - everyone is #ethical 

My business became a B Corp in 2016. Back then most people didn’t know much about B Corporations and even now I still talk to many clients who have that ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it sounds like I should agree’ look in their eyes.

Two years in, and we are coming up to our re-accreditation. A process that stopped me to consider and ask, ‘do we really want to do this again?’

Seeing the prolific parade of tweets and posts in support of ethical, purpose-driven business is heartening. It’s wonderful to see businesses that aim to balance purpose and profit do exist. 

So as I look back at my two years of being a B, I look back at some experiences as an accredited ‘business as a force for good’ and why we ventured down this path in the first place.

First Meeting

I first met Danny Almagor (CEO of Small Giants) at the launch of the new Bank Australia in 2016. A brand my team was responsible for building. Danny was the opening speaker and spoke eloquently about business, purpose and impact. Positive impact. He spoke of ethical business and moving the world towards a better future.

I stood in the crowd and was dumbfounded at how simple yet profound Danny’s message was. I flashed back to poignant moments in my own career where I had similar awakenings.

Reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo in 1999. A manifesto for better business practices and an exposure of some of the world’s biggest brands and their unethical ways.

Naomi’s book impacted me in a way only few books had. Helping me realise that as a communicator, designer, creative leader, I was part of the machine she had just exposed.

I flashed back to reading The Responsible Company by the founders of Patagonia and realised that there was a better way. Even if I don’t surf.

I flashed back to Adbusters, the dot com bubble popping, Enron, the GFC and other impactful moments throughout my career.

I recalled Frederic Laloux’s book on Reinventing Organisations and Rework by the CEO of Basecamp; books that sat in my memory and were catalysts in my ideal of finding better ways of doing business.

I reached out to Danny in the days that followed and we met over a coffee and a very impressive chess board. We’ve met many times since yet the story he told me that day convinced me I had to find a better way.

Pointing to an enormous, wooden chess board in his study, he shared his idea of how it represented the world of business.

The pawns were the non-profits, pro-active and brave; disposable yet serving a strategic purpose.

The king represented government; slow-moving yet the one piece we all aim to protect or need for ever more strategic moves. But ever so weak; one wrong move and it’s game over.

The back row represented the world of business. Dynamic pieces that can move in many directions. Back and forth. These represented startups and entrepreneurs. Powerful pieces that moved the length of the board. Small to medium enterprises.

And the Queen. The most powerful piece on the board. Able to move in any direction, representing the big end of town. Large tier one enterprises.

In summary, Danny’s story ended with the notion that all pieces were needed to win the game. All pieces needed to work together to create positive impact. 

This was the story that strung a careers worth of milestones together, and woke me up. 

I walked away realising that even though I owned a small business, I could do something impactful. Even if my small business limps from project to project, much like all other small consulting businesses, I realised I had a role to play in making the world a better place. 

I realised that if I sat in board rooms helping executive teams build brand strategy for their businesses, I could ensure it was meaningful, authentic and expressed human values; not faceless corporate bullshit, but brands that were meaningful, diverse and inclusive. Brands that ran deep into organisations and influenced culture and behaviour.

I realised that if I worked with marketing teams to help them create communications and produce content, I could ensure that this was accessible and representative of all Australians. Brown skin as well as white and dark, gay, transgender, multicultural, multilingual, indigenous, newly migrated, ethnic backgrounds. 

I realised that if I was helping organisations build cultures of innovation then it was on me to ensure I was helping them embrace innovation in a truer sense than the academic, text-book dribble that proliferates many a LinkedIn stream.

It was on me, I realised, to help them embrace innovative methods yes, but also empower their people to create innovation teams that are diverse, creative and inclusive.

If I was to own a responsible company then I needed to take responsibility.

So I leapt into it. 

Becoming a B Corp

We accredited as a B Corporation and began to learn how we might be more responsible. More #ethical and how we might be a business that was a force for good.

We began to ask ourselves how we might create a more meaningful culture in our business and how we might redefine the very notion of ‘work’.

