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Posted by Sarah Brown on 04 May '21

Celebrating 30 years of helping responsible organisations win by being good

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In May 1991, I set up my own business with little planning but a certainty that now was the time to do it. I wasn't sure how it would go. Over the years, it has had several formats and names. Still, throughout, it has been about helping organisations of any type succeed ethically.

Even at a young age, I didn't like to be limited to a single viewpoint. At school, I did arts & sciences & at university, I opted for a mixed degree, Politics, Philosophy & Economics(PPE) at Oxford.

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I was always curious, but as with many, I was also strongly influenced by a great teacher, in my case, Mrs Ferguson. She taught me history but, more importantly, stressed that there are always different perspectives. She told us to read both tabloid & quality papers every day to understand how the same incident could be portrayed in totally different ways. She ordered us to question her & to realise that facts & truth depend on perspective. 

I was always idealistic & wanted to change the world. Despite doing PPE at Oxford, I didn't find the world of the political parties appealing. I got a job at Oxfam but then found I couldn't afford to take it because the pay was so low.

By chance, I got a graduate traineeship at Advance, a laundry services company and a subsidiary of a conglomerate, BET. It was my first experience in the corporate world beyond some holiday work at an insurance company. I never stopped my questioning nature & desire to change the world even as I entered the business. 

Early in my business career, I learnt that companies giving people fulfilling work were world-changing. I saw this first in Advance, which was incredibly well run & set a standard that I have rarely found in other companies. At the time, I didn't know how unusual it was.

Later, when I started to advise charities, I realised how inspiring & motivational a vision could be but that if used in isolation, it could also be an excuse for poor treatment, particularly of staff, the classic end justifying the means.

As a manager & director & then running my own consulting business, I have observed that, while the terms used may be different, the characteristics that make success in charities, businesses, social enterprises & the public sector are the same. Each of the sectors can learn from the others & gain from working with them & one of my frustrations is that it doesn't happen enough.

Over the years, I have been involved in some fantastic organisations getting millions in investment for projects that have changed the world. Still, I've always wanted to do more and to leave a lasting legacy.

Working with so many organisations in over 100 industries, we have developed over 120 different tools to provide practical and strategic support, but these have only been available to those we work with and people who visit our website. So eight years ago, I started to write a book which I am finally publishing this year.

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At the centre of this book is the most important tool that I have developed, the Responsible Organisation Charter©(ROC). It is a diagnostic tool that identifies competitive advantages & potential threats for any type of organisation. It summarises 15 fundamental principles organised in five fields of focus for success in the 21st Century – these make up the principles of Being Good.

It includes principles such as Life-Changing, which are more generally thought of as the charitable sector's realm. In my experience, using the questions & thought processes that the charity sector uses can also provide valuable insights for the business world. For example, charities are excellent in being mission-focused, cultivating staff who passionately share their values & attracting & keeping customers that loyally support them for years. Conversely, many charities can learn from businesses regarding the principles of innovation and creating a niche to stay financially viable.

The book includes how organisations have addressed problems based on the principles of the Responsible Organisation Charter©. The goal is to show that there are alternatives to just cutting costs & living by fear as you try to turn an organisation around.

I have always been less worried about the legal form or name of the organisation. The critical issue is creating a responsible organisation with clarity about why it exists & how it will achieve its vision. So, whatever you are running or setting up, the principles in my book should apply & be relevant.

My book, Winning by being Good, I hope, will be my legacy building on my 30+ years of experience. I hope it will help other people create responsible organisations that are both financially successful & change the world.

Which sector is now the exemplar of being responsible?

Working together to change the world

Winning by doing good