Podcast

LS International 05 September 2022

How to Balance Social Responsibility and Performance with Douglas Lamont

Douglas Lamont:

Personally, I think that kind of paradigm of whether you either have performance or you have social responsibility is kind of outdated. I think the two worked together perfectly well in harmony. Thinking about the business that way is bringing in sustainability or other elements, it’s just another element that comes into the decision-making part. Just because it’s a newer thought, it doesn’t mean it’s a different thought from, well are we going to invest some capital in a factory for long-term return or are we going to invest in sustainability for the long-term benefit of the business.

Lauren Stiebing:

From LS International, this is the career success podcast. I’m Lauren Stiebing and on today’s show how Douglas Lamont has been able to balance social responsibility and performance at Innocent Drinks for the past 16 years. And now joining Tony’s Chocolonely as the CEO, he believes companies don’t need to choose one or the other, but how both can be achieved. I wanted to invite you here today really to discuss the balance of social responsibility and performance. I know that social responsibility is high on most companies agendas, but I don’t think it always was. And as leaders as well, I would love to understand when did you start personally making it a priority?

Douglas Lamont:

In terms of my own personal journey, I always felt that I believed in a way that business should be good or around, let’s call it that, and how you thought about building a culture and an organization that both was successful, profitable, delivered for shareholders, but that you didn’t need to sacrifice sustainability. And particularly I guess in my early days, thinking about people and the environment that you created around culture. I guess the sort of sustainability side really for me started to come to the fall through the early 2000s. I joined Innocent in 2006 and really understanding at that point how important it was going to be. Particularly joining an agricultural business where you very quickly understand that if you’re thinking long-term, if you’re thinking about the right way, you have to really pay attention to these long-term trends.

Douglas Lamont:

So for me as an individual, it kind of emerged as a sort of broader business thought, right from I guess a young age in terms of how I thought about culture around the sustainability side. As I became part of Innocent, I really understood how they thought it was highly motivating for me and obviously become part of the Innocent story, but also part of a great passion I have to make sure that we build businesses in the right way and demonstrate that’s not just the sort of right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do that you could be a very successful business thinking about that business holistically rather than through one kind of profit lens, which is been the mantra of too many businesses for too long.

Lauren Stiebing:

And yeah, I mean I know that making tough decisions sometimes in favor of social responsibility can be challenging. How have you been able to balance that with performance?

Douglas Lamont:

Personally, I think that kind of paradigm of whether you either have performance or you have social responsibility is kind of outdated. I think the two work together perfectly well in harmony. Thinking about the business that way is bringing in sustainability or other elements, it’s just another element that comes into the decision-making part. Just because it’s a newer thought, it doesn’t mean it’s a different thought from, well, are we going to invest some capital in a factory for long-term return or are we going to invest in sustainability for the long-term benefit of the business.

Douglas Lamont:

And so I think too many people see it as this sort of separate box, whereas it’s just another part of the business decision-making. And there are lots of other things that in the past were important in business and can fall away. Sustainability and social responsibility more widely is coming more central to the table and therefore isn’t about balancing is not one or the other. It’s how do we deliver both together. Business is about compromise, and it is always about tough choices and business people are good at that. This is just another one in the mix. It’s not some different context, it’s just another set of compromise that need to be made for the right answer.

Lauren Stiebing:

And I mean, I’m speaking with a lot of candidates in executive search that they believe in social responsibility and think that it’s very important, but maybe their company does not. What would you suggest to them? Are there any kind of indications of performance or examples that they can pull out of how to present that to their superiors?

Douglas Lamont:

Yeah, it sorts of depends where you sit in the organization, but employees have much more power than they think. And I always say, use your employee surveys if you really feel like you are not being listened to and there’s enough of you around. It really doesn’t take that many people in the employee survey. Every employee survey has a black box that says, what do you care about? What do you think about? 20 people even in a big company saying the same thing that will come up on the word cloud, the guests presented to the CEO. And that starts to matter because there is a war on talent as you know very well. And so I’m not an advocate about one just get up and leave and go and join another company. No, try and make change from the inside. And the best way to do that is start to make your voice be heard.

Douglas Lamont:

And things like employee surveys are a good collective way of doing it potentially. I’m also a big advocate of the B Corp movement. Again, similarly, why aren’t we a B Corp is a great question to put on the table because it encompasses all those elements of social responsibility and means that senior leaders need to respond to that. If the question is more about sort of senior leaders saying, “Oh, well I want to do it, but my shareholders aren’t in favor.” I think that’s a different question, which again, I don’t buy because I think these days if a successful talented exec team go to their shareholders and say, “We really want to take the business in this direction.” The shareholders will be crazy to say, “No, no, just go profit maximize.” Because that’s going to demotivate that leadership group and they leave the business as well. So have confidence in the power that you have as an individual within a company because people are listening. And I know from my own experience at Innocent, we would watch very carefully about what the internal attitudes were because they matter a lot to the senior team.

