The mission-led economy is booming. In the UK there are currently 123,000 socially-conscious businesses that place having a ‘purpose’ at the heart of operations. With a combined turnover of £165 billion, and employing 1.4 million people across the country, the sector continues to blossom as more and more businesses join high-profile trailblazers, such as The Co-op Group, Lush and Timpson, in their mission-led approach. For those taking the leap to a mission-led business structure, below are five key elements, vital in ensuring an ethical philosophy permeates all areas of an organisation:
It’s not enough just to proclaim the virtues of being mission-led, businesses must practice what they preach. It is important that businesses’ values are represented in their attitudes towards employees, and that staff contracts are fair and include the benefits they are entitled to. Beyond contract clauses, staff who ‘buy-in’ to values are likely to stay for longer, and be more productive. However, it’s not just about economics – employees should feel their work is worthwhile, and that they find mastery, autonomy and purpose in their work. Studies suggest that incorporating these three elements into employees’ working practices will ensure staff remain engaged and reach their potential.
The supply chain
Mission-led businesses need to make sure they are fulfilling social and ethical objectives both with suppliers and during the procurement process. Leaders have a duty to maintain standards, for example, undertaking on the ground checks or implementing contract terms to ensure working conditions are suitable, that employees are receiving sufficient breaks and all staff are paid a fair wage. Businesses may decide their own guidelines but the public sector is already beginning to implement its own criteria. For example, the Public Services (Social Value) Act states that public service commissioners need to take into account the social, economic and environmental benefits of a tender for services. Outlining the social value of a proposition is now a requirement for any company looking to win contracts and mission-led businesses should look to this as an example of good practice.
Transparency and reporting
An open and accountable relationship with stakeholders and shareholders is key to any mission-led philosophy. Communicating progress in the form of a ‘transparency report’ is important and needs to be seen by not only shareholders, but customers and employees too. It is crucial that businesses are held to account over their progress and an annual report is an opportunity for businesses to show both how far they have come in their social mission, as well as highlighting plans for the future.
Any commitment to mission-led business must be entrenched in corporate governance. These values and beliefs must be ingrained and have a sense of continuity – leaders must be consistent with the ethics of their business and not cherry-pick those they do or do not want to follow.
Within any mission-led business plan there needs to be considerable thought given to how the philosophy can grow, and the steps needed to build on previous successes. Companies must ensure that not only are there coherent plans in place, with full forecasts and targets, but that these goals are actively pursued by all members of the organisation.
While it is encouraging that the Government is beginning to support mission-led businesses, it is clear that further support would help galvanise current enthusiasm and make sure considerable progress is made. For example, mission-led businesses would benefit from future public sector contracts being reviewed to see whether their size means only the largest corporates can afford to bid. When there is evidence suggesting such large contracts carry undue risks for all parties concerned and diseconomies of scale, breaking up such large contracts would more effectively manage risk and open up the market to a wider group of bidders, encouraging greater competition. In addition, currently only bids for services contracts in the public sector are measured for social value. Widening this to goods and works would ensure the mission-led philosophy grows.
With mission-led businesses becoming such an important feature of the UK economy, it is crucial that business leaders take the initiative to ensure values and procedures are well established throughout the organisation and that core values are rigorously enforced so companies stick to their philosophy, achieve success and reach their purpose. As consumers and businesses alike place greater value on ethics and corporate accountability, those that act now to implement a mission-led approach could reap significant ethical, social and financial rewards.