Friday, 19 September 2014 17:36

Far apart and connected

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The other day I was nodding in appreciation at Sandy Schuman's article 'You know you're a group facilitator if...' which you can access here.

I've been facilitating for twenty years now and recognised the items on the list, including 'your hands have multi-coloured splotches' and 'you can explain the history of the term brainstorming and lament how it is misused'.

Now that much of my facilitation is virtual, I'm tempted to assemble a similar list including 'you carry headphones and dongle with you everywhere' and 'you know the technical differences between, and applications of Webex and Adobe Connect'.

Instead I want to reflect on how human communication and group dynamics manage to transcend distance and technology so that virtual and online engagement is just as compelling as face to face.

I've just completed a series of virtual sessions / webinars using a well-known proprietary discussion platform.  These sessions brought together people from around the world, speaking different languages and connecting from different locations and timezones.  The striking thing was how different each session was - just as face to face the dynamics varied, the humour, atmosphere and pace. Listening to the comments and reading the chat box you built up a sense of the learning, engagement and understanding specific to that group and that moment.

Humour helps - in one session we had a running 'chocolate' theme which shows that some things are (almost) universal. 

Participation helps - it's important to make sure that people are contributing, verbally or in writing, within the first five minutes.

My hunch is that what matters above all is starting with, and maintaining the belief that human beings really know how to communicate - and the mere matter of a few hundred or thousand miles and occasionally dodgy technology isn't going to stop them.

Wednesday, 07 May 2014 08:36

Does it matter if you're not involved?

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I'm speaking this month at a conference on Open Government.

I'm there to represent a group of small businesses - our network called In Business for Good.

The Open Government Partnership is led by governments, involves community and society organisations, and wants to involve business too.  Inevitably a lot of the focus is on big business.  But I'm there to keep reminding people that most businesses are small and worldwide more than a third of people work in very small firms.

The Open Government Partnership rightly say that small businesses benefit from open government.  Making data and information openly available, and free, can help create a level playing field for small firms for instance in bidding for government contracts. 

This raises the question: If small firms benefit from open government, does it matter if they've never heard of the concept? 

For me, the answer is yes.  Real open government means involving all the players in decisions that affect them - so small businesses should be involved alongside big companies and not for profits in defining the type of openness that would benefit them.

Co-creating open government would mean real ownership and buy-in - and potentially better government too.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013 08:43

That's the question!

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It’s claimed that the ability to ask questions is unique to humans. 

Joseph Jordania in his fascinating book, 'Who asked the first question?' describes how apes are able to answer questions but not to ask them.  He argues that ‘the ability to ask questions … was a revolutionary enhancement of the cognitive ability of a whole group of individuals, by coordinating their cognitive abilities’.  The ability to ask questions opened the way for ‘information exchange and mental cooperation’ between human beings.

If you work with groups, questions are a key component of your toolbox. Whether you work internally as a manager, team leader or professional supporting the group or as an external consultant or facilitator one of your key tasks is to help the group achieve their goals by asking the best questions at the most appropriate time.

But asking the best question at the best time is not as simple as deciding on the most appropriate question.

People interpret questions differently to your intention. I am sure you have experienced a situation where you have asked people do something and, with the best of intentions, they have gone off and done something completely different. How could they have interpreted your question in that way?

The questioner can have immense power over the people being questioned. One only has to think of the criminal justice system and how simple questions can have a powerful effect.

Hopefully few of us will be on the wrong end of such questioning but most of us have experience of being in a situation where the intention of the teacher's question is not curiosity about what you think but to find out whether you have done your homework and know the right answer.

So questions are of course about the words you use. But they are also much more than that.

Joseph Jordania identified two main evolutionary requirements for the ability to ask questions:  curiosity, and question intonation.

  • Curiosity - particularly whether you are genuinely curious about the response - shapes whether the group believes you are asking out of interest or secretly manipulating to get the response you want.
  • Question intonation is also important. At a basic level, the intonation that distinguishes a question from a statement is the rising inflection at the end of the question. However, intonation also has to be congruent with your body language. A rising inflection with a hand gesture that shuts off debate is going to fool no-one. While a question where the tone of voice, pace and resonance of a question is matched with open hand gestures draws groups in and helps them focus.

