How good people practices drive strong values – and vice versa

When we invited Jo Fairley, founder of the hugely successful ethical chocolate brand Green & Black’s, to our recent conference, she spoke about how her company’s environmental and social values drove staff engagement and loyalty.

What also became clear is that many practical aspects of having a strong ethical agenda has a lot in common with what People Puzzles HR directors would consider to be part of a sound people strategy.

Building a strong vision and values

When People Puzzles works with clients, we often encourage them to revisit their vision and values, in part to help motivate and attract the right people into the business. Jo Fairley described how her company’s ethics were a powerful motivational tool. ‘We’ve seen at Green & Black’s that having a sense of purpose within an organisation literally helps magnetise talent and builds strong loyalty,’ she told the conference.

Recruiting according to values

Jo also stressed the importance of recruiting people who are ‘round pegs fitting in round holes’. Her recruitment focused on getting people who believed in the same values as her. ‘I’m interested in people and what drives them,’ she says. ‘I was interested in questions such as, what charities do you support? What causes do you believe in? What is the last petition you signed?’

Communicating small wins

In the same way that we encourage our clients to communicate the business strategy to employees, it’s important to communicate how you’re building environmental and socially conscious principles into your business. Businesses that do things that are considered ‘green’ or ‘ethical’ – such as donating to local charities or sourcing local produce – often don’t shout about it in case it’s not considered ‘good enough’. ‘Companies worry that if they’re not perfect, they will get shamed for greenwashing,’ Jo says. ‘But as Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of the good”. I think it’s important to talk about what you’re doing.’

‘The key is to be transparent, be authentic, share your small wins while admitting that it’s difficult and complicated. Basically say: “We’re doing our best. And we need you on this journey with us”.’

Being flexible

The pandemic has changed many employers’ attitudes to flexible and home working, which helps many employees with care responsibilities. Having a flexible working policy, as well as looking after staff wellbeing, is another area where good people practice overlaps with the ‘S’ element of ESG. It also inspires loyalty in those who benefit from it. ‘I’ve always employed working mothers who have a huge tug on their time,’ she says. ‘We had to sometimes work flexibly, but you know what? They never let me down and always got done what needed to be done.’

Getting the best from your people

Jo also believes that flexible working allows people to work when they’re at their best. ‘I think it’s generally underrated that everyone has a different body clock,’ she says. ‘You need to utilise that, especially with small businesses. I wake up at 5.30am and am really productive early in the morning. My husband is at his most productive in the evening. Traditional 9-5 timings don’t take this into account.’

In our next blog, we’ll outline some practical tips that Jo gave us on how smaller businesses can get make small but important steps towards becoming a more sustainable organisation.

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