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Is B Corp enough to make us a purpose-led company?

If you were to draw a circle around a group of companies legitimately and authentically in pursuit of a new way of doing business,  B Corps would be the obvious choice.

The assessment is thorough, there is a legal commitment required and the people behind it are the real deal: B Lab is deeply committed to changing the way we do business. It is a movement first,  a certification second.

However, B Corp alone is not enough to make you the business you should become.

Why is it not enough?

There are various reasons for this, most of which is outside of B Lab's control; it's more about the nature of assessments and the mindsets of their users.

Third Party Assessments

There are always things a third party assessment can't reach, however good they are: the methodology used; theories of change; underlying philosophies; issues of soul and spirit; questions it would be inappropriate to ask etc.

It doesn't matter who the assessor is, there is always a limit to their efficacy and depth. And there are things beyond the limit of the B Corp certification you do need to pursue.

A "Fill-In-The-Blanks" Mindset Can Rear Its Head

To create a to do list from the BIA and then busy ourselves with filling in the questions as B Lab wants them answered can inadvertently turn it into a "fill-in-the-blanks" exercise.

This reduces the focus on the work that really matters: thinking. We should spend time considering the need to change.

Take policies, for example. There is a big difference between having a policy on file and working in a company where the spirit of that policy is lived out every day.

It is also unfair to place too much responsibility on B Lab for our own behaviours: it is up to us to run our companies as compassionate, honourable human beings and stewards. 

The Challenge Of Best Practice

Best practice is a double edged sword. Whilst useful to have inspiration and examples, "best practice" can trend towards mediocrity as everyone just adopts what everyone else is doing. Eventually, that then reaches a point where it takes either a heretic or an outlier to choose a different direction.

Consider performance appraisals. Behavioural science has told us for decades not to use them, but everybody does. Why? Because everybody else does. The fact that employees and HR alike find them a pain should be a red flag that we shouldn't be doing them, but our predilection to carry on with "best practice" overrides our warning systems.

The "B Corp As A Project" Methodology

It is very possible to navigate B Corp as a project that doesn't involve collective commitment and engagement across the whole organisation on the journey. Indeed, this is the way most companies tend to approach it: create a small team, gather the data, makes the changes, navigate the verification process. Doing it this way is clean, efficient and it works.

Managing it as a project like ends up creating a two phase journey: certify first, embed & engage once certified.  This is a mistake.

It is a mistake because the embed and engage journey should be pursued from Day 1. Doing it after the fact creates more work, disappoints people for having left them out, reduces commitment and robs people of ownership: how does it legitimately belong to everyone if you've already completed it? Fundamentally, people don't (or take longer to) commit to things unless they've contributed to it.

Companies do this for various reasons. Sometimes it's simply an unhealthy focus on being certified: the comms and PR culture runs dangerously deep even for the most honest of brands. But, mostly, it's just muscle memory: this is how new things are always managed within companies - as a project. The idea of shifting an organisation's mindset is neither familiar territory nor instinctively resourced.

In our experience, this is probably the mistake most B Corps regret. Douglas Lamont (CEO, Innocent Drinks) often talks about this in keynotes on B Corps, for example.

The Worldview We Need Goes Beyond The B Corp Remit

Whilst B Corp is not a sustainability assessment - it covers a whole host of additional issues - it does not touch on a range of changes companies also need to undertake.

You can become a B Corp but still maintain a worldview we're leaving behind.

What is this new worldview we need? The context of recent centuries gave us the perspective of the world as a machine. And so, naturally, our workplaces followed suit. But today we have a new context; one that sees the world not as a machine but as a living system. This is the world that elevates the role of philosophy, the study and application of nature's geometry, a concern over organisational soul, radically distributed decision making etc. It is a wold that is organic, emergent, connected and interdependent. B Corp is good at the interdependent bit but it won't necessarily help you become the others.

Reimagining yourself as tomorrow's company is to make cultural changes beyond the scope of the BIA.

So, why do it then?

The Problem Is More Your Methodology Than The Assessment

Much of the above is about methodology you use to approach B Corp, as opposed to nature of the assessment itself. Using a forward thinking methodology that engages the heart and soul of an organisation will bring much of the additional thinking you require.

It's A Big Step Forward

B Corp is an excellent way to make huge strides in the right direction without undermining the other work required.

It's As Much Change As Most Can Cope With

Whilst the worldview shift is going to be required of organisations, in many cases becoming a B Corp is about as much change as they can cope with in a short period of time.

World Class Framework

B Corp is a world class framework for good reason. It is well thought through, thorough and hugely helpful. The breadth of it will kick start a whole company orientation towards purposeful business.

It Lights The Touch Paper

B Corp will excite people about a new way of doing business. In our experience, it can light the touch paper on taking this effort further and deeper than they imagined they could when they started.

The Brand Is Powerful Because The Change Is Real

Implementing B Corp will make real and beneficial changes to your business. The brand has the reputation for justifiable reasons: it generates real change.

The Data Is Strong

The data on performance for B Corps is strong and growing.

It Builds A Strong Foundation

B Corp provides a strong foundation for the future. 

It Should Be Basic, Really

In reality, most of the work required to be a B Corp should be table stakes. The fact that it is seen as thorough and requires effort is more of an indictment on the status quo than it is a reflection of the scale of the assessment. It's not asking for the world; much of it is simply about being a decent human being and a good steward. We should be doing these things either way. Not just because there is a good certification out there.

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  1. John Featherby

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