We’ve identified 20 question frameworks that will help you identify the best question and the best time to ask it by looking at the purpose of the questions, the likely response and how you ask it: your mindset, your posture, your gestures, your intonation.

We describe four different groups of questions:

  • Overarching question frameworks
  • Structuring question patterns
  • Questions to use in the moment
  • Concluding and reflecting questions

If you’d like to find out more search for our ebook ‘That’s the question’ on Kindle or follow this link.  And you can listen to a conversation between Carol and I about question frameworks free at the Riders on the Storm virtual summit.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013 11:04

Join us riding the storms!

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Riders on the Storm 2013 is less than a week away.   As always, we have a fabulous line up of speakers.
Margaret Wheatley is opening the summit for us on Monday 21 October. Many of you will need no introduction to Meg. She is a well-respected writer, speaker, and teacher for how we can accomplish our work, sustain our relationships, and willingly step forward to serve in this troubling time. She has written several best-selling books, beginning with her path-breaking Leadership and the New Science, first published in 1992. Among other things, she’ll be talking about her newest book, So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World.
Malin Moren founder of Lorensbergs in Sweden one of the most successful smaller facilitation and consultancy companies in the world will be talking about how they ride the storms in business. You may not have heard of Malin or Lorensbergs as they are not big into self promotion. So it is a rare treat to listen to Malin talking about how they became so successful.
Bridgette Bradley is a Master in Corrective Exercise, specialising in improving sports performance, injury prevention and spinal rehabilitation. She is a graduate member of the British Psychological Society and has a Masters degree in Occupational Psychology. This blend of understanding the functioning of the body and the mind, gives Bridgette some unique insights into how groups read our physiology and how we read theirs.
Then there are the two of us – Carol Sherriff and Simon Wilson. We spend the whole year researching and experimenting with techniques and approaches that will be the next greatest thing for Riders on the Storm.  I will be talking about those questions that help unlock the future. Carol explores Mindful Facilitation and resilience for facilitators and coaches who run their own business.
As we hope you know already, Riders on the Storm 2013 celebrates the first ever International Facilitation Week. To support International Facilitation Week we are keeping the interviews available all week rather than just for the day broadcast and we have made available all the interviews from past international summits. So if you have a favourite one from 2011 or 2012, this is a great opportunity to listen again.  Riders on the Storm is a free international, virtual summit for facilitators, coaches and consultants. Register for your free place here.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 14:21

