Helm, the UK-based networking organisation favoured by the founders of businesses with more than £1m turnover, has been certified as a B Corp. This reflects the organisation’s focus on better growth and its aim to help make business a force for good in society.
Richard Cree, consultant content director at Helm, spoke to head of operations, Penny Penati, about the successful B Corp certification, what was involved in the process and any tips she has for other founders who are currently on, or thinking of taking, the same journey.
Richard Cree Welcome Penny. You were the person who did the work to make Helm’s B Corp certification possible. Congratulations. Let's start at the beginning and talk about what it is, why we got involved and why it matters.
Penny Penati Thanks. B Corp is about being a force for good in the world. It shows the world that your company doesn't focus just on profit, but on the people and the planet, as well as profits. From our perspective, we’re a company where founders come to learn from each other, come to share their knowledge. To coin a phrase from a member, at Helm they “borrow brilliance”. As we support founders, we should be leading the way in these areas. For us to have gone through this journey, it's a good way to share knowledge with members, so they can begin that journey of being a force for good.
RC: Let's go back to the beginning. How do you start the process?
PP: You start by just going to the B Corp website. You then do a complete audit of how your company works. What processes, mechanisms and policies do you currently have in place? You have to be frank about what you're currently doing. From that assessment you get an initial score out of 200. And it might be lower than you think. You are aiming for 80 points as a minimum. You guide your way as to how to improve until you get 80 points. Ask what is it that you need to do differently, what will you will be focusing on to improve? The assessment is split into environment, community, people and governance.
RC: But this is more than just another tick-box exercise
PP: Much more. Once you embark on this journey, it is a change. It’s not a tick-box exercise. It changes the way the organisation operates, changes how employees do things. You have to rethink what you do. You have to ask what does this action impact? Who does it impact? And how can we make it better? The journey is difficult, because you are auditing and assessing everything. It’s a long journey. It's not something you can do in a couple of weeks. It is months of work. But it's exciting.
RC: Can you show some examples of that behaviour change at Helm?
PP: One concrete example is that we do a lot of events at restaurants for dinners and roundtables. And it's easy to say “let's just use this venue, because we’ve used them for a while, and it's all good. But actually, you now need to stop and look at their practices and ask what so they do with food waste? How do they help the community around them? Where do they source food from? What about how food is prepared? It has to look beyond the aesthetics of it, or the price, but going deeper into their practices. It doesn’t take that much extra time, but actually doing some due diligence matters and then asking does that align with our values? It can be complex. Sometimes restaurants don't have this information. But you Google can be a powerful friend here. Everything's at your fingertips. Go and do the research and see what fits for you.
RC: So how did Helm do?
PP: It’s all going to be on the website and it's all about transparency. The minimum score is 80 out of 200 and we got 83.7, which is absolutely fine. You have to certify every three years and the only way from here is up. There's lots of room for improvement. And it's great, because over the years we'll have better policies and practices.
RC: After the initial audit, where do you get advice and help on how to improve?
PP: There are companies out there to help you on the journey because it is complex and daunting, if it's the first time you've seen it. There’s a company called Future Proof who helped us explore what it is we can do and they held me accountable. They helped when I had a problem. But they’re not there to do the work. If they are doing your job, you have to rethink why you're doing this. They are there to guide and support, because they’re experts.
RC: I have there's a shortage of qualified assessors to do the certifying which slows things down. Have you heard that?
PP: Yes, that’s one of the frustrations. It's great that lots of companies want to become B Corp. But be prepared to wait a while from when you hit the submit button to when someone gets in touch. There are just so many companies going through the process, which is phenomenal. Be prepared to wait three or six months. The other frustration is that it is daunting, the first time you log in. That’s part of the whole thing about it, it's not meant to be easy. It's meant to make you think why you're doing things.
RC: It's the whole eating an elephant thing. You do it one bite at a time. Did you do it in concentrated bursts, or a little every day?
PP: Definitely a little bit every day. It has to be consistent to also keep up the momentum. But it doesn't have to be 100% of your time. Just know that a lot of your time will go each week to all the areas. And it's phenomenal. I guess you end up with this very different outlook on how to work as a company.
RC: What would you say were the big learnings you've taken away?
PP: Definitely have leadership buy in. We did. But in other companies, where someone junior wants to do it, it’s no good. This will change the way the whole organisation works, so it has to come from the top. But you also need to get the whole team excited about it. If you are one of only a few people working on this, update the team. Share the status. Tell them what's happening and get them excited. Lots of companies now have a chief green officer. Get them involved in anything they can. And get someone to help you. It is so daunting. At the beginning, you just don't even know where to look where to turn. So get someone to help you. But remember, they are only there for guidance. They are not there to do the work for you.
Watch the full interview here: