Why I chose a B Corp accredited political consultancy – and you should too
One of the most powerful but unusual traits in politics is consistency. The public responds to people who look like they might actually do what they say they’ll do. Unfortunately, this just as often leads to the election of ‘straight talking’ people (usually men) who simply tell whoever’s in the room what they want to hear.
Consultancies advising clients on how to engage and interact with the political process must therefore make frequent decisions about who to advise, and how to advise them, and for what purpose. There is serious temptation for boards and executives – whether in the public, private or social sector – simply to mirror back the inconsistent, irrational behaviour they see in the political sphere.
A consultant, as someone sitting between the business and political worlds, ought to be able to assess independently and accurately the impact of that mirroring, and not just up until the next earnings call. And that assessment should lead to advice that draws a clear distinction between expediency and ethical behaviour, on the basis that in the long term, an organisation’s ability to survive and grow stands or falls on its reputation.
In my experience, though, the reality is not often like that. The profit motive is just as strong in the consultancy world as it is anywhere else. Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington’s recent book on the influence of the top tier management consultancies on business and government, The Big Con, describes how reliant decision-makers have become on unaccountable, opaque advisers who ultimately only ever know slightly more than the people they advise.
Some of the larger political consultancies in the UK openly aspire to a similar status. Those who are familiar with their client lists (which often feature foreign governments and companies at the centre of human rights, financial, or environmental abuses) are also familiar with extremely high levels of opacity around those same lists, and the services rendered. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the larger and more lucrative the client base, and the more influential its role in the economy, the less likely it is to be declared.
At least for now, there is no easy way to determine whether a political agency is operating on a more robust set of principles and values than pure profit. Basic transparency on who people work for is a very low bar to clear. But neither can an accreditation like B Corp status in itself answer the many questions we can and should ask of founders and management teams. It does, however, indicate a coherent strategy and set of goals that incorporates self-awareness about the nature of the work that is being done and its potential impact, good or bad, on society.
For organisations that already have B Corp status, it is a matter of consistency to seek out partnerships with others that have already achieved that accreditation. For the many others that have not yet achieved it, does it make more sense to work with advisers who are ahead of the curve, or those in the middle of the pack?
As an employee with over a decade of experience of public policy and management consulting, 2023 was the ideal time to join a company that has already decided to ‘go beyond’. As you consider who should advise you in a time of unprecedented focus on corporate culture and behaviour, I hope you will consider the more focused and more ethical option as you change the way you do business for the better.