To be completely frank — we were already asking ourselves these questions, prior to accreditation. Our radar was primed and ready to pick up a signal. And as it did, we were welcomed into the B Corp community. 

I met many happy, wonderful people who were like-minded and value-aligned. Entrepreneurs, owners of small - medium businesses all inspired to make the world a better place. Some of them banding together to create new initiatives.

I did exactly this with Mike Davis of Purposeful - a good man, driven to create impact — my team helping Mike to develop Humans of Purpose; a podcast which interviews, you guessed it, purposeful people.

I also met many interesting people who’se businesses were shining example of ‘forces for good’. Andy Fallshaw, Co-founder and CEO of Bellroy and Anna Ross, Founder of Kester Black and Telstra Younger Business Woman of the Year. 

These businesses were held up as shining examples of ‘B-ness’ — deservedly so.

I searched for guidance and a framework to make my business a better, more ethical business and found answers and inspiration in the community, on B websites, and further afield outside of the 'B-sphere' on Medium, in literature, blogs and through talking directly to others who were experiencing the same small-business-force-for-good struggle.

Purpose-Washing

I also met people that washed with purpose. Much like green-washing, purpose-washers waved the B flag but didn’t make any fundamental changes to their business. 

This left me curious and aware. If I was claiming to be a business as a force for good, should I not actually change my business to actually be a force for good?

It’s like being Superman, wearing the costume, cape, boots and tight-fitting outfit; claiming we have superpowers but never actually flying to prove it.

On the surface we weren't saving the world, and our product wasn't on par with a Patagonia jacket in the world of ‘Purpose’. Even though we don’t test our products on animals, we’re not seen as overtly Purposeful.

So my team and I decided to make changes to live up to a standard that we believed in.

The changes we made.

We set out to change both our products and culture to live up to this standard. Using the B Corporation framework we put an emphasis on product and culture as our key areas of change.

We were driven to ensure that the values we were leading with in our marketing were heavily embedded in the products and services we were selling.

We aimed to create product offerings that, under scrutiny could live up to the standard of 'business as a force for good'. This ensured that when comparing brand consultancies, clients could point to key differentiators that our competition simply couldn't compete with.

We created products that allowed for true strategic partnerships with other organisations — and are currently in the process of offerings for the young and entrepreneurial minds that are quiet and un-heard.

We're celebrating female entrepreneurship with very specific products — and we're championing design thinking with initiatives that enable and bring the worlds of brand development, human-centredness, technology and innovation together.

Culture

We aimed to create a culture in our business that improved on the status quo. We revolutionised our business model and approach to hiring — and we also approached a different way of managing our business goals and daily activity. 

We also won a 'Best for the World' award for doing so.

With my career history in technology and digital, I was adamant not to adopt the standard practices of the 'design' and 'advertising agency' which are rife in our industry.

We embraced the notion of working in a different kind of accountable team. Nimble and agile teams that use design thinking methods and mindset from pre-sales through to retention and everything in between.

We took the best of Holocracy, Jason Freid's ReWork and other notable pieces of organisational change literature and developed a way of working that put our people's happiness first.

We set in stone, core hours of 9:30am — 4pm., longer than standard leave entitlements and policies for diversity, equality and inclusion. Mandatory equality policies around equal pay for equal roles and responsibilities; a zero-tolerance for free internships, unpaid work and all-male panels.

We ensured that our people didn't work late nights and that Monday's were a client-meeting-free day without exception.

And these were only the surface-level changes we made — there were and continue to be, so many more.

Do I really want to do this again?

So to answer the question at the outset of this article — will I do this again? Will I rectify as a B Corporation?

Yes we will.

Sometimes being put into a position to ask the right question is value enough — and our certification as a B Corporation has forced us to ask the right questions of ourselves, and hold our business to account.

To me it's personal. It's not about competitiveness or waving a flag. It's about personal and professional development.

And ultimately, building a business that my team and I can be proud to call ours.


 

The quiet voices that need to be heard

The things I've learned.