B is for belief: Optimal Workshop’s B Corp journey

7 min read Optimal Workshop

There are over 5000 certified B Corporations around the world, including new recruit, New Zealand based SaaS company, Optimal Workshop.  The ‘B’ in B Corp actually stands for ‘beneficial’, to reflect the founding vision behind the movement: ‘make business a force for good’.   B Corp seeks to help companies balance purpose and profit, while also serving stakeholders by building a global community of like-minded organizations. We asked Andrew Mayfield, CEO and Julie Reddish, Head of People and Culture at Optimal Workshop about becoming a B Corp, the journey so far and why it’s so important.

Why did Optimal decide to become a B Corp?

Andrew: I’ve been interested in aligning our reporting with our purpose and values for years, so becoming a B Corp felt like a huge and natural step in this direction. Our ethos of placing people at the heart of decisions extends to the way we treat our own people, not just our customers.  So I saw B Corp as a way of enshrining this thinking into the company and making sure these aspects were considered in future decision making.  

Sounds as if being a B Corp was already in line with your thinking.  What’s it mean in terms of action?   

Julie: One of the things we’ve always cared about is ‘how do we show our real commitment to people, to the environment, to sustainability, to doing ethical good work?’ Finding out B Corp existed as this global initiative, this reputable, recognized way of measuring yourself against other companies was compelling.  It was a way for us to metrify or codify ‘the optimal way’ of doing things in a way that does good as a company and does good in the world.  

Andrew: Practically it means writing up more policies to ensure the things we do for the good of our people and the planet, which we consider normal are actually written down and therefore, in effect, protected. Our Code of Ethics and Business Conduct, Whistleblower policy, Breast feeding and support policy and Environmental sustainability policy are some that spring to mind.

Tell me about the actual journey to becoming a B Corp – what’s it been like? 

Julie: Oh my gosh – it’s been a big project.  Little did we know how much work it would take to get accredited!  It requires six different categories of certification which have, like 50 or 60 questions or areas you can gain points in and you need a minimum of 80 points to get certification.  A lot of the questions weren’t really applicable to us so we really had to look closely and think, ‘what is there already that we do inside Optimal that actually equates to saying yes to that question?’ We had an awful lot of thinking to do about which questions to put our time and our money into.  

Andrew:  There were a lot of things we did that weren’t fully documented, that was the hard part. We didn’t have to change much of our actual behavior to be honest.  We have been for years looking at a people-centered approach – our three values are Approachable, Bold and Curious. We had to write things down, make sure they were where people could find them.  There wasn’t a lot we had to change to get our entrance score as such. If we want to continually improve each year then we will need to make continual changes for sure, like anyone trying to self improve.

Julie:  We thought we were quite close, then there was this massive surge of interest and eight months to even see a consultant, then another six months before the verification process even started.  

That’s when the rubber really hit the road.  We were working away on different bits of the B Corp certification like there’s one for having an office set up for breastfeeding.  Do you have a lockable door? Do you have a place that is private? Does everyone know? Is it communicated? Do you have a policy on breastfeeding? You had to look at each of those things and make sure that you could back it up with evidence.  And that might be worth 0.2 points.  

A short video about Optimal Workshop

Sounds like a detailed and rigorous journey – but also quite meaningful and actionable? 

Julie: We already had thoughts on what we could do to make our organization great like sourcing local produce and local suppliers but the process of becoming a B Corp really flushed it out for us.  Some of the suggestions and categories were things we were already looking at within the bigger picture of being a good employer and being a good contributor to our communities. Going through the assessment helped us identify a whole other layer of things that we could and should be doing. 

Beyond measuring female representation, what else could we be doing for diversity?  What about our indigenous representation? What could we be doing for people with disabilities?  It got us into deeper thinking about what diversity actually means. It’s pretty amazing.

What does being a B Corp mean for your employees?

Julie:  As an employer it’s reaffirming a commitment to treating people well and human-centered work practices.  So the real nuts and bolts come down to individuals thinking how might I get involved with this:  If I see something I don’t feel is right I call it out.  I can also advocate for what is right.

Andrew:  More and more I think people are interested in working for companies that care for more than simply enriching their shareholders, that care about taking care of their team and of their environment and of their impact more broadly, of the change they seek to make on society, knowledge-sharing and all this sort of thing.  People are more aware of considering this on choice of where to work, where to stay and just generally where to spend their time.  We all have scarce time these days and strong choices to make and it does play into where people choose to work.

Does this extend to customers?  What impact, if any, does being a B Corp mean for them? 

Andrew:  B Corp certainly takes into consideration who you choose to use as suppliers so it becomes a bit recursive in that way. If our customers value the fact we’re a B Corp then they need to be thinking about choosing suppliers who are also B Corps – so it would gradually happen over time I’d imagine. 

Julie: It’s about thoughtful practices.  Not just following trends. It’s about what works, not what’s popular. 

What’s it feel like to be part of this global community called B Corp?

Julie:  I think it’s a really cool company to be in.  To share our thinking, to share policies and resources with somebody who’s traveled that road before us, with its dragons and potholes, to actually follow in someone’s footsteps, but also make it our own ‘Optimal’ way.  

Andrew: Being part of a community of B Corps supporting each other with new ways to manage these obligations we choose to put on ourselves to be better corporate citizens as such is valuable.  While there’s no desire to make it hard, sometimes it is hard to make sure you’re doing the right thing.  It requires extra research and extra conscientiousness when making decisions so sharing ideas and experiences.  Feeling like you’re not the only one who’s been there can help.

Becoming a B Corp is quite an achievement however the work doesn’t stop there does it?

Andrew: My understanding is the requirements get harder and that’s a good thing.  We can all get better.  The biggest areas for us to improve are things like sharing information in decision-making, we’re already pretty transparent but haven’t formalized that so there are things we can do there.  

The next checkpoint is in three years and we’re expected to improve plus the requirements get more onerous – so we’d better improve!