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Conversation Co has just been awarded global certification and inducted into B Corp as an organisation that exists to do good things, while also being a force for good. Director, Cindy Plowman shares her reasons behind certification, learnings along the way and advice to others interested. 

I initially investigated B Corp Certification after seeing the certification symbol on a couple of other consultancy groups we were working with at the time. It prompted my interest and I initially wondered if it was something that was just industry specific (to building and design) or if it was open to other industries and had global appeal? In all honesty, investigating certification was a business decision, I saw it as a competitive advantage for Conversation Co having the certification to demonstrate to our potential and current clients that we are a socially and environmentally conscious business. 

We had a staff member who at the time (we started this two years ago) spoke highly of the process and had initiated the certification process within another organisation (and also left before certification – we have let her know!) We watched a couple of introductory videos, and went along to an online session that explained the Impact Assessment tool and portal. While the journey to certification took us two years, we’ve been making gradual improvements to the way we work. 

What started as an ‘vanity measure’, something I thought would make us look good, has strengthened our impact and conviction as a business for good. It does require patience and perseverance and it’s not something that you are going to have to complete your online form, pay your fee and get a certificate (which is a good thing). It calls for you to make changes to your business or demonstrate how you are doing something to support your response to what you said on your assessment. 

Making changes as we went along 

The B Impact Assessment is where you start. There are six impact areas: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, Customers, and Disclosure (if you are working in any potentially sensitive industries or practices). In each of the areas there are between 18 and 51 questions about your work in each of these impact areas. As a result of your answers, you get an initial assessment score. IF your score is high enough, then you progress through to the next stage, which is when you need to demonstrate your response in action, upload examples of your practices etc. Initially, we were just under the required score to progress through to the next stage. So we needed to make some changes to our work practices. Honestly this was the SUPER FUN part! You can download your assessment results and it shows you all of the impact areas, questions and of course your response. It also shows the potential ideas and suggestions to achieve the rating required. 

As a team we went through the assessment results and grouped the potential changes into work areas:

  • Leadership – Changes myself and Jacqui our General Manager needed to make.
  • Practice – Changes the project leads and supports could make. 
  • Measurement – Areas for monitoring or evaluation, Jacqui and I brought Jenny our Senior Research Lead into the conversation. 
  • Interest areas – Changes really none of us knew how to make. Open to anyone to have a take on, research and create a solution (policy, measurement or change). 

We started with the quick wins:

  • Conducting an employee satisfaction/engagement survey (at least once a year) was something we could implement quickly. We had the survey design skills and of course it gave us some meaningful information to make some changes. 
  • Adding in the responsibility of social and environmental performance into key manager roles. We have position descriptions, we didn’t explicitly state this as a task. 
  • Documented our flexible work arrangements, we were already encouraging people to work around school pickup, pursue study and training opportunities. We didn’t have it written in a policy, and so we created a Flexible Work Policy. 
  • We developed a Staff Health and Wellbeing Plan, and onboarded an organisation to deliver employee assistance.

All these changes helped us to get to progress through the certification program, while strengthening our organisation. The portal is a fantastic tool and up until this point there is no payment made. You can assess your organisation and make changes (like a free CSR business coach!).

Beneficiaries we can verify a positive impact 

This ^ had me confused for a long long time, I could not understand what I was supposed to do. As part of the assessment we had to determine if our clients were receiving a benefit of our work. We’re fortunate that the majority of our work is with local and State Government and not for profit organisations and so can demonstrate their intent is to do things for the greater good. 

As part of this we did have to set out our annual customers and look at each project and decide if it was helping to contribute to the greater and resulting in a positive impact. Knowing the intent of all of our clients is for the greater good, sometimes the impact of their work varies significantly. As part of doing this exercise we’ve now added an extra step to our tender assessment process, before we submit asking ourselves and the client:

  • Is there a desire for genuine community input?
  • Will community insights be taken on board?
  • Will they be transparent with the results and outcomes (close the loop)?

Whereas before, we didn’t have that level of thinking around the tenders that we’re actually applying for. 

Working out our beneficiaries also helped the way we record the industries we’re working with. In the last six years of Conversation Co’s operations we have never measured this or really thought about. As a result of B Corp requesting and requiring this extra level of detail, we were able to report on that too. 

Big on transparency and moving forward

We need to keep monitoring, measuring and reporting on our impact. Certification is not a set and forget, we need to make sure we are sticking to the course and being a business for good (not evil) and looking ahead to see what improvements we need and can make as our business operations change. 

Going forward we need to create our own portal. Transparency is one of the core values for B Corp. The portal gives potential clients, partners and the community at large the opportunity to see our operations stacked up against others.

It feels like a certification we’ve had to work to earn. I feel proud that we are part of a global movement that encourages active changes in your local area. I highly recommend any organisation working through the certification process and assessment at minimum, you will make some valuable changes along the way. 

Conversation Co

Conversation Co proudly acknowledges and celebrates First Peoples of Australia and their ongoing strength in upholding some of the world's oldest living cultures. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands throughout what is now Victoria – where we live, conduct pop-ups, and engage with our communities – and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present. Conversation Co acknowledges First Peoples' sovereignty has never been ceded. The strength, resilience and pride of First Peoples, their cultures, communities and identities continue to grow and thrive today despite the impact of colonisation and ongoing experiences of racism.

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