Leading with Humanity: and other lessons from the B Corp Champions Retreat

Truth be told, before I started working at Radish Lab, I was skeptical of the B Corporation designation. Having committed my professional life to nonprofit organizations, I thought that being a B Corp was an artificial way for businesses to feel good about themselves. I was wrong. In my time at Radish Lab I have gotten to know the depth and complexity of the rigorous B Corp evaluation process. I was impressed by the high standards B Corps are held to, as they are legally required to consider the full impact of all of their business decisions. In short: it really does mean something! Not long after Radish Lab earned our official B Corp status, I was excited to see the announcement of the annual B Corp Champions Retreat and immediately registered for the 2018 event.

The Champions Retreat is an “annual gathering of mission-driven leaders of the B Corp community focused on collective action and continuous improvement.” It was a packed week of meeting smart, energized people, and learning new ways to think about old challenges. All 2,000+ B Corps have a shared goal to balance purpose and profit through ethical, mission-driven business practices. But how that big-picture goal plays out is different for each company. For example, the steps Radish Lab is taking to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our internal transparency will be very different from those at Ben and Jerry’s. I think being a small team is one of Radish Lab’s best qualities in a lot of ways, but it was hard not to be envious of other companies at the retreat that have whole departments devoted to their diversity and inclusion work, for example. We don’t have a full-time “B Keeper” on staff holding us to our B Corp commitments; we are each responsible for holding each other accountable and applying our values in every aspect of our work. So, with these structural differences in mind, many of the retreat sessions were about the institutional behaviors, ways of thinking, and more nuanced approaches to leadership in order to effectively make the kinds of positive change that B Corps are seeking.

Back home in Brooklyn, I am still digesting the sessions and all of the best practices that I want to put into action at Radish, but here are a few of my own key takeaways from the retreat:

  1. Impact Over Intent
    The opening session of the retreat included some “ground rules” to set the tone and expectations of how we would move through the next few days, which included a reminder about the difference between impact and intent. Focusing on impact over intent forces valuable humility. To truly take responsibility for your actions, you have to disarm any impulse to be defensive or dismissive of the experience of others, because however good your intentions are in any given decision at work, it is your actual impact that matters more.

  2. The ROI on Emotions in the Workplace
    The hard-line rule that emotions should be suppressed in the workplace is becoming outdated, as it should, because suppressing emotions is a denial of what makes us human. I imagine that a lot of people might be open to the idea of changing that in theory, but few prioritize cultivating a thoughtful emotional culture in the workplace, so I was excited to learn that the data shows that it actually pays off in tangible ways. A positive emotional culture in a company leads with compassion, kindness, and empathy, and prioritizing these values is proven to increase employees’ job satisfaction, personal accountability, and investment in their work.

  3. It’s Time to Start the Hard Conversation
    The retreat’s ground rules also encouraged us to become comfortable being uncomfortable. While that might sound like a contradiction in terms, the value of that lesson played out over the course of the retreat as we discussed ways to be an anti-racist company, what it means to bring your “whole self” to work, and how white supremacy functions in society and in B Corps. These are not easy subjects to broach, but since when is anything about starting or running a successful business supposed to be easy? Creating meaningful change can be hard and it can be intimidating, but what we heard from many B Corp leaders who have powered through discomfort to make critical changes in their companies is that the important thing is to just START. Start somewhere, know you will probably make mistakes along the way, and ask for help.

For Radish, I am thinking about how we are doing these things internally and in our work with clients—and where we can challenge ourselves to be better. One thing we regularly remind our clients is that there is no one right way to do anything, and throughout the retreat I was reminded of how the fear of doing it wrong (whatever “it” is) can limit our ability to take risks, change, and grow, whether as a company or as an individual. So as Radish grows and changes while working towards our B Corp goals, the best we can do is to be authentic, and stay grounded in our mission and values as we tackle the next difficult decisions and challenges that are sure to arise in our work in the years to come.

Thank you to B Lab and the Champions Retreat speakers and facilitators! My reflections here were inspired by multiple sessions throughout the retreat, but I want to personally thank and acknowledge the contributions of a few B Corp-ers whose words inspired me (in no particular order): B Lab’s Anthea Kelsick, Impact Hub Oakland’s David Jackson, Bronze Investments’ Stephen DeBerry, Fully’s David Kahl, Cascade Engineering’s Kenyatta Brame, and LIFT Economy’s Ryan Honeyman.

You can read more about our journey to becoming a B Corp here!