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Building Products with Purpose

12 September, 2019 | 15 min 41 sec
Podcast Host Tania Salarvand | Podcast Guest Natalie Hollier
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Brief Summary

Natalie Hollier, Global Head of Product Innovation at ThoughtWorks, explores building products with purpose and what we can do as individuals and organizations to build more responsible businesses as a force for good for the world. If you are a business or tech leader who understands that solving societal and environmental challenges is key to connecting with your employees and customers, this is the podcast for you.


Highlights


The triple bottom line approach looks at people, planet and profit. So traditionally businesses have purely looked at profit and the financial and economic model. A triple bottom line approach looks at what's the impact to society and also what's the impact to the environment, and how can we benefit all three.


One of the things that's critical for any organization to succeed in the digital era is to have really excellent technology talent and great digital teams. What we see today is that great talent is looking for cultures of innovation, learning and testing with real customers, as well as companies with exciting missions, that are really helping to do some good in the world, and not just create more revenue. 


There’s been a trend and a shift in the industry from social and environmental responsibility being tacked on as an afterthought or as an initiative within an organization to social and environmental values and sustainability becoming core to the business and actually helping to drive innovation and to drive engagement to engage customers as well as employees.


One of the things that executives can do to have the most impact is actually just to make a statement around supporting social and environmental values. And if the leaders of the company do that, that then gives permission to others in the organization to have their work follow on with those principles.


Challenging the status quo this helps us be really innovative as we're thinking about what we build and what products and services we bring into the world


It's not enough to execute something great and be first to market. Whoever has the best user experience and customer experience will capture that market share.


Organizations are starting to benchmark and evaluate where they are at today, in terms of impact. From there they can make a plan and set goals and try to improve. But they can't do that until they understand the situation. And so that's a very important first step.


Products with Purpose is a meetup, based in New York, but hosted on live streams for people to join from anywhere around the world. The goal of the meetup is to share tools and techniques and methods for anyone who's interested to incorporate social and environmental values into their work. We bring in presenters from a range of different industries and backgrounds.


One of the things that I see right now, is organizations actually not being ambitious enough and not setting high enough targets. And so when you have an organization that doesn't make as large commitments as their peers, they face a lot of pushback from their employees, customers and from investors.

Podcast Transcript


Tania: Welcome to Pragmatism in Practice, a podcast from ThoughtWorks, where we share stories of practical approaches to becoming a modern digital business. I'm Tania Salarvand. I'm here with Natalie Hollier, Global Head of Product Innovation at ThoughtWorks. Natalie is a technology product leader who is passionate about creating positive social impact and addressing climate change. Today, Natalie's going to talk to us about building Products with Purpose and what we can do as individuals and organizations to build more responsible businesses as a force for good for the world. Hi, Natalie. Thanks for joining us.


Natalie Hollier: Hi, Tania. Thanks for having me.


Tania: Natalie, as I mentioned, you lead product innovation for ThoughtWorks, but you're also doing this passion project about Products with Purpose. Tell us a little bit about what purpose means to you.


Natalie Hollier: Sure. When we talk about purpose, what I'm really referring to there is a triple bottom line approach looking at people, planet, and profit.


Traditionally, businesses have purely looked at profit and the financial and economic model. A triple bottom line approach looks at what's the impact to society and also what's the impact to the environment. Businesses obviously exist within society, which exist within our planet. We can't have one without the other. This is really looking at creating businesses, products, services that not only create financial profit, but also benefit the environment and society as well.


Tania: One thing that you have mentioned before, and I've heard from other leaders as well, is as we continuously evolve to become modern digital businesses, this is a must have for our future workforce. Tell us a little bit about what you mean there.


Natalie Hollier: Absolutely. I think one of the things that's critical for any organization to succeed in the digital era is to have really excellent technology talent and great digital teams. What we see today in the culture of a lot of workplaces is wanting to innovate, wanting to learn, wanting to experiment, to quickly get out products and services, test them with real customers, and also work on products and services and companies that have exciting missions that are really helping to do some good in the world. Not just create more revenue, but really a have a purpose to them as well. That's what helps to retain great talent and to build great companies.


