JEDI at B Lab Global: Embracing Change as Part of the Work

Halfway through our three-year JEDI Strategic Plan, an update on what we’ve learned
By Dr. Ellonda Williams, B Lab’s Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
January 11, 2024

In 2022, B Lab Global embarked on our first JEDI Strategic Plan. The plan was set to run through the next three years. As we are currently about halfway through the plan, we’d like to share where we are to date on that journey and the ways in which this focus has affected our workplace.

What’s Working, Where We’ve Struggled, and What We’ve Learned

For starters, what’s going well is the commitment from our leaders and staff. Moreover, the systematic way in which we approached developing the plan and our goals allows us to course correct easily, depending on the challenges experienced in the organization. Accountability — a B Lab Global JEDI Pillar — has risen to a very high level of internal focus which has taken root within our leadership circles. For example, the pace of change at B Lab — from the growth in our community to the evolution of our standards and more — has presented challenges for our work culture and our people. Leaders have a tremendous impact on company culture, from what they pay attention to, to where they delegate resources and set goals. Our leaders have recognized their accountability to organizational culture, and are leading by working with our People & Culture and JEDI teams to identify and create values to strive towards as an organization. (More on that below.) This permeation of accountability is key to create space for diverse perspectives in decision-making and distribute power across the organization, upholding our JEDI Pillars.

Conversely, there has been sufficient time to identify what aspects of the plan still need work. We’ve realized that we overplanned without enough understanding of the time, funding and employee resources that we would need to achieve our ambitions. We also didn’t consider fully how attrition and changes in leadership might affect the level of institutional knowledge within the organization — knowledge that is crucial to the continuation of the work and drives impact.

We’ve learned and are reminded that JEDI work is constant and at times exhausting, and given that, perhaps we need to do more to bring our staff into the journey and embed JEDI aspects into our daily work. Aside from a robust introduction of JEDI when folks join the organization, we fell short of keeping these conversations going with regularity. It became evident that more balance in execution is needed. While it is very important for leadership to take ownership of JEDI and embed it in our global strategy, we cannot forget to bring our people along and create more shared learning. We are currently developing a set of learning and experiential opportunities which support our organization on understanding concepts that are connected to our JEDI goals.

Revisiting our JEDI Strategic Plan

There have been a number of shifts within the organization since we created our plan, which has exposed a need to create ways for staff to connect to each other and reconnect to our mission. Internal data shows that the foundational JEDI work begun just three years ago has struggled to accelerate. And so it goes — while we’ve made progress, the focus has changed.

Our last update a year and a half ago, after the launch of our 3-year JEDI Strategic Plan, came with triumphant excitement to embark on opportunities to drive JEDI further across our Global Network, push antiracism in our policies, and create accountability at various junctures. Since then, the B Lab Global JEDI team has experienced attrition and staffing changes, both directly and throughout the broader organization, which have cumulatively led to some stagnation in the progress of the Plan. However, with a steady, unwavering grip we remain tethered to our commitments, so we briefly nod to our accomplishments and push onward to higher standards.

What were those accomplishments? Let’s start by reminding ourselves that change is part of this work. If we are to lead a movement to shift a global economy, change is inevitable. Without change, we are likely not disrupting enough of the status quo. We recalibrated our short-term JEDI goals, first in August and again in December 2023, following our internal Inclusion & Engagement Survey.

As is common with changemakers, it seems the biggest setback in the creation of the Plan was overpromising, sending us down the path to underdeliver on our goals. However we did make progress in several aspects. Between the launch of our JEDI Strategic Plan (April 2022) and the end of 2023,  B Lab Global was able to meet the following goals set for the first 2 years in the Plan:

  • Formalized framework to embed JEDI principles into the decision-making processes. In late 2023, B Lab Global adopted the framework of staff advisory groups with support from the Board. In an effort to enlist the expertise, creativity and capacity of people from all corners of BLG to help design our future and create a better organization, we’ve created three staff advisory groups to provide proposals and advice: Multiyear Strategy, Organizational Design & Distributed Leadership, and Culture & Employee Experience. Nearly 30% of non-executive staff members in the organization volunteered to sit on one of the advisory groups; 66% were appointed to a role. In selecting these members, B Lab Global’s senior leadership sought to balance representation from different teams, levels, genders and geographies. Employee up-voting informed final determinations, allowing colleagues to weigh in and take part in the selection process. 

  • Create a clear framework for JEDI competencies for leaders, managers, and staff. This project has been started and has gone through three stages of development. Following the onboarding of a new Director of People & Culture, this project is slated to be reinstated for implementation through 2024.

  • Review practices and policies to identify issues that prevent equitable participation, voice, and decision-making. This is an ongoing effort. Policies are being reviewed in order of relevance and importance, depending on our strategic goals. We’ve created standardized hiring questions to improve our hiring experience. We also have a newly-minted Code of Conduct approved by the Board in 2023, which is set to launch early 2024, with support for staff reporting. Our current organizational structure, which now includes our staff advisory groups, will support this endeavor as well, improving representation in decision-making.

