Yesterday I attended a presentation on the launch of B-Corps in the UK by James Perry and Charmian Love to the Impact for Breakfast Club meeting in London.
B-Corps is a global movement to redefine success in business. It models a new form of capitalism, whereby organisations are judged not just by their profits, but the difference they make to society. In this way, business becomes as a force for good in the world. B-Corps companies structure their legal form so that they are accountable to a broad set of stakeholders, and not just shareholders.
In order to be recognised as B-Corps, businesses must be certified in terms of governance, environment, working conditions, community and business model, which is an excellent start in terms of setting standards for good practice. This is done through self-assessment, followed by an external validation process.
But how do we make this more than just a tick-box exercise, and ensure that the process drives bottom-line improvements in what the organisation delivers for society as well as shareholders? I raised this question and was impressed by the answer that came back both from a B-Corps certified company and an investor in the meeting. The assessment gets staff, management and Board to think more holistically and gives space for conversations to start happening at different levels of an organisation. When this happens, and staff take time to reflect on what they are doing and why, their work stops being simply transactional, and they start to see how what they are doing links to the broader purpose. This also gives them permission to think outside the box, to question whether the way things are done to achieve intended results, and to come up with ideas on how to do things better.
The B-Corps assessment framework also creates a space for conversations between B-Corps companies and their investors, their customers, their suppliers.
Much of this resonates a particular chapter in our recently-launched The Business of Doing Good – Chapter 2: “Ask good questions: Have good conversations.” The key insight is this: just because we’re delivering well-designed products in the marketplace designed to create social value, doesn’t mean that it’s working, or that we can’t do it better. But cycles of learning and innovation depend on the ability of everyone in our organisations to connect with the “big picture” of what we’re doing and why, and to engage on a conversation on what we might improve next time around. Having a B-Corps assessment is a starting point to start making this conversation happen and the onus is on investors, board and management to ensure that this becomes a process of on-going learning and improvement.
Overall, it was a thought-provoking event, and I left feeling excited about the potential contribution that B-Corps stands to make in the world of business, and the world at large. I look forward to the official UK launch of B-Corps come September.