Tania: Which in reality is asking a lot of large organizations and enterprises, especially if they are used to having CSR programs, for instance. What would you advise them or what do you advise some of your senior leaders on how to go about doing this and what's important for their leadership?


Natalie Hollier: Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned CSR because there's obviously been a trend and a shift in the industry from social-environmental responsibility being something that's sort of tacked on as an afterthought or as an initiative within an organization, to social and environmental values and sustainability really becoming core to business and actually helping to drive innovation and to drive engagement, to engage customers as well as employees. We see these efforts really being integrated to part of the company mission. That means, for example, if you're a large grocer, how do you not think about donating money to a charity that is unrelated to your business, or having a fun run, which maybe helps employees feel engaged, but doesn't really resonate with your customers.


Instead, how do you think about adding mission to your business model? I'll give an example of that. In the UK, there's a grocer called Lidl who just introduced a new offering where they're selling boxes of fruit and vegetables, which are imperfect, for £1.50. By doing that, they're able to put together food at the end of the day which might not have have sold and offer it to people who may not be otherwise able to purchase food at that price. They're able to make food accessible to people who otherwise may not be able to purchase it, which is helping obviously with hunger. It's also helping with food waste, reducing the waste of the food at the end of the day that may be thrown out and rot and contribute to excess CO2 emissions.


Not to mention all of the resources that were made in growing and shipping those foods in the first place. That's an example of something that's really purposeful and really has a great social environmental impact, as well as being core to their business.


Tania: How can organizations, especially leaders who need to report out metrics on what they're doing both from the for profit side, but also for sustainability and helping and engaging in the three pieces you mentioned, what are some of the things that they can measure and show to really have impact both on the society, on the business, but also on their people?


Natalie Hollier: Well, there's actually quite a lot of sustainability reporting frameworks, which are becoming mainstream these days. There's ones by SASB, Sustainability Accounting Standards Boards. GRI also have an initiative around this for B corporations, which have this triple bottom line model actually integrated as part of what it means to be a B corporation. They're using business as a force for good. If you go through the B Impact Assessment, it looks at a range of different scores across employees, society, community, and so on, and what impact your company is having across each of those areas.


Tania: As organizations think about or people think about going on this journey, what can they do and what can executives do to support and empower the people to take on some of these initiatives?


Natalie Hollier: Yeah, it's a great question. A lot of times this is something that employees are really passionate about, but they don't necessarily feel like they have the permission to include it in the products and in the projects that they're working on because so much of the focus can be on immediate financial returns and financial ROI, when a lot of times the innovation that can come from looking at more inclusive social and environmental factors can actually lead to more satisfied customers and more revenue, but it's just harder to see.


One of the things that executives can do to have the most impact is actually just to make a statement around supporting social and environmental values.


If the leaders of a company do that, that then gives permission to others in the organization to have their work follow on with those principles.


Tania: At ThoughtWorks, we always have this lens of the impact that we have on society, on industry, communities, people, our clients. What would you say are some of the benefits of that lens that we carry through?

Natalie Hollier: Yeah. This is definitely something that permeates our culture here at ThoughtWorks. We see this come out in a number of different ways. One way is that people show up to work kind of bringing their full selves and bringing things that they're really passionate about, whether it be diversity and inclusion or climate change or thinking about artificial intelligence and ethics on society. When we show up to work with clients, we often hear that we have a lot of integrity, a lot of passion. We challenge the status quo. This helps us be really innovative as we're thinking about what we build and what products and services we bring into the world, what's the impact that we're having on the industry and on society.


This is definitely something that we see as really important when people have the ability to tie the work that they're doing to the greater impact that they're having in the industry and in the society and get a lot of meaning from that and feel like they're contributing to something bigger.


Tania: You mentioned talent quite a bit and how important it is for retaining and attracting talent and it's because it's what millennials ask for. That's where the dominant surveys and reports come from is the millennial geographic. Is that the only group that cares, and is that really what we're targeting a lot of this work for?


