For the latest in our journey towards social good, take a look at our Mission in the Hanno Ops Playbook.
Announcing that we’re becoming a social business is a big step, it commits us to a future of maximising the good we can do rather than profit we can make. But if we don’t find a way of turning our emerging vision into immediate actions, it will be in danger of remaining simply an idealistic ambition, gathering dust instead of momentum.
After a few too many coffees in East London, this was the dilemma Jon and I found ourselves facing. The idea was hugely exciting to us, but just saying it out loud wasn’t going to get us anywhere. We needed to root this vision in reality and balance our passion with a healthy dose of pragmatism. A strategic approach was needed.
As The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook explains very well:
“Ideas are limitless; time and resources are not. By identifying and killing disqualified projects from the get-go—and not later, after you have expended energy and wasted resources—you will have the resources to launch projects with higher chances of success.“
Zooming in on our vision
The first hurdle we faced seemed logical: how can we channel this exciting but broad concept into practical output, matched with our team and our collective skill set? With so many opportunities to potentially do good, how could we set ourselves up to do this in the most effective way possible? Providing clarity and removing ambiguity was a must.
We also needed a way to get the whole team involved, so that we could figure out our next steps as a unit. For an idea to flourish in a self-organising team like ours, we’ve found it essential to provide a platform to allow everyone to contribute as early as possible. That allows us to shape our journey together. Bringing in the collective wisdom of the team would give us a much clearer picture than trying to figure this out all by ourselves.
Above all we needed a mechanism that could help us decide which projects we would take on, to help us accomplish our goal of maximising the good we can do. Together, we needed to define what meaningful social impact looks like, and identify how we could achieve that.
To drive meaningful social change we would need guidelines and criteria
To get clarity, engage the team and help us to select the right projects to work on, we decided that drafting some social good guidelines would be a solid step in the right direction. This would pin us to our vision and stop us from going adrift.
And so, to set this in motion, I pulled together a set of vision principles in a Google Doc to give us an overall direction (we’re going to be sharing these a little later). Our main focus was asking ourselves: “How can we harness our design ability to enable and maximise good?”
Alongside these broad principles, I drafted a first iteration of a set of practical guidelines, focusing on how I thought we could, and should, select our first social good projects. I’d been doing a lot of thinking around the topic, and seemed well placed to ignite the conversation. Then I asked people to contribute.
After some discussion, here are the guidelines we came up with
These are just a starting point, but we feel they’re a positive step, and go a long way to addressing some of our initial concerns about where we even begin to start with this new mission:
Maximise our impact.
Every decision we take should be based around maximising the impact we can get from our involvement in a project. These shouldn’t just be small, localised projects that only benefit the people they directly work with. Projects we choose should belong to a larger movement. They should have the ability to inspire others to join that movement.
We should look for projects which will trigger chain reactions in their respective industries, to give people courage and to tell them: ‘yes, there is a better way of doing this, and it’s not impossible to manage to succeed here.’ Inspiring others to get involved is absolutely key to our ability to multiply the good we can set off. We’re creating sparks: we want them to ignite.
Pick purpose-driven companies who are challenging the status quo.
We’re essentially trying to identify people and ventures that share our values. We want to work with people that have a clear desire to change the negative status quo, and to make an impact upon society. We’re working with them because they have what it takes to make a difference.
Play to our strengths.
To maximise the amount of good we can do, we must identify the areas we can be the most effective. We’re not physical product designers, and we don’t have the resources to get into that field yet. We’re good at at helping startups and designing digital products so our immediate focus must start there. Otherwise, we will be getting away from what we’re good at, and not building a sustainable business with Hanno itself.
Remain agile, and don’t overcommit.
Let’s make sure we don’t throw away the consulting business we’ve built up, which is what allows us to work on these social good projects. We must stay nimble, and avoid overcommitting to big projects which drain our resources. Our role is to enable startups, not to become one ourselves.
As a team we are enablers; catalysts for others to do good. We’re the fertiliser that helps these great social causes flourish. To maintain that, we shouldn’t get stuck for too long in one place, but rather plant seeds everywhere and watch them grow. Helping out a huge organisation with a project which runs for years, is probably not going to help us achieve our mission. We must also be careful not to be over-ambitious with our efforts, in a way which would kill us off before we can really begin.
Choose clients who are compatible with our way of working.
The clients we select must fit our process and mentality, in order for us to provide maximum value to their project. It’s important to set expectations early and communicate the value of our work, as well as our own team values, to ensure we’re the right fit. Clients must understand the value of what we provide, or it won’t be possible to have a great collaborative relationship.
And just as with a regular project, we must also make sure their internal team is capable of running with the work we deliver. Otherwise, we’re not picking the right projects, and we’re building ventures which will stutter unless we’re permanently involved. That would be hugely negative, as it would tie us to those clients and prevent us from doing more good elsewhere.
Keep it sustainable: look for projects can benefit our profit-generating business.
Our social model will be fueled by the paid work we are able to bring in. That means that when we select a social good project, we should look for ones which are marketable to corporates or funded startups (the two key paid client types that we’ve identified). This is particularly important during our initial movement to social good. We must continue to build our skills, and our ability to succeed as a profit-generating business.
Although our product sprints and engagements are often short term, we will look to build long term relationships with the people we work with. This will give us an excellent network and help us to connect with other people and teams who are involved in doing social good. We must do all of this in order to have a sustainable model for the future.
Our work must stand by itself.
What makes Hanno great is the skills and process we bring to the table. We need to continue to ensure that clients will want to work with us based on the quality of the work we can deliver. A social business must be sustainable, and needs to stand as a viable business even if the halo effect of social good marketing is removed. Of course, doing social good in this way will be a great by-product, but we can’t assume that it will be our value proposition by itself, when it comes to finding new clients. We should be pushing our expertise hard, and letting the social good happen as a result of it.
Do no harm.
Some companies use social causes and CSR projects as a PR boost to the harmful work they are doing. And many industries are known to be extremely damaging to individuals or to the environment (for example, the tobacco industry). The wisdom we develop in the decision making process will guide us in our choices: we will make sure to only work with companies that provide a net positive. Some industries will have to be no-go zones for our work.
Enjoy every second.
Yunus says to “do it with joy”. We agree. We should take on social projects that the team have an active interest in, and in industries that the team is passionate about. This will also help us to maximise our impact. Being able to build great relationships is important: we should look for teams to work with, where we can have fun with the client and challenge ourselves, while achieving our goals.
What’s next? Where do we take these?
These guidelines are of course, just a first draft and are still pretty sketchy. But they give us some much needed structure and a starting point. As we learn more, we can definitely refine them, and really hone in on how we can provide the most value with the work we do.
We’ll be using the guidelines to pick our immediate sprints in the next few months, and to make sure these fit our criteria. In the future we’ll refer back to these to retain focus and navigate some as yet unchartered waters.
After our first few social good projects it would be great to figure out a way of measuring our social impact so we can continually improve our effectiveness.
For now, at least, we’re one step further along in our journey. Next up, we’ll be sharing our overriding principles for social good, along with our definition of our guiding purpose for the next few years.