A note from Marty Reid, Head of Engine Shed: The place of values in business culture

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People who have worked with me will have heard me talk about the place of values in business culture.

In company strategy, particularly at the larger scale of business, economic value to shareholders tends to be placed before the social values of staff or customers. In traditional career planning, people are likely to think first about what they are good at, then what they enjoy and only later consider their personal values. And in many pitch decks, you are still more likely to see a slide on valuation than on the broader values of the founding team.

You may be thinking that a company’s values can often be found on their website (including our own!). Have a quick search and you’ll typically find terms like excellence, passion, leadership or quality. All admirable traits to try to instil in a business culture, but not meaningful principles to guide decision making.

It’s been refreshing over the last month to have my perspective in this area challenged.

Firstly, a Whitecap report on the Bristol & Bath fintech ecosystem paints a great picture of the sector in our region, but what really struck me was the proportion of startups listed who have a clear value driven purpose, including:

  • Loqbox – helping people to build a credit score to open up savings on credit cards or loans for the people who need them most.
  • TipTap – developing a solution for making tipping fair, simple and transparent.
  • Sixty – helping the growing number of freelancers and sole-traders save for pensions.
  • Tumelo – born out of a campaign for transparency and the empowerment of everyday investors.
  • Flexys – using machine learning to help make the management of debt fairer.

Most people wouldn’t expect that businesses focused on the financial sector would be leading the way on socio-economic change, but here they are. Not only that, but it’s also easy to see the link between an ambition for positive change and the inherent business value in each of the concepts.

Secondly, I joined a packed out session in central Bristol on ‘The B Corp Journey’ by the Future Economy Network. The B Corp certification is something I’ve been curious about for a while after hearing from a number of regional businesses who have gone through the process (particular thanks to ADLIB for sharing their experience).

Until the session, I hadn’t appreciated the scale and momentum of the movement. There are now over 3200 B Corps covering 150 industries worldwide, including a growing number of larger organisations (the event was hosted by Triodos Bank, themselves a B). The event also highlighted evidence that UK B Corps are seeing growth rates significantly higher than the national average.

PWC have shared their views on B Corp in an article which includes the following statement: “There is a growing impact investor community focused on financing profit-led businesses with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) values. Private equity houses too are coming under scrutiny.…investors are also looking to bring diversity to their portfolios and there may be less due diligence required in a B Corp sale.”

The significance of this opinion should resonate with anyone who has spent time supporting early stage businesses to try and raise finance. The common thread is the growing realisation that placing social, economic and environmental values at the heart of a business are not mutually exclusive from commercial ambition or profit, in fact likely the opposite.

Significant socio-economic challenges are still prevalent in the regional business ecosystem around Bristol and Bath, particularly a lack of inclusivity and equity in growth in recent years. There remains a continued responsibility for business leaders and members of city institutions to facilitate activity which will have a positive impact. What I’ve learned is that more than ever we have strong business levers to use in the case for change alongside the argument that it’s the right thing to do.

If you’d like to read more about our own projects aimed at making a positive impact on the regional economy, you can have a read on our website. More importantly though, if you’d be up for working together on a project which can make a positive impact on growth, innovation, inclusion or sustainability then you are welcome to get in touch.

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