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Confessions of a Purpose-Driven Company: What I Learned When I Tried to Save the World

Confessions of a Purpose-Driven Company: What I Learned When I Tried to Save the World

Even when your business has a solid mission and policies in place to live that mission, the daily rigors of running and managing a business can sometimes feel like they get in the way of focusing on your brand’s impact. Here are some goals for a year of growth that recognize the inherent associated challenges.

At Future State, we wake up every day to enable extraordinary visions to positively impact the world. We are a consultancy that helps companies do good better. We roll up our sleeves and do the heavy lifting required to implement ideas and strategies. We are making real change with a focus on individuals and teams. Our clients include great brands who want to be leaders of profitable and sustainable companies, and we sleep well at night knowing we did something to make the world a little better.

A couple of years ago, we decided to become a Certified B Corporation. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. The simple yet ambitious vision of B Corps resonated with us: “People using business as a force for good.”

The opportunities — and struggles — are real.

In 2016 and 2017, we were recognized as a Certified B Corporation Best for the World Company for our attention to making our company an inspiring and worker-centered place to work. We were recognized for our 100% employee stock ownership plan, flexible work policy, and volunteerism and community-giving programs. I was humbled, excited, and a bit torn — I had hoped to do so much more in 2016.

I am proud of how dearly my company holds true to our vision, but like my clients, living a vision and executing something actionable challenges me every day. My calendar is consumed with the mechanics of running our company. We've faced some financial challenges, and did not escape without having to make a few layoffs. The pain that we caused team members we love and care for was tough on everyone.

How can we be “Best for Workers” while making these challenging business decisions? This tough time led to some extraordinary conversations and commitments about how we want to plan, operate, and hire to mitigate these risks better in the future, as well as how we will behave and treat our teams when such decisions need to be made. It turns out I have a change-management and adoption challenge of my own.

Despite these challenges, we did expand our impact portfolio this year, working with local nonprofits and social enterprises to help them achieve their Future State. The exciting opportunity ahead of us is moving from having an impact “portfolio” to having a profound impact in our community and world through all of our daily work.

[Related: Social Disruption, with Alexandre Mars]

Do less, achieve more.

This year, I have been trying to do less, but achieve more. This may sound counterintuitive, but I know from our work with clients that clear direction and focus is critical to executing complex concepts. I set the following focus points for myself for 2017, based on my lessons learned, steadfast determination, and renewed empathy for clients leading change.

  • Build Culture: Continue to invest in our people and culture, and demonstrate that there is room for profits and people. I pledged to increase my focus on the intentional act of inclusivity. It's bringing more people and ideas to the table to mirror the communities we work in. It's looking more broadly at who will be the next voice to shape the future of responsible businesses.
  • Build Community: Visibly model behaviors and business models that build long-term financial, environmental, and social sustainability into our business DNA. This is true for my company and my clients. We need shared stories of success to test the thinking of conventional business models. It's not a methodology that will make this work; it's engagement with each other around the possibilities.
  • Start a Movement: Think globally, but act locally.  We have to make things work in the company and community to make them work on a larger scale. I am thrilled to be on the Board for the Bay Area Council. I commit to being a vocal participant and driving conversations around our leadership and accountability to society, equity, inclusion, and sustainability. We must lead here in the SF Bay Area, the B Corp Community, and California. We must make sure that our voices as twenty-first century business leaders are heard, and serve as a new model for corporate social responsibility.

I have also borrowed some best practices from my client experiences, taking a little of my own medicine. I have worked to have a focused and intentional plan for change.

[Related: Can We Count You In?]

Help each other be better.

There are many inspiring voices that I look to for guidance and innovation. People such as Kat Taylor and the team at Beneficial State Bank, the team behind the Google Code Next center at Fruitvale Station, and Marc Benioff, whose financial commitment to educational opportunities for Oakland students is a model for business leadership.

I also look to my peers at nonprofit and government agencies that are doing important work, such as the Kapor Center, The Unity Council, Policy Link, SPUR, East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, and the East Oakland Youth Development Center. I continue to engage with our local B Corp community and learn and grow from this extraordinary collective.

I am in good company and among friends, and the time is now for us to band together and demonstrate a new model that works for everyone.

[Related: Taking Initiative, with Maisha Walker]


Shannon Adkins is the CEO at Future State, a strategic consulting firm and certified B Corporation focused on supporting change management and operational transformation within global Fortune 500 companies. Shannon is deeply passionate about driving forward the Future State vision to “Enable Extraordinary Visions that Positively Impact the World.”

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.