Responsible business in action

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What does it really mean to be in business for good?  And can government help and avoid hindering?
The UK government is consulting on what it calls corporate responsibility.  They’ve dropped the ‘social’ word I assume to emphasise the environmental and wider aspects.  They’ve kept the ‘corporate’ word which might put off some small firms.  However all credit to the Business Department for asking how government can support small firms get involved in their community, support the environment, and look after the health and wellbeing of their staff.
We’ve set up a survey especially for UK small business to have their say so please do follow it here.
Some questions and tensions are emerging from the conversations and feedback we’ve had with small firms.  Here are three of them.
Does the emphasis on international standards downgrade what small firms do?
Understandably government and large multinational companies are keen to see reporting based on international standards.  But the formats and approaches don’t match how small businesses work.  The small businesses in the inBiz4Good network are active in society and community, are green businesses protecting the environment, and treat their staff well.  They are taking action, they haven’t the same need to develop policies to stimulate a coherent approach or to report to shareholders.  It is not an inferior or less sophisticated approach. It is though a different approach to being a responsible business.  It’s important that the big business model is not seen as THE model.  
How can we get a level playing field?
We believe that small firms do more than big businesses to benefit society, the environment and their people.  But they tend to do it their way, and their way does not fit with international or government reporting standards.  So we are asking government to value this contribution and
-    To spend more time finding out what small firms are doing in this field
-    To have equal numbers of small business and large business speakers on public platforms discussing social responsibility
-    To showcase the great work of small firms
-    To sponsor awards and other activities to recognise what small firms are doing.
When is the supply chain a ball and chain?
Many small firms are learning from large businesses and there are good examples of big business advocating good social responsibility practice through their supply chains. Many small firms are happy with this approach to involving them in social responsible actions.
But many small firms tell us that they do not want to be tied into a supply chain model. Many do not supply to large business but direct to the public or to other small businesses. Others fear becoming lock in to an unequal relationship with a large business – one expressed the fear that they will be required to jump through expensive hoops to demonstrate, for example, their environmental credentials while, at the end of the day, the big business would not cover the additional costs but would take credit for them.
Many small firms are concerned that ‘pushing’ good practice through supply chains ends up putting pressure on small firms to tick boxes that are not appropriate to them – do they have a payroll giving scheme or do they second their staff to charities, when the approach in a small firm is more collegiate and informal: all the staff raise money for charity and have long standing personal relationships with local charities and community groups without the formality of secondments. And of course many small firms, like ours, find themselves part of several supply chains.  In each case the organisation at the top is promoting its own particular take on social responsibility – so organisations down these different supply chains find they are being asked to comply with different responsibility approaches based on the needs of the larger organisation and not on what the small business does and plans to do. In this way, the supply chain can become a ball and chain.  As one business owner on our network put it:  ‘the most important thing big business can do is pay us on time!’  
A strong theme was that small business owners learn more that is relevant from other small firms.  So government should support and promote networking and exchange between small firms more than from big business to small.
So a range of different views is emerging.  We’ll be reporting through the In Business for Good network this week.  
We’d love to hear your views either by completing the survey (it takes about ten minutes) or emailing at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  We’ll include all your points in our response to the government on behalf of the In Business for Good network.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 09:55

Public procurement: fair to small firms?

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Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to do sales any more?  If you could find out what people wanted to buy and compete on level terms with any other business, big or small, based on the quality and price of what you have to offer?
That is the radical premise underpinning that dullest of subjects:  public procurement.
For ten years our company has got most of its business through UK public procurement.  We have competed on level terms with others including some of the big names in our field and won some great contracts.  Public procurement helped us move into areas and subjects we might never have otherwise found because all contracts have to be publicly advertised.
At the same time, we’ve been constantly bedevilled by the question of size.  As a small business we’ve felt constrained and excluded from bidding for some contracts not because we could not have done the work but because of the way the tendering process ran.
An interesting report in the journal Civil Service World shows that despite good intentions it is very unclear that the UK government is succeeding in its aim of putting more contracts the way of small businesses.  Where it does, this is often ‘indirectly’.  In other words, government contracts with a big business which then subcontracts with a small one. In our experience, this is not delivering on the promise to do more business with smaller companies. We know of some cases where it works extremely well – small suppliers are genuine partners and often provide products and services that are innovative, high quality and only they can provide. On other occasions, it’s a tick box exercise actually designed to help the bigger business win the contract. In these cases, smaller suppliers are asked to deliver at reduced cost to tight timescales and of course won’t get paid until the larger business decides to. This is not beneficial to small business and it does not help government procurement officials understand the world of small businesses as they have no direct contact with them.
We believe a much better solution for larger contracts is smaller businesses working together in consortium or partnership arrangements that can deliver scale and scope. These arrangements are often mistrusted by procurement specialists who think that they do not deliver clear accountability. However, this is a misunderstanding about how small business does business. Most of us work collaboratively with other businesses every day. We have a solid track record and evidence of success.
So what would the world of public procurement be like if it really did give 50% of business to smaller organisations – after all we are 50% of the private sector?
Here are some recommendations for how government could stand a better chance of meeting its target.
Drop the idea that indirect contracting counts
What matters is contracts won directly by small businesses.  Subcontracting from large businesses often means that the small firm takes a hit on price and crucially loses independence.  As one of our small business colleagues says ‘We actually like working for the public sector.  When we are down the chain we end up working for another private company and it’s not the same’. 
Focus on quality not quantity
We recently put in for a tender which said that the highest marks would be awarded for lots of detail.  Obviously big firms have more capacity than small ones to write long tenders with lots of detail.  But surely what really matters is the quality of the thinking, not the nuts and bolts?  This is essentially saying ‘more is better’ and that is lazy thinking.
Focus on action not policies
Many tenders require bidders to have policies on any number of issues – environmental protection, health and safety, business continuity, corporate social responsibility, site risk management… Leaving aside the fact that different government organisations want slightly different things (requiring bidders to provide subtly different information every time), policies are what big businesses need to communicate among larger staff numbers. What counts for small firms is what they do. Few small firms have a corporate social responsibility policy. But more small firms are active in their communities than large ones.  So procurement should be looking for action not policies
Cut out indirect discrimination
We came across a tender which actually required bidders to pay £50 up front before they could see the documentation.  The idea was that this contributed to the costs of the procurement.  This clearly discriminated against small firms for whom £50 may be a significant amount as against large firms for whom it is probably not.  We contacted the Cabinet Office mystery shopper scheme who contacted the tenderer who changed their approach.  We need to be vigilant about this type of indirect discrimination and report it where it occurs.
But what about innovation…?
Research evidence shows that innovation starts with small business and moves to larger businesses – so is government heading in the opposite direction?  Awarding high value, high profile contracts for national innovation to small firms rather than large would show that government ‘gets it’.
It would be great to have your views about how public procurement works for you (or doesn’t).  Please let us know on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 09:58

