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Does B Corp prove to candidates your business is trustworthy?

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth June 24, 2024
Three digital leaders discuss how B Corp defines trust and purpose in a tight digital skills market

(Pixabay )

In a year when 40% of the global population will cast a vote in an election, trust is a subject that is on everyone's minds. Trust has always been a valuable commodity, but awareness of its value is high in 2024, and it will continue to impact the ability of digital leaders to recruit talent. 

Trust is not a tick-box exercise; it has to be won and retained - like technology talent. Technology candidates, who continue to be purpose driven, need to know that an organization can be trusted to stick to its purpose. One way for organizations to prove they are trustworthy is to become a B Corp. But what is life like in a B Corp for a digital leader? What are the benefits and is it just more work? Three digital leaders share their B Corp experiences with diginomica.

The value of trust was a central topic at January's World Economic Forum in Davos. World leaders in business and politics clamoured to be the siren call for greater trust with full knowledge that many Davos discussions focused on AI and that Donald Trump could soon return to their elite club as a President. Founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab said: 

We must rebuild trust - trust in our future, trust in our capacity to overcome challenges, and most importantly, trust in each other. Trust is not just a feeling; trust is a commitment to action, to belief, to hope.

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States, agreed and added: 

I can't think of a time when there's been both a greater multiplicity and greater complexity of the challenges that we're dealing with.

Blinken and Schwab may not be enterprise digital leaders, but their words and actions define the culture that digital leaders have to operate within. If the perception is that an elite can pay to cover up the truth, party during lockdowns or avoid paying tax, or in the case of one existing leader, both, then trust continues to break down and make digital leadership even harder. 

The decline in trust is not new - though accelerated by the financial crisis, austerity, lockdown partying, conflicts, globalization, the environmental crisis and, of course, AI. Back in 2006, two business leaders, Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan, realized this and founded B Lab and the B Corp certification. A B Corp certificate says an organization balances the interests of communities, customers, employees, the environment and the shareholders. Technology advisor and board chair Sarah Flannigan says of the process: 

I think it is very useful to hold yourself to account against a set of impartial, independent objectives and really quiz yourself to see if you are really up to the mark.

Flannigan is board chair for Sawday's and Riverford Organic Farmers, two UK-based B Corp organizations and was CIO for Europe's largest charity by members, the National Trust, and French energy firm EDF Energy. She says the B Corp status benefits both businesses: 

It is a mark of being an ethical and purpose-led organization.

Purpose is key to being a B Corp business and in the recruitment of digital talent. Despite inflation and, in some nations, economic uncertainty, digital leaders tell the author that purpose remains important and will increase in worth when the economy improves. 

Plan B for talent

Being a B Corp has helped CIO Chris Howell at Ground Control, an environmental services business, he says: 

When you consider a medium-sized enterprise in a state of digital transformation, B Corp really supports the fact that we are a purpose-driven organization. For a number of the people that I have hired, the B Corp status was evidence of our purpose and mission and was really valuable.

A further benefit, Howell says, is that the purpose of a B Corp motivates recruits, and they land with the energy they need to deliver digital transformation. Flannigan agrees on the digital recruitment benefits of being a B Corp: 

Talent is really hard in digital, and B Corp is a differentiator. It is important in the employee proposition, and there are young people that are really seeking out that purpose-led organization.

But it's not all about candidates; B Corp delivers wider business benefits, especially to digital leadership. Mark Harrison, an interim transformation leader, was Global Director of IT for Ingeus, a company that provides wellbeing, health, and employment services for the likes of the Ministry of Justice in the UK. Ingeus was one of the UK's first B Corps during Harrison's five years with the business. Harrison says the process benefited the technology team by helping overcome business alignment issues: 

The B Corp values were tightly aligned with those of Ingeus’, this helped enable us to have conversations with other departmental Directors that spoke directly to the B Corp values, if you are speaking to the values, then you are speaking to the organization at large.

Technology can often be seen as misaligned within an organization, similarly finance departments can suffer the same fate, B Corp helped overcome this, according to Harrison: 

Both teams were perceived as cost centres, through B Corp values we were able to demonstrate, in fact, we were underpinning the values of the organization at large, particularly transparency in our supply chain.

Howell agrees and adds: 

The purpose of being a B Corp gives you an emotional hook that means my team will align to the mission and, therefore, we will deliver more effectively.

Living in a B Corp 

Digital leaders are not short of options to increase the brand awareness of their organization to attract talent. CIO and CTO inboxes are awash with invitations to enter awards. Recently, Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting has become important to institutional investors, shareholders, customers and another weapon for the "culture war" foot soldiers to sneer at. Is living with a B Corp certification worthwhile? Flannigan says it is: 

It is a little bit like doing cyber accreditation, it's an external accreditation framework that you need to measure yourself against, so it is a reasonably onerous task. And it has to be, as there is a threshold and it is in danger of being devalued if an organization sails through. So it is hard work. 

If you are somebody that finds external accreditation useful, then it's a great exercise to go through.

Howell agrees and adds that B Corp has more credibility than some measures organizations sign up to in order to entice talent. 

B Corp is much harder and more comprehensive. It is worth the effort and sustained energy to maintain it.

B Corp not only helps with recruitment but also helps ensure the culture of the organization changes for the better. Flannigan believes most organizations that apply and become B Corp certified have a strong ethical and sustainable culture and value the opportunity to show they are different. 

My take

Whether B Corp is right for your organization or not, my small, but insightful experience of working with the next generation of employees highlights to me that the old motivations towards employment are dead and buried. Digital leaders will thrive if they can demonstrate and be assessed for being trustworthy and purpose driven - as will the entire organization.

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