Charles Wookey, CEO of Blueprint for Better Business: “No one company by itself can bring about the necessary eco-system change which the world needs”

Charles was one of the founders of Blueprint and a key contributor to the thinking behind its approach, which asserts that people are not solely self-interested and business is not solely driven by profit. Under his leadership Blueprint has become an independent charity engaged with a growing number of major global companies and whose ambition is to help corporates be truly purpose driven, acting to deliver clear benefits to society as well as long term sustainable performance.

 

How does Blueprint for Better Business inspire and guide brands towards a purpose that serves society?

Blueprint believes that having a purpose that serves society means businesses putting people at the heart of success, and seeing profit as just one of many outcomes. We believe that this aligns with long term sustainable growth. Many people want to be part of businesses that strive to benefit society through their core business activities and where quality human relationships matter. It’s exciting that a growing number of companies and organisations are actively working on this. But it needs all of us!

In practical terms, we work with senior leaders of large companies to challenge and support them to operate in a way that benefits both their business and society. Much of our work is 1:1 with these senior business leaders, but we also bring them and others together through forums and events, to share experiences and to help each other. We also engage with key influencers such as investors, academics, consultants to business, government, NGOs and others from wider society to help change the conversation about the purpose of business.

 

Your motto is “Business as a force for good”. Could you explain ‘The Blueprint movement’?

Business can be a force for good; the challenge is to help promote a change of thinking to make this a normal expectation of any business. There is a fundamental shift occurring both within companies and more generally in society.  We believe that this shift is vital if we are to tackle some of the challenges facing the world in the 21st century. The need for this is evident in the UN Sustainable Development Goals which set out how collaboration with business is central to addressing the global social and environmental challenges we face today.

A broad movement is needed because no one company by itself can bring about the necessary eco-system change which the world needs. Businesses can work together to shift societal and market expectations. Key to this is leading businesses globally spreading the word and demonstrating change within their own companies to make such an approach commonplace. Blueprint is just one small part of that: other initiatives are also championing this approach, with a growing number of consultants and academics offering tools and charting the course.

 

At Sustainable Brands Madrid 2018 you will speak about “Rethinking business as usual: How to stop short-termism in Business”. How could it be achieved?

Solving short-termism is not easy, or it would have already been achieved. This is a complex area, and the issues in play vary by industry, location, size and a host of other things. Clearly for public companies distortions through incentives in the investment value chain can be a problem, and this is mirrored when corporate leaders are incentivised in ways that discourage longer-term decision taking. But there are many aspects, and I look forward to discussing them with Sue Garrard and the participants at the conference. We have to bear in mind too that you only get to the long-term via the short-term!  

 

Could you share some examples of brands success with Blueprint?

We work with companies in very different ways, depending on where they are on their journey to being purpose led. One example we can share with you is Vodafone. In 2015 they brought together their top forty leaders, put the Blueprint Principles on the wall and discussed how they thought they stood in relation to them. This, exercise, together with employee and customer feedback and external stakeholder research fed into their new sustainable business strategy, which works towards three global transformation goals between 2015 and 2025. Each target has the potential to deliver meaningful socioeconomic benefits for their customers and wider society; each is also derived directly from – and will be achieved through – their core long-term business objectives. The three goals are; women’s empowerment; energy innovation; and youth skills and jobs.

Vittorio Colao, Group Chief Executive, wrote in Vodafone’s Sustainable Business Report 2015-16: “The outcome from our work during 2015-16 is a new sustainable business strategy for Vodafone. The change in terminology – from Sustainability to Sustainable Business – is a reflection of our desire to ensure our business objectives have a clear social purpose. We believe a commitment to enhancing lives and livelihoods should be integral to our duty to maximise returns to our shareholders. That belief has been informed in part by the concepts and insights of the Blueprint for Better Business – an initiative that Vodafone has supported since its inception and which an increasing number of multinational companies now use as a guide to shape their purpose and values”.

Speaking about their work with Blueprint, the CEO of Anglo American, Marc Cutifani, said earlier this year: “Anglo American has been working with A Blueprint for Better Business for over two years. In 2017 Blueprint played a very useful role as we approached our 100th anniversary as a company. In particular, they helped and challenged us to think about our true role in the places we operate in and the steps we should take to become more fully a purpose-led business. Blueprint’s work with us included excellent presentations at Group Management Committee meetings, and also at a key leadership Conference, we held with our top 100 in South Africa in November 2017. These interventions, in particular, brought a fresh independent perspective and offered a creative and helpful challenge and insight. I’m a strong supporter of Blueprint’s work as an independent charity. It is using its unique position well to help global businesses at the highest level.”

 

What role does purpose play in company strategies? What is the purpose of purpose?

In practice “purpose” plays many different roles in corporate strategies, but we face a risk when purpose is used simply to re-clothe existing strategies rather than to signal and advance a deep and enduring shift in thinking and behaviour. In our view, the purpose of purpose is these four things and all of them matter equally:

  •    To inspire people to contribute their personal energy to a collective venture.
  •    To reveal the human face of what the organisation is working to achieve.
  •    To ensure an authentic connection between what the organisation believes, what it says, what it means and what it does.
  •    To enable people to make practical choices about what they do day to day, using the purpose as a constant reference point.

 

The motto of the event is: ‘Redesigning the Good Life’. We invite Charles to give some tips to make things different and reach the goal of improving the world.

What a question! I know that to escape the current mindset about business requires a better narrative about what makes for true prosperity in an age of finite resources and planetary constraints. My starting point is that we are social animals and the quality of relationships at home and work matters hugely. Businesses are first, and foremost social organisations and the people matter most. Change in behaviour is the accumulation of doing small things differently.  

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