Co-creation nation?

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Back in March we blogged about how academic researchers on the UK Connected Communities programme were co-creating new ways to understand communities.
Since then we’ve come across many examples of policy problems and challenges where co-creation seems to hold the key.  These include

  • How patients in the health system can become equal partners rather than passive recipients of care, and co-create or co-produce services that put them first
  • How communities and stakeholders affected by climate change can work with experts and regulatory agencies to find solutions for their communities
  • How small business owners can work with government and other authorities to co-create ways to get the most vulnerable in our society into work.

A template for co-creation is emerging from different cultures and traditions including community activism, public dialogue, and also how commercial businesses involve their customers in new product development.
We particularly like a book called The power of co-creation by Ramaswamy and Gouillard which draws on some of these commercial examples to define principles and methods for co-creation.
This experience suggests three principles for effective co-creation:

  • Build an engagement platform – either virtually or face to face
  • Focus on the human experience of people you engage
  • Enable people to work together – discussing and developing ideas in real time.

We have built on that to suggest six steps for successful co-creation:

  1. Clarify the purpose of the co-creation
  2. Involve stakeholders in designing co-creation activities
  3. Involve ‘troublemakers, mavericks and the silent’
  4. Scope the boundaries of co-creation
  5. Reach out to stakeholders – don’t expect them to come to you
  6. Communicate, facilitate, communicate for the lifetime of the co-creation project

The approach we’ve developed is summarised in our checklist here.  Please let us know your views and thoughts about any other principles or steps that you find make for successful co-creation.

Tuesday, 03 September 2013 15:28

Answering the call - responsible business

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The Government has put out a call for views on encouraging companies to get more involved in corporate responsibility. Never mind the word ‘corporate’ the consultation paper specifically mentions small companies – a very welcome development. So its important that small businesses respond to the call.

Wilson Sherriff will be responding but before we do we thought we would test out some of our thoughts on you.

Although it is not always visible, small companies make a major contribution to social and environmental goals in an almost limitless range of different and diverse ways.  Since the In Business For Good virtual summit finished in June, we have published a weekly review of what small businesses do #inbiz4good. In just two months, we have more than 200 different examples of how small business support employees, communities, charities, customers, the environment and each other.  In our view - economic growth and social progress in the UK and other countries will be driven by what small businesses do as much as by the actions of large corporate companies. So the government is quite right to include them in this call to action. We’d go further. The government needs to pay as much attention to what small businesses do as it does to large corporate. Wouldn’t it be great if the Prime Minister put out a press releasing congratulating and naming the small business that will create 1000 jobs in the next year? He’s done this for a large company.