Lauren Stiebing:

And could you walk me through a bit, I mean I know B Corp, let’s say I’ve seen that companies are certified in B Corp. What do you actually need to do to be B Corp certified?

Douglas Lamont:

B Corp is both a certification and a certify. Effectively, every company has a financial audit and what B Corp is an audit of both the financial bit but of everything else. So it’s looking at how do you look after your employees, how do you look after the communities, what are your environmental and sustainability policies? And it has a broad set of questions that are well designed work for all types of companies and whichever sort of geography you sit in. So it’s not kind of country specific. And it basically is back to my point earlier about being good or round. It assesses a company on does it look at all elements of its business and does it do that well, it scores out of 200 if you get 80.2 certifiers, a B Corp, and it’s a high bar deliberately and it’s tough to achieve, but it’s a real sense of direction for companies.

Douglas Lamont:

And also, once you’ve certified, you might only cert with 80 or 85 points, there’s another 120 to go get. And it gives you a really, really clear roadmap for continuous improvement. And all of these things are about continuous improvement. Even companies that are say way off, say only 40 points, I’m as proud of them going from 40 points to 60 points even they’ve not yet certified. Then a company that’s got a hundred points going to 105 because all of us just need to drive in the right direction. If we do that collectively, then we’ve got a chance to lead the world to a fairer, more sustainable future. If we all sit on our hands, then we’re heading for trouble. Clearly, the data shows it.

Lauren Stiebing:

Yeah, I agree with you that if that’s what it takes to be B Corp certified, it is a good question of why wouldn’t you want to be B Corp certified?

Douglas Lamont:

Yeah, and look, I’m obviously a big fan of B Corp because I really do think it captures the right questions and asks really good questions in each area and therefore employees can grab it and go, okay, we’ll start to think about that in our day-to-day decision-making. There are others out there. The point I really make to everyone is, okay, if it’s not B Corp, what are you doing? What methodology are you using? What thinking are you using to move your business forward in the right direction? And sometimes for me the method doesn’t matter. The mindset really matters to me. Companies with the right mindset can drive forward in the right direction, irrelevant of the scoring system. But the other thing I would say about B Corp, it’s just a fantastic movement to be part of supportive, positive minded leaders that really want to make a difference, that really want to share their learnings and share their mistakes, which is equally as important is such a positive feeling.

Douglas Lamont:

We’ve all be part of our own industry bodies that sometimes feel very turgid and it’s kind of like all slightly political because you’re all slightly competing with each other. This is an amazing group of leaders. There’s a great support network if you’re a senior leader or even at more junior levels. There’s lots of working groups that share best practice in each of these different areas amongst different companies, which I just think that need for collaboration, that sense of we’re not all competing with each other, that in many areas we will need to collaborate is what I think will define the next 20 years in business is how we collaborate, not how we compete.

Lauren Stiebing:

And I think specifically for consumer goods companies, it’s very important. The impact that they have in the world is enormous.

Douglas Lamont:

Yeah, definitely.

Lauren Stiebing:

I’m sure it’s nice to see more and more consumer goods companies joining for a good cause.

Douglas Lamont:

Yeah, and you see actually the B Corp movement is particularly attracting a lot of consumer goods companies, some and smaller ones, but some of the bigger ones like to norm, ourselves that Innocent other companies coming forward because as you say, because it measures all the way around and consumer goods touch the world all the way around, agriculture, manufacturing, plastic, sugar, all of those issues have to be thought about in the round as well as performance.

Lauren Stiebing:

Well, thank you so much for your insights and feedback. Anything else you’d like to add for those who are thinking about their impact on the world and what they could do?

Douglas Lamont:

As I said, I think that word mindset is really important as an individual look into yourself and say, “Am I really stepping forward on this agenda?” Because am I really thinking about not just the next five yards, but the next 500 yards for the next generation and future generations. Because personally, I’m not prepared to take the gamble that we haven’t got a crisis on our hands and I’m leading in as much as I can. And I think each of us know in our hearts how hard we’re pushing on those agendas. And so, look into yourselves and step forward as far as you can.

Lauren Stiebing:

Well, thanks. I appreciate you coming today.

Douglas Lamont:

Not at all. Very nice to talk to you.