Fairer Future looks at what we can learn from the leaders taking action to create a better tomorrow. Here, Kate shares her experience of taking a strategic approach to responsible business and signing up to the Good Business Charter.
Back in 2019, as part of developing our business strategy, we wanted to assess TSB’s work with local communities and society in general, and realised two things:
We needed a better way to approach this. And so, what had started as a small-scale rethinking of our community-focused activities evolved into the Do What Matters Plan — a new strategy for how we conduct our business in a fairer, more sustainable way.
“Our environmental commitments were a set of individual measures rather than a standardised approach. This made it difficult to track and compare which were most effective or to spot areas we might be missing.”
We carried out research with colleagues, customers and stakeholders on the contribution TSB should look to make. There was a lot of consensus on the types of activity a leading retail bank should engage with, alongside a clear steer that society-wide issues that can’t be solved by any one organisation acting alone. This is why we decided to sign the Good Business Charter (“GBC”) to support our Do What Matters plan.
Unlike the big, often incredibly complex ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) programmes, the GBC also keeps things easy-to-understand. Most of us do not know how emission trading schemes work, but we all understand and value the things that the charter focuses on — whether that’s paying living wages for employees, paying a fair amount of tax, or prompt payment to suppliers — and framing things in these terms helps you speak to people’s actual concerns instead of veering into the abstract
“Most of us do not know how emission trading schemes work, but we all understand and value the things that the charter focuses on.”
The way that the GBC works is quite straightforward: to be accredited you need to show a commitment to tackling each point covered by the charter and then you need to evidence your progress towards these goals. For an organisation like TSB, starting out in our ESG journey, this allowed us to resource the measurement of this appropriately and, rather aptly, get on with doing what matters.
ESG initiatives tend to be aimed at financial analysts and investor audiences, with consumers hearing trite headlines and with employees left as an afterthought. Often, projects are led by a small team until they’re ready to roll out, and the rest of the workforce learns about it in an internal email sent 15 minutes before the press release. That’s not how you get people on board and feeling ownership for the work, in turn helping to embed long-lasting, organisation-wide change. It's also a huge missed opportunity, given the growing appetite of employees wanting to drive social and environmental change through the businesses they work for.
So, in our case, we launched the Do What Matters Plan internally three months before announcing it to the wider world. Obviously, that increases the risk your plans might leak, but it was a small price to pay to guarantee that all our colleagues could understand what we were trying to achieve and the role that they’d be playing in delivering it. We wanted to know that if a passer-by stopped any of our TSB colleagues in the street, and asked, “What’s that Do What Matters thing you’ve just launched?”, they would be able to give a full and informed answer. This is probably the most unique and effective part of the plan, because it means the Do What Matters Plan sits at the heart of what all our people show up at work to achieve every day.
The GBC has simply enabled all the good things that we were already planning to move faster, and to demonstrate that we’re a business doing the things our customers and colleagues expect of us.
Here’s a simple example: it’s crucial to process invoices speedily to help our suppliers, but prior to signing the charter, pushing people to check and approve payments quickly could be perceived as hassling them with admin. Now, we all understand that it’s not about paperwork; it’s about helping small businesses with their cash flow. By bringing to life what our commitments mean in real terms to the people we work with, we drive the right kind of behaviour and make our colleagues feel proud and motivated about what they do. And as a result, we pay small suppliers in less than 7 days — the fastest in banking.
Externally, too, it’s having an effect. We are so proud to be the first high street bank to sign the Charter and use the logo on our website’s homepage. And we’ve refitted hundreds of branches with an entire wall dedicated to explaining it all. Long-term, we believe that the GBC has the potential to become something close to the Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance logos: whilst we may not all be clear on the fine print, it’s a sign that — as a customer, or as an employee — you’re supporting a business that’s operating in a better, fairer way.
“The GBC has simply enabled all the good things that we were already planning to move faster.”
For us, change will be sustained, and accelerated, in three main ways.
Katie Osiadacz is head of responsible business at TSB, the UK retail bank, where she’s leading efforts to improve the impact of the organisation’s community and society activity.