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What are some good reasons to be open about your B Corp ambitions prior to certification?

To be very clear, it is perfectly acceptable to take the route where you keep your counsel and don't talk about pursuing B Corp prior to certification.

There are good reasons for doing this: the risk of not making it through is real. But if you were to ask us what we would recommend, we would recommend talking about it. Below are some reasons why.

But before we jump into those, here are some preliminary warnings to tread carefully:

When To Be Cautious About Going Public

You are not clear on the commitment

B Corp is a real commitment. It shouldn't be but, unfortunately, that is how far from acceptable the status quo is. It is not wise to publicly commit to B Corp unless you're serious about it. Neither your stakeholders nor the other B Corps will thank you for that.

Achievability is not the issue: it is not so far out there that you won't achieve it if you want to. The issue is how serious you are about doing so and the timeframe within which you want to get there.

Your culture is not what it should be

Sadly, this is true of most companies. So, this is more a question of degrees. If you know you are operating in a particularly low trust environment, you should consider doing some work with your employees/external stakeholders before you start shouting about B Corp. Better to inject this idea into a receptive environment. The very best option in these circumstances (indeed in all circumstances) is to have some internal dialogues that create the space for employees to choose B Corp and then you are doing it with/for them.

You are $1Bn+

If you are this kind of size, you will need to talk to us. There is a special process for you to avoid creating a mismatch between market perspective and formal attachment to the B Corp brand.

If Your Are Hoping To Leverage The Brand

B Lab is, quite rightly, very protective of companies using the logo and other brand assets when they are not yet certified. So, whilst it is OK to state B Corp as an intention, you will need to ensure your leadership/marketing etc doesn't overreach.

Also, the B Corp journey should be about being authentic, not just about looking good. A good communication strategy is being honest about where change is required and where you are falling short of your ambitions.

Don't Use The Pending B  Logo

Pending B is not a logo that people can use to say "we're pursuing B Corp"; it's something specifically aimed at startups. (See: Who is the Pending B status for?). This is mentioned here simply because non-start-up companies often misunderstand what the Pending B assets are for and just start using them in the wrong way, which B Lab will ask to be corrected if they come across it.

Reasons To Talk About It Openly

With the cautions addressed, here are some reasons to talk about it openly.

Remember The Big Picture

You will benefit from being B Corp certified, this is true. But the bigger picture is what you are contributing to and serving: the seismic need for change. Keeping focused on that and not the certification should lean us towards being willing to talk about it openly.

Otherwise, You Will Wait A Long Time To Do So

It takes time to become B Corp certified. Currently, you will wait at least 7 months from the point of submission to verification. So, you can expect this to take time even if you are ready to submit it today. If you have work to do prior to submission, then obviously that time frame is even longer.

In other words, if you do not plan to talk about your B Corp ambitions prior to certification, you will be waiting quite a long time to do so.

Your market may have been quiet on these issues in years past, but they won't be in the coming 12 months. Choosing not to talk about it is to choose to stay quiet about an interesting (if not key) and independently credible piece of your culture and strategy whilst everyone else is busy talking.

B Corp Is Just One Component On Your Journey

B Corp should not be the entirety of your journey towards being a purpose-led, responsible company. As such, you can talk about it being one of a number of resources and communities you're using on that journey. This lowers the intensity with which you and your people consider it. And defuses to a certain extent the certification risk.

Don't Panic: You Will Get There

You don't have to approach it like you're cramming for an exam and then hope you make it through. You can take your time over it. Strategically wise, it is better to see it as a series of small wins. Eventually, you'll have enough points to cross the threshold. The problem isn't "passing", it's commitment.  So, why worry about failing? Just submit when you know you'll be OK.

It Makes You Accountable

Nothing quite like being public about something to make sure you do it. Being like a B Corp is undoubtedly an effort and having talked about it will make you sure that you stay the course to get there. This accountability is not just externally, it's following through on the company you've told your employees you plan to be.

Get Used To Pioneering And Adventure

You need to have the heart and mindset of a pioneer to be a B Corp. Partly because that is the job: our movement is about carving a way forward for others to follow. Partly because you are not joining a long-established movement with huge numbers of companies and case studies that have gone before you. Yes, it is now growing and the brand has suddenly become very strong. But the brand out punches the number of companies that are actually involved. Every company joining is an early mover. When you divide the 3,700 B Corps there are down by size, sector and sub-sector the chances are there are very few other B Corps like you.

Early Mover And Then Some

Further to the commentary on all B Corps being a pioneer, that early mover advantage is accentuated for companies willing to talk about it ahead of being certified.

Supplier Approval

We are increasingly seeing companies being asked to demonstrate they are a responsible company in order to be a preferred supplier or, in some cases, a supplier at all. Whilst you may not have reached certification, being public about your ambitions may well be sufficient to satisfy those requirements.

Employee Engagement

Your employees will be excited about being a B Corp. Being public about your ambitions will allow them to throw themselves into the process with more joy, enthusiasm and engagement. Restricting the ability to talk always limits potential.

Talent Attraction

Most of our B Corps report a) a significant increase in job applicants and b) the number of those who mention they have applied because of their B Corp status. The same will also be true of a company that is open about its B Corp ambitions.