If the government really wants small businesses to do more then talking to business owners is central to that.  Social responsibility for small companies derives from the heads and hearts of business owners and their staff and their personal commitment is key.  Now there are more than 4 million small business owners and government officials often tell us they are very difficult to reach. Well it is true, you cannot reach 4 million small business owners using the same methods as you reach the CEOs of the largest businesses. But small business owners are not exactly shrinking violets – shying away from the light.

Any day on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn there are thousands of business owners engaging with their customers and each other. On any day of the week, there are at least 10 different business hours on Twitter where small businesses congregate in cyber space. Say there was an ‘inbiz4good’ hour once a week or perhaps once a month, wouldn’t that be a way to involve and encourage small businesses? It certainly would if you had some government ministers dropping in.

So we know small businesses are running responsible businesses and there is a way to get to them – what more should we be encouraging them to do? Small companies benefit from taking a strategic approach – they may start off with a walk to work scheme and move into wider carbon reduction initiatives, they may begin recycling and move into reconfiguring the waste they create throughout their processes. As a starter for 10, we have developed a checklist to get you started.  This can be downloaded here
Most of all, we will emphasise that small businesses are not simply small versions of large businesses. We are very different. We don’t have corporate social responsibility plans, officers, departments. In most cases, the business owner does all that. But we do have passion, drive and ingenuity. The government needs to help us ignite the spark not dampen it down with systems designed for another form of business.

What do you think? Do let us know and we will include your points in our In Business For Good response to the call.

These findings form part of our new report into In Business For Good, which you can download here.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 15:54

Four myths about small businesses in the UK

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You can hardly pick up a newspaper, business book or social media feed these days without finding a report on corporate social responsibility. The debate about the role of business in helping to sort out the complex issues our society and economy face is everywhere and touches every business.
Or so you would think. But the contribution made by small business is largely missing from the public debate.
For three years, Wilson Sherriff has supported and funded the In Business for Good virtual summit and digital network. We are immensely proud of the examples that we have found of small businesses putting people and planet before profits.
We also heard again and again four myths which need to be retired.  Here are the myths and the evidence to undermine them.
Myth 1 – Small businesses are a tiny part of the economy  
Small business is in fact not small at all. The smallest businesses are the largest part of the UK private sector. More than 75% of private sector businesses are sole proprietors.  21% are micros employing under 9 staff and 3.5% are small businesses employing 10 - 49 members of staff.
Small businesses also employ 47% of the private sector workforce - 11,233,000 people - and create 34.4% of private sector turnover - £1,066.4 billion. And these figures really are for the smallest companies. We have excluded medium-size businesses that employ more than 50 people.
Myth 2 – Small businesses are hard to reach
Many public sector and large corporate organisations say they find it hard to reach small firms.  But small businesses are hardly shrinking violets hiding themselves from the limelight. Social media, particularly Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, have revolutionised the way that small businesses communicate and promote themselves and therefore the way that you can reach them. The Financial Times reported in May 2011 that more than a third of small businesses use Facebook regularly and at that time 1 in 6 used Twitter. Simply Business calculated that a third of all small businesses use social media daily with LinkedIn being the most popular but Twitter rapidly challenging that position.
So, if you use social media, you can reach and engage a significant and growing number of small businesses.
Myth 3 - The best way to reach small businesses is through big businesses
We quite often hear people say that the best way to reach small businesses is through the supply chain of large businesses, or by big businesses sharing their expertise. This can cause problems and resentment. One business owner said it was like ‘being treated like a child’ - the adults talked above your head about what you liked to do!  
As well as a perception problem, this approach has practical problems. It is not in the interests of many small businesses to become tied into a single large business supply chain particularly in tough economic times. Many small businesses trade with other small businesses or direct with consumers rather than with large organisations. Also, running a small business is quite different to running a large business. We have found that it is much more effective to approach small businesses via other small businesses and through the networks they already trust and engage with.
Myth 4 - Small businesses don’t do corporate social responsibility
The words 'corporate social responsibility' don't resonate with small business owners. That doesn't mean that they are not interested in being in Business for Good.
We believe that small businesses actually do more than larger companies.  Once we started to look, we found examples everywhere – even in our own supplier network we have an IT company offering free computer classes in the local library, the bottled water company supporting water projects in the developing world, a cleaning company supporting local sporting activity, a restaurant supporting local community development, and the pro bono work our associates do for social enterprises and charities.  The big difference is that small companies are less likely than large ones to define what they do as a strategy or a policy.  And it is much harder for them to get publicity for their efforts.
What do you think? Perhaps you think they are not myths but true. Or perhaps you have come across other more powerful myths. Do let me know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  If your business is In Business for Good, please visit the In Business for Good website, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and tell us what you are doing.
These findings form part of our new report into In Business For Good, which you can download here.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013 14:29

