Dave talks to… Nick Dean – Talent Matters Podcast


The One Where They Talk About…

  • All things B Corp – what, how and why
  • The benefits of working with those with shared values
  • How an employee-owned model aids retention and attraction
  • Candidates and employees realising what they really want
  • The market – it’s still moving but it’s changing

One of the things we love about our Talent Matters podcast series is the diverse line-up of guests, each bringing a new perspective, unique experiences, and a different outlook on the industry. This is exemplified in episode 3, as Wave CEO Dave Jenkins talks to Nick Dean, Chair of ADLIB Recruitment and sister company Enable. ADLIB is a B Corp certified, employee-owned recruitment agency, a fairly unique model in the industry. Nick is himself a B Corp Ambassador and his insights into running a recruitment agency with purpose, whose mission and impact go far beyond recruitment, are truly fascinating.

The podcast episode is deserving of a listen but in the meantime we have collated the key points and insights.        

What is a B Corp company and why should I care?

B Corp is a movement on a global basis that has really taken off in the last 2-3 years and there are now around 5,000 businesses certified, from small organisations to large corporate businesses. The mission behind the movement is to build an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy, making business a force for good. Its business governance considers people and planet, which is why in the early days it was more familiar to companies operating in the manufacturing world with complex supply chains. A lot has changed in the past few years, from the very recent past when B Corps were considered hippies. Thankfully that has dropped as the world is waking up to the reality that things must change.

The four core components to being a B Corp organisation

  • Structure of business from governance: The structure of the business in terms of governance is important – as part of the certification process, ownership, transparency around shareholders, and the ethics by which the business is run, are all scrutinised.
  • People –  People are at the heart of an organisation and must be treated well and fairly. Diversity, inclusion, the training offered, progression, 360 feedback, and employee ownership are all important components.
  • Community – This deals with how companies can positively impact the communities they work in. For example, an ADLIB employee developed an initiative called Motherboard, a charter for tech companies to pledge to in order to make improvements to working environments, dealing with common issues in the industry, including the gender pay gap, male-dominated leadership, etc.
  • Contribution to the planet – As a recruitment business operating within the UK there is a certain privilege that we have regarding the working conditions and systems that we are set up with. It is very different for an FMCG organisation operating on a global level that has to consider numerous factors, such as farmers rights, transportation, child slavery, and so on.

What’s important and threads all of these factors together is that you are generating impact and not merely greenwashing. B corp holds those certified and those progressing towards certification accountable. For companies that achieve B Corp certification, it is not just a tick box.

The road to B Corp certification

ADLIB became B Corp certified in 2019 and its profit has improved every year as a direct result of it. Businesses in any industry can become B Corp as long as they fulfil its criteria. ADLIB is a recruitment agency with purpose and has been for many years. The clincher for them was two events that happened within the space of a week. ADLIB ran an employee engagement survey and one of the team mentioned that the agency were already doing a lot of the things that would be relevant to B Corp, which brought it to attention. Around that same time one of their clients communicated that they were considering only working with B Corp organisations. It seemed like the right time to kickstart their journey to being certified and so they began the application.

At the time, it was on the cusp of becoming large movement but there is now a 9 month wait for assessment and certification which is indicative of the size of the rise in interest. As ADLIB was already effectively operating as a B Corp they passed first time. What it gave them was a clear measurement of what they were doing and why and how to improve on it. It’s also a solid and demonstrable way to communicate their values as to how they run their business as well as keeping them accountable.

B Corp: making business a force for good

Part of Nick’s work as a B Corp Ambassador is to support businesses – and especially recruitment businesses – that are considering pursuing B Corp certification as there continues to be a lack of understanding as to how a B2B company can do it. While helping other recruitment agencies attain certification might lose ADLIB their competitive advantage in this area, Nick’s stance is that it shouldn’t be used as a unique sales position. Part of the ethos is that if every business became a B Corp that would be extremely positive, creating a better environment for everyone.

Working with colleagues, clients and candidates with shared values

B Corp is a foundation of the business and the people that come into it. Gaining B Corp accreditation is a powerful way to retain and attract people that share your values, allowing you to come at things from a common goal. It advanced ADLIB’s client base into working with business that are purpose-driven and created a strong culture of recruiters that want to work for those organisations. B Corp and purpose-driven organisations build value-based roles beyond financial gain. It’s not that positions won’t be financially attractive but that the draw won’t be just money. The kind of people attracted to B Corp companies will share the values of those organisations, which leads to a more unified team and culture.

The benefits of an employee-owned model

Employee-owned is a unique model for recruitment businesses. Why did ADLIB go down that route? There came a point before the pandemic where they wanted to sell but because of the size the company had reached, would have to sell to a corporate and no-one wanted that. An employee-owned model seemed to offer the best solution. It’s a government scheme so there’s lots of information online as to how to do it, plus it’s tax-free which is always a bonus. The benefits are tangible. Employees are more motivated and when they reach the pay-down they can decide to give everyone a pay rise, increase pension contributions, offer advanced healthcare cover, or other benefits.

There’s also an open door policy for career advancement as anyone could potentially reach MD level. There are no blockers, enabling you to build a team that keeps transitioning. As with the B Corp certification, it attracts people in that  align themselves with those values and that approach. When employees are serving shareholders it’s easy for them to get up and walk away. When the team has more control, more vested interest and there is greater transparency, the buy-in from each employee is far greater. They literally have ownership over their role and their progression.

Candidates and employees realising what they really want

Over a year on from the start of the lifting of COVID restrictions, people are finding out what they really want and what works for them. Many thought they wanted fully remote – and many still do – but there is a sizeable number that are finding out that a wholly remote role doesn’t work for them, that they need at least a little office time. Each candidate wants something different and often it depends on the role. For example, Devs are the ones asking if a role is fully remote, whereas those looking for Marketing and creative roles often ask for hybrid work. The reality is that every person is different and that needs to be recognised by employers. It’s the companies that are coming at it with maturity and balance that are winning candidates. Those that come at it from an objective-led perspective, creating an environment where if an employee meets the objectives of their role the hours and location can fit around what works best for them, are thriving.

The market is moving but changing

Despite the stats that there are less unemployed people than vacancies, ADLIB and Enable are placing more people that they have ever placed. There is a huge amount of people still moving but it has to be for a role that is really worth it for the candidate, which is where balancing the nature of the client with that of the candidate is crucial. The ability to attract good consultants has historically been difficult for many clients but is harder than ever now. A consultant needs to be deeply unhappy to move on. What Nick and his team are finding more and more is that a greater number of people are looking at trainee routes and building from the ground up.

Watch this space for further Talent Matters podcasts, coming very soon. Next up is Paul Sharpe, REC board member and recruitment industry business coach, mentor and advisor. As a recruitment industry authority, Paul dishes up a wealth of insights and valuable advice.