How responsible business can inspire your employees

James Wilkins is founder of We Are Vista - winners of the BiTC Most Responsible Business of the Year award. He works across the FTSE 100 with the most recognised brands in the UK and beyond, and shares his insights on how companies can benefit from sharing a more meaningful purpose.

As a creative communications agency, we embed strategies at the heart of businesses. We drive cultural change, grow brands from all sectors, and engage audiences across a multitude of channels. So, we’ve seen time and again that when we help clients create a shared sense of purpose among their employees, their businesses generally perform better commercially.

Don’t manage people. Bring them together for a common cause. At some point we all ask ourselves a question: what am I really doing? Energy and inspiration comes from an answer much more personal and deeper than profit.

If you give your business a purpose for existing beyond simply making profit, employee engagement will be significantly higher. More than that - there will be more cross working, a willingness to change, be more responsive, and greater innovation and creativity.

You must stay true to your purpose - and your employees - no matter what challenges you face. Always keep your purpose at the heart.

Responsible business is changing

If you had told me five years ago that an SME - let alone We Are Vista - could be awarded BiTC’s most responsible business of the year, and be nominated alongside the likes of Heathrow Airport, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Don’t get me wrong. Our sustainability journey was already well under way in 2012. We were even invited to consult on a new ISO certification that was introduced for the London Olympics. But what’s been most interesting to us over the last five years is how ‘sustainable business’ has evolved and expanded into the new normal ‘responsible business’.

Yes, reducing carbon emissions matters. That’s why our five-year sustainability plan includes a 20 per cent cut in office energy consumption. It’s why we’re committed to a 30 per cent decrease in waste to landfill by 2019. But will that make your people get out of bed in the morning?

You need to show them that they’re not just working in the interests of your shareholders or investors - they’re working towards a common goal, that makes a meaningful difference. Help them make your purpose their own, to fill in their own blank and make it an idea worth sharing.

Ultimately, your purpose has to defendable when the inevitable short-term challenges come. You can’t just adopt a purpose. You have to drive it from within.

Are you realising your potential?

Sustainability in business should be a given in 2017. Commercial sustainability is just sound management. Environmental sustainability is just the right thing to do. Responsible business goes further than that. It’s about being inclusive. It’s about nurturing talent. It’s about realising your potential - individually and collectively - and doing brilliant work that genuinely matters.

For me, doing that work sustainably, and doing it for clients who share your values, is common sense. We help our clients understand the interdependency of strategy and culture, and understand how economic and social values can be shared - for the greater good of everyone.

Arguably, a smaller company such as We Are Vista, with 100 or so employees, should be agile enough to adapt to the rapid evolution of responsible business quicker than a household brand employing 200,000. Most of our FTSE 250 clients are somewhere on that journey now, and we’re proud to share our learnings and insights with them.

Are you making a meaningful difference?

I always say that people with purpose are hard to beat. And if being a responsible business is your purpose - if you aim to make a positive, lasting impact every day, across every project, every time you turn up for work - then your people can become unstoppable.

Purpose drives the best businesses on to greater success. But it only becomes real when it is communicated well internally and activated through the line by your people. That’s when your purpose starts to matter for the consumer, for the customer or the client.

That’s when the work you choose to do starts to make a meaningful difference - inside and out.

We Are Vista won Responsible Business of the Year at the BiTC Responsible Business Awards 2017. Read more about Vista’ story here.

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