Six things policy makers need to know about small business

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We were talking to a knowledgeable and well intentioned policy maker earlier this week who wanted to involve small businesses in a new initiative on health and safety at work. If we hadn’t respected her good intentions, we would have ended the conversation abruptly. Her assumptions about small businesses were ill-informed and patronising. To be fair to her, she is certainly not alone. Big business has done a good job persuading policy makers that their business model is the right one. Small businesses on the other hand have not yet succeeded in helping them understand how small businesses work. We thought it is about time to put that right.
So here are six things every policy maker needs to know about small businesses.
Small businesses are the backbone of the economy and the key to tackling unemployment.  Around half of the UK workforce work in small and medium size enterprises.  There are 3.5 million sole traders, and a 1 million companies employing between 1 and 9 people.  95 per cent of people who move into work in the private sector from being unemployed or workless start their own business or work for an SME.  (Peter Urwin and Franz Buscha Back to work:  the role of small businesses in employment and entrerprise 2012)
Small businesses are where people are most proud to work.  According to the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study  ‘Loyalty was particularly high among employees of small enterprises (83%), and these employees were more likely than those in other organisations to say they share the organisational values (69%), and are proud of who they work for (74%).’ (The 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study:  First Findings 2013)
Small firms are not just small big firms.  Take a typical small business employing eight people.  Often there is no staff hierarchy, just one or two bosses and six other staff. People have very wide job roles and multi-tasking and collaboration is essential. There are no departments, and in particular no HR department to handle staff issues.  There may be no trade unions or formal employee representation structures. Formal policies will be far fewer than in larger businesses because communications can happen by getting people together in the same room or on a single teleconference.  This is not an amateurish way of doing business. At its best it leads to innovation, collaboration and great levels of trust inside and outside the organisation.
Most small businesses don’t want to be like big businesses.  Small business owners may well respect the achievements of big corporations but very few of them want to emulate them.  So they are often sceptical of advice offered by people from big business. How much common ground is there between a senior manager in a large corporation working within a complex organisational framework, and an entrepreneurial business owner with eight staff?  
Small firms do more than big firms to benefit society.  Typically small firms don’t have corporate social responsibility policies or departments, but they make myriad contributions to society and the planet.  The printing company that’s the greenest in the world, the cheesemaker sponsoring local sports clubs, the service company encouraging lunchtime walks and providing fruit boxes for staff – these are saving the planet and benefiting society – they just don’t call it corporate social responsibility.
Small businesses are communicating differently.  To reach small businesses you need to use their channels and their language.  Business hours on Twitter, Linkedin groups, Facebook, blogs – increasingly small businesses are using social media to market their services and network with each other.  This builds on the local connections businesses make through clubs and membership groups. To reach small firms you need to be where they are.
If you are a policymaker who wants to find out more, or a small business owner who wants to help us get the message across, join our growing community at In Business for Good or follow us @inbiz4good.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013 13:08

What does it mean to be In Business for Good?