The Information Is Out There Anyway

When you go through the assessment a lot of people will learn about it, internally and externally. Indeed, if you are doing it well, you should be proactively involving your stakeholders. So, you cannot keep it a total secret even if you wanted to. People get excited about it and talk about it, even if it isn't as wide as they might otherwise. Your leadership are almost certainly telling their peers about it. So, the chances are people are already talking about the fact that you're pursuing it, whether you want them to or not. You might as well accept and leverage that.

Competitor Concerns Are Dangerous

The quantity of information that our external competitors can and will use against us is far narrower than we presume it to be. But if we make the external threat a bigger deal than it actually is, we inadvertently encourage the same competitor mindset internally. For example, leaders who keep more information from the outside world than is necessary are also likely to be under sharing information internally. If the organisation down the road can be a threat to your market position, that same mindset will encourage people to see their colleagues as a threat to their personal position.

The Decision Not To Is Usually Rooted In Fear

This might sound rather full-on but it is often true. Some types of fear can be very helpful. But it can also be a quiet, underlying problem affecting a host of issues.

It is worth pausing to consider whether it exists here, if it does why it does, whether it is a positive/negative influence and what other areas of your decision making have this as an underlying motivation.

Whether or not it is healthy in your particular situation only you know.

Your Competitors Are Thinking It Anyway

If you know about B Corp, they likely know about B Corp. If you have considered becoming a B Corp, they have likely considered becoming a B Corp. This might not have been true in 2019, but it is probably true today. Don't assume you can keep it a secret and then announce your certification ahead of that competitor you imagine isn't doing it. 

Who knows, they may even be ahead of you. If they are, there is no catching them up. So, if they are keeping quiet about it, consider the fact that talking about your ambitions prior to them having done so may even balance things up, if not give you some of that first-mover advantage you're after.

New Help And Relationships

If you don't talk about B Corp, you are more on your own as you navigate it. If you do talk about it, there is a good chance someone will make contact to talk to you about it. This could lead to all sorts of positive idea-sharing and opportunities. We see this a lot on social media channels: companies saying they're going B Corp and other companies reply to ask if they can meet to discuss it.

Movement First, Certification Second

Our theory of change is to build a movement that people want to be part of and demonstrates what is possible as a conscientious business. You can be part of that movement by giving it profile, exposure, a voice without being certified.

Resource First, Certification Second

The primary tool we use to assess companies - the B Impact Assessment - is an open, free, public resource because we are mostly concerned with helping organisations (of all shapes and sizes) implement real change.

It's demonstrated in the numbers. Whilst you mostly hear about the certified B Corps, of which there are 3,700, there are 100,000 organisations using the BIA. Most of these organisations are not trying to be B Corps in the immediate future, if at all. Some are not even eligible to be (eg not for profits). They are all using it to think and change. Many of those are very open about it. So, companies pursuing certification are not the only comparison.

Living Out The Ability To Fail

Hopefully, you talk about the need to have organisational cultures where failure is a welcome part of being innovative and pioneering. If so, you send conflicting messages to your employees if that is not the sentiment with which you approach certification; i.e. you would rather keep failure a secret.

Yes, if you have spoken about your ambitions and you fail to cross the line then that failure is potentially more public. But leadership is, by default, a public affair: there shouldn't be one rule for failure for employees and one for leaders.

However, if you do fail it is not final: you will be given time to remedy the issue and make some necessary changes. In which case, if you like, you can keep that to yourself and then just announce it on final approval: it isn't a one-time thing.

It Stops Reinforcing Perfection

One of the problems we have within the business sphere is a constant narrative of perfection. This can either discourage companies from trying to change or make them afraid of being transparent because everyone else sounds so amazing. Relentless positive messaging is a major contributor to the crisis of trust that business faces.

We need authentic transparency if we are to create the change we seek.

Saying "we are headed in a direction,  we are trying our best but want to keep improving, we're using the B Corp framework as one way to help us do it, come with us" creates far more energy in the system to attempt to change than "look at how amazing we are and we're a Certified B Corp to boot."

We are all flawed companies. Best to own that and bring others with us.

This Is A New Phenomenon

In reality, it is only recently that companies have been concerned about this. The earlier B Corps weren't that concerned about it. They were not doing it to leverage the brand, partly because the brand didn't have much value to leverage as it wasn't really known but also because they were more focused on the bigger picture than the certification.

You Have No Choice Next Time

You will have to deal with the fear of not making it through certification in a public way at some point regardless. You have to recertify every three years and the certification becomes more difficult each time as the versions are upgraded on a regular basis: this is a certification where constant improvement is required. So, within a short period of time, you will be facing the same dilemma: you might not make it through and people will find out. Setting the cultural tone now will help you navigate it well next time.

It Is Expected From Large Companies

If you are a large or complex company, B Lab has a process that requires transparency and a public commitment. Although it does follow a period of private review so B Lab can ascertain the level of commitment. So, being transparent about it puts you in alignment with the value set and the best practice applied elsewhere.

You Are Not Alone: Case Studies

In all likelihood, because of the nature of company PR processes, you are more likely to be coming across announcements about certification than you are companies just discussing their ambitions.

Don't forget that whilst the movement is now growing, it is actually still very small and young. There just aren't vast numbers of case studies per sector despite the now strength of the brand. Nevertheless, here are a few examples, outside of the aforementioned 100,000 organisations just using the resources to think:

How should you tell the world about your B Corp ambitions?

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  1. John Featherby

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