Natalie Hollier: Yeah, that's a good question because a lot of these newer tech startups and millennials are disrupting this space, but it really matters to every organization. People see these impacts happening in society and in the world and they're realizing that we have to do business in a different way. Singularity University talks about the idea that any business that's going to exist successfully in the future needs to be solving one of society's complex, messy, pressing challenges. When we talk about being a modern digital business, technology is not enough. It's not just enough to execute something great and be first to market. Whoever has the best user experience and customer experience will capture that market share.


Now, we're seeing beyond that. If your business model can have a positive impact on society and on the world around you, that's going to be even more preferred by customers and by employees who want to work for you. Right now, organizations that are doing this are gaining competitive advantage, but it's something that's quickly going to become table stakes.


Tania: I can imagine this is not a quick turnaround thing that any enterprise or organization can pick up and start doing. It's likely more of a journey and an evolution. But are there some things that can happen right away? Are there some things that can really shift even a strategy or a plan that an organization has for the future?


Natalie Hollier: Sometimes I think it could be as simple as a group of employees within the company really advocating and asking for something more different and better. We're definitely seeing a rise in what's being called employee activism, employees within organizations pushing for that. I think another path that we see is organizations benchmarking and saying, okay, let's evaluate where we're at today what our impact is. From there we can actually start to make a plan and goals and try to improve, but we can't do that until we understand what the impact is that we're currently having. That's a very important first step.


Tania: I mentioned earlier that you do organize a meetup called Products with Purpose. Tell us a little bit about that meetup, but also what is it that you're driving, what's the intent, and what are you seeing as really positive outcomes?


Natalie Hollier: Yeah. A small group of people, both within ThoughtWorks and within the industry, are running a meetup called Products with Purpose. It's based in New York, but we also host live streams for people to join from anywhere around the world. The goal of the meetup is to share tools and techniques and methods for anyone who's interested to incorporate social and environmental values into their work. We are in the tech industry, so we're particularly looking at that space. We bring in presenters from a range of different industries and backgrounds. For example, we've had speakers come in from sustainability space and share about different tools there and how to build a sustainability strategy.


We've had people come and share different methods around business model innovation and what's a socially and environmentally responsible business model canvas that we can use. We've had founders and CEOs come and talk about their businesses and the changes they're making to make them more sustainable. We're also working on a sustainable tech product and service playbook to help pull together some of these methods as a guide for others in the industry.


Tania: Tell us a little bit about your journey thus far and how it led you to organizing and leading this meetup.


Natalie Hollier: I've always been very passionate about social justice and environmental sustainability and climate change. I've always been looking for ways to integrate this into my work. For example, I've been involved in a lot of Women in Tech initiatives. I'm one of the regional ambassadors for Technovation Program, which is the world's largest mobile app competition for girls. I've also been part of efforts at ThoughtWorks looking at exploring clients in the Cleantech space and thinking about what our climate strategy can be. A few years back, I went on to study my MBA in strategy and sustainability to learn more about this space and how I could integrate it into my work.


ThoughtWorks has these values as a company. This just felt like a natural pairing between my interests and my passions and the space that I work in product innovation.


Tania: As you've done a lot of research in this space and worked in this space yourself, what would you say are some of the failure points when organizations embark on a mission like this?


Natalie Hollier: I think one of the things that I see right now is organizations actually not being ambitious enough and not setting high enough targets. There are enough companies in the industry now that have set goals to reach a hundred percent renewable energy, to offset shipping, to reduce packaging, all kinds of different sustainability goals. When you have an organization that doesn't make as large commitments as their peers, they face a lot of pushback from their employees and from customers and from investors. We're really starting to see a lot of these things go mainstream. It's not something that's really risky anymore for companies to set goals. It's actually becoming an expectation.


Tania: Natalie, for those that might want to hear more, see more and get involved in some way, shape or form, what is the best way for them to get connected with your meetup?


Natalie Hollier: They can go to Meetup.com. The meetup's name is Products with Purpose. You should definitely join the meetup even if you're not based in New York. We often host live stream events for people to join remotely. We're also putting all of our videos up on a YouTube page by the same name, Products with Purpose.


Tania: That's wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us today, Natalie. If you enjoyed this episode, help spread the word and give us a rating on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast.

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