The strategic goals we’ve been unable to meet are the following:

  • Create a process for teams to create JEDI-specific goals for projects. The JEDI Strategy Committee underestimated what this goal would entail. The education and foundational work needed to ensure understanding and application is crucial. Without a clear focus it is hard to target that education on the necessary aspects. The organization will continue to create org-wide goals that uphold our JEDI principles and move us towards our mission. As additional outcomes, we will create resources and support for staff to utilize.

  • Evaluation and analysis through an antiracism lens on leadership policies and practices. This requires consultation from expert professionals, which requires sufficient funding. This level of funding could not be earmarked for this work in 2022 or 2023.

  • Embed JEDI competencies and learnings in Leadership and Board onboarding. Shifts in leadership and governance throughout 2023 did not allow for this level of connectivity in 2023. With the new year, B Lab Global is welcoming new leadership on our Board of Directors. The Board’s Governance Committee is in the early stages of planning the recruitment and nomination of a new cohort of Board members to fill additional seats.

  • Develop accountability mechanisms or lead retrospectives for projects and processes. Accountability is hard. It’s why it is a JEDI pillar and a constant endeavor. We determined that in order to lead a retrospective equitably, we must first agree on how to embed accountability into practices and procedures, then put them into action, measure effectiveness, and then thread these accountabilities through our retrospectives. At this time, B Lab Global’s Strategy team is currently working on a pilot for aligning projects with our JEDI principles, which includes guidelines for retrospectives. While these resources have been made available to all members of the organization, this has not yet been implemented as an org-wide practice at this time.

Organizational Culture & Values

New issues also rose to the surface in 2023 that we realized needed urgent attention, even though they weren’t anticipated in our JEDI Strategic Plan. This, too, drove a need to reprioritize.

This year’s staff survey revealed a statistically significant drop in employee satisfaction. Leadership immediately sought to address this and make a concerted effort to work with employees to both understand and mitigate this concerning change. Working with a staff-organized group, senior leadership created several modes of two-way communication and feedback, including org-wide Slack channels and anonymous forums for staff to submit questions for leaders to answer directly and transparently.

Since June, after the implementation of these endeavors, we have seen an increase of favorability. This is giving us hope. Hope that by listening, slowing down, and rebuilding trust we can improve the employee experience for everyone.

Earlier this year, we polled employees about our organization’s values. Much to our surprise, the responses were all over the place. While staff pulled from a myriad of sentiments, what was missing from our organization’s values was, well — the organization. Meaning we were missing a current, aligned message which represented who we are and who we want to be, not who we once were. So we used our later engagement survey to ask for more details regarding who we are from the staff perspective. We realized that staff have a very clear idea of who we are — we just needed to ask. At the end of 2023 B Lab Global’s senior leadership, along with People & Culture and the JEDI teams, sat down to unpack conversations around culture and values. We discussed the gaps identified by leaders and spent time sharing reactions.

Our People & Culture and JEDI Teams will be working together with senior leadership to use internal data to further develop org-wide values and then lead the work to create alignment across all aspects of our organization. As 2023 came to a close, our leaders made a number of commitments, shared with all employees.

  • Align on Organizational Values to uphold, based on existing staff feedback

  • Voices are healthy for an organization, improve culture of accountability; create opportunities for dialogue for understanding and action

  • Distribute leadership, decision-making, and accountability amongst staff advisory group members

What Comes Next

We have learned and are reminded that the JEDI journey is often unclear and far from linear. Like so many other aspects of organizational development, there is a ripple that flows in both directions and major changes in an organization will absolutely affect the impact of your efforts. To stay the course, an organization must be committed — dedicated and loyal to a cause — because the commitment often comes long before one can see the end of a journey. The visionary American leader and advocate for equality Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. advises us to start the journey toward our goal even if we cannot see the complete path toward it "in faith"; take the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

We are all a little worn out from the “We have work to do” rhetoric, so I will spare you because: don’t we all? The difference at B Lab is that we are accountable to our people, our network, our movement to in fact do the work and then keep doing the work. We don’t track and measure because we have nothing better to do, we don’t even track and measure to see what we are doing right. We track and measure and ask the hard questions so that we can see where the pain points lie so that we can do something about them. We seek to understand what obstacles we create or reinforce and work to dismantle those barriers. It’s not about patting ourselves on the back, really — it’s about action for change. 

So we can use our platforms merely to share about the feel-good moments, or we can pull back the curtain a bit more to be honest about the toughness in this work, making the feel-good moments that much sweeter. Today, we’ve chosen to do the latter.

Over the next year — and beyond — we will focus our internal efforts on employee engagement and organizational culture, identifying and aligning organizational values and continuing to distribute leadership within our existing structure. It is our hope that the work to embrace our people and create clarity and connection to our mission and values will create a culture of inclusion, empathy, transparency, and accountability. 

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