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We hear a lot in the media about how big businesses are focusing on the triple bottom line - people, planet, profit. How, for example, Jaguar has created a 1000 new jobs, how Wates the largest construction company in the UK is supporting social enterprises, how the global brands involved in the B team will change the values of business. Now lets be clear these are all great initiatives that should be applauded and supported. But when were the millions of small businesses who create many more than a thousand jobs named on national TV? Who pays attention to the fact that there are small businesses supporting social enterprises and community groups in local community? Where is the public debate that it is small business rather than large ones who are doing more for people, planet and profit? Wilson Sherriff thinks its about time that small businesses were recognised for what they do and valued as leaders in new business and social models.

To help small businesses gain that recognition and take on that leadership role, Wilson Sherriff has funded and resourced a new virtual network called In Businesss for Good or Inbiz4good for short. The network celebrates the contribution smaller companies make to the people they work with, their communities, the wider environment and how this helps them sustain their business over the long term. As a small company ourselves we know that other small firms want to get involved in a two way dialogue to share what they do and learn from others. There is considerable resistance to being told what to do by Government or by big business who, as one small business owner put it, treat us as children who one day might grow up to be a big business.

We have taken the network to places where small businesses already gather. So there is a discussion group on LinkedIn, a Twitter conversation and a growing Facebook chat. To date, more than 2000 small businesses are actively engaged via social media or through our website.  You can read the report of our June 2013 virtual summit here.

Through these conversations we have gathered together many wonderful examples of how small businesses look beyond the short term and the bottom line – even in hard economic times – to add value to their businesses and achieve wider social and economic goals. From these conversations, we have identified five areas of focus that characterise a company that is in Business for Good.  They are

  • How you treat your staff, associates, suppliers and partners – are your relationship with your people based on mutual understanding and trust? Do you seek solutions that are win-win rather than focused on financial goals? When you have a problem do you keep it to yourself or welcome the involvement of other people?
  • How you treat your customers – most businesses recognise the importance of customers, but do you think of them as part of your business or as an external force? Do you involve them in adapting, creating and implementing products and services they need
  • How you are involved in society and the community – this may be outside your front door or in the global community, but do you have an interest in the impact your company has beyond its products and services?
  • How you minimise your business’s impact on the environment - taking action on sustainability, minimising waste, recycling and reuse
  • How you invest in health and wellbeing - promoting the health and wellbeing of the business, your staff and yourself.

Not every company has to focus on all five of these areas.  Indeed because of their size, smaller companies tend to prioritise one or two of them.  The companies that do best are those that link the different aspects and integrate them with their business strategy.

If you run or work for a small business, and want to go 'beyond the bottom line', visit In Business for Good on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook and tell us your story.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013 09:14

The Black Dog means business

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I first encountered the phrase 'the black dog of depression' when I was in my late teens studying A level history. Winston Churchill is often credited with inventing the term. At that time I was amazed such a prominent and powerful man should suffer from depression. It never occurred to me that the black dog doesn't discriminate overly much - politician, statesman, business owner, self aware professional, the black dog can still find its way to your door.

Some time ago, laying awake at night after an argument with my business partner, I realised that the black dog had not only paid a visit, he'd moved in.

I had no interest in our new business ventures. But it wasn't a lack of enthusiasm, it was a void, a huge gaping hole which if I peered into it was filled with nothing but despair. In the past, I buzzed with ideas about what we could do to develop the business. Now I looked towards the past and future and there was nothing there but dread. It wasn't simply that I focused on the negative, I couldn't see anything else even if I tried to think of things I was proud of or loved doing. I was so tired that I had to drag myself out of bed every morning and got back in as quickly as I could. I was on the verge of tears or rage most of the time. Although I think it is unfair to black dogs - I have owned two beautiful black dogs - it is such an accurate description of the presence that is always with you.

Thankfully I knew enough about stress and mental health to know that this had all the hallmarks of depression. Even more thankfully I have a wonderfully supportive business and personal partner who both stepped in and took over my work and encouraged me to continue doing the things I enjoyed. In the main, I stayed in bed and slept and slept.

Interesting I hear you say. Must be therapeutic to talk about it but why am I telling you this?

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