Written by Amber Marquand
Just 44% of millennials think business leaders are making a positive impact on the world.[i]
Before starting my internship at Blueprint, I, like the majority of my peers, found it easy to be cynical about what businesses define their role as being in society and questioned businesses commitment to making a positive impact. In particular the ubiquitous corporate mission ‘to make the world a better place’, which seems both vague and non-committal.
However, one of my tasks at Blueprint has been tracking the different companies that claim to be led by their purpose and benefit society. Through this research I have discovered that there are a handful of companies, a significant majority being start-ups, which do care about things such the environment, the treatment of their people, pay, the community they do business in, and so on.
For instance, Bulb is a technology-led company launched in 2016 who already provide over 300,000 households with 100% renewable energy. Customers, or ‘members’ as they prefer to call them, are put first, offered a single tariff, and any savings are passed directly back to members. Feedback is taken and used to improve the company. This is not at the expense of the employees, who are empowered to make decisions and are given satisfying, fulfilling work to do. The founders wanted to eliminate the problems that are usually associated with the energy sector; making energy simpler, cheaper and greener. Every year, the typical home with Bulb saves 1.3 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.[ii]
Evidently, not all companies exist with the sole purpose of making money. Most businesses must make a profit to exist and be successful, but there are many (long-standing and just starting out) that are breaking the mould and acting with a purpose that also benefits society in some way.
It has also become increasingly apparent to me over the last three months how much agency individuals have in bringing about change in business. The companies that Blueprint is engaging with are often so big that it’s difficult to see how change can be achieved, but it is possible. Clearly, businesses are recognising that consumers and employees value values and not just money-saving or making more money. They know that to attract and retain talent, they must do more than just grow and maximise profit. This is evident in the types of start-ups that are appearing and the changes that bigger companies are trying to make, in line with thinking like Blueprints.
For example, Ella’s Kitchen is an organic baby and toddler food company whose mission is to try and improve children’s lives through developing healthy relationships with food. Every product is created with this purpose in mind. [iii] They believe businesses need to step forward and help solve some of society’s problems. This is a great attitude to have, and I think more and more companies are getting on board with the need to ‘chip in’ and do their part.
I have realised I want to take Blueprint thinking with me and use it when it comes to job searching after university. To do this I’ll need a way of determining whether the prospective employers or companies I am looking at are 1) a good fit for me, and 2) doing good in society and making it their mission to have a positive impact. Over the three months, I have managed to put together some questions that I will use in my future search to find a great company to work for.
In my mind, these questions can be asked at the end of an interview or just to yourself during research about the kind of thing you are looking for. I have picked a few that represent some of Blueprint’s principles that are most important to me:
- What are the most important values that the company has, and what do you do that demonstrates them?
- What are your employee/employer feedback procedures?
- How much autonomy do employees have? I.e. the freedom to take decisions. (This question is something that I have been thinking a lot about during my time with Blueprint. Having the autonomy to make day to day decisions without having to check with someone else makes a great deal of difference to how much you feel you are trusted and valued within a company.)
- How do you measure success and over what time frame? How are these metrics determined?
- How does the company extend its mission to the community?
- What continuing learning opportunities do you have for your employees?
- What makes you proud to work at this company? A tricky one that puts them on the spot but you can find out a lot about how employees feel working for the company through questions like this.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that you, just a student, have agency and a choice when you are competing against the droves of graduates finishing university all frantically searching for jobs at the same time. However, you do. You have the opportunity to question these companies on their values and their purpose. While the CEO almost certainly will not interview you, depending on the size of the business, but if a company truly lives its purpose and actually holds true the values it says it does, this will filter through to the employees in the company, including the person interviewing you for the job. If they cannot answer those questions, or something about their answers doesn’t feel right, then they are probably not the company for you. And perhaps by asking those questions, it might prompt them to think about it themselves.
Of course, you have to be practical as well. Yes, because jobs provide experience and money to support yourself, it’s sometimes easier to overlook something like this – but if you are considering sticking around, I can’t think of much else more important. On average, people spend one-third of their life at work, so it’s a pretty big deal if you don’t feel like you belong, or you aren’t comfortable with what your company does, or how they treat you.[iv]
All of the things that we talk about at Blueprint, in terms of our five principles, or just the values that we hold as a team, no one can honestly say that they disagree with them. No one will disagree that a purpose-led business should ‘treat everyone with dignity and provide fair pay for all’ or ‘seek and provide access to opportunities for less privileged people’. So it’s about finding companies that actually bring this into daily decision making and don’t just say they do.
[i] Deloitte Millennial Survey – page 8 https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-2018-millennial-survey-report.pdf