A Courageous Conversations Recap
Ben and Jerry’s is more than just an ice cream company. According to their CEO, Matthew McCarthy, they are an aspiring social justice company.
While McCarthy emphasizes that the company is not an expert in the social justice field, they have become an example of what a business can do when it leads with its values and supports civic engagement. They regularly use their products to direct the focus of their customers towards key issues such as racial injustice, climate change, and voter rights. McCarthy joined us at the Raleigh Chamber’s Courageous Conversations event to share how he leads the value driven organization and what other businesses can do to follow suit.
Values driven leadership
“All businesses are about people,” explains McCarty. If they want to serve people in the community, businesses must make their values and intentions clear. For example, this can mean partnering with philanthropic causes, selectively choosing vendors that share your values, re-evaluating company processes and policies, or fostering authentic engagement and discussion from employees.
McCarthy encouraged other business leaders to step up and step forward; you don’t need to wait until you’re an expert to engage. If you wait until you feel comfortable, he cautioned, you will have waited too long and missed the opportunity to do something meaningful.
This may not always be easy and leaders should expect that some people may not agree with their values. “Business will never be met with 100% approval. To expect that is crazy,” said McCarthy. But by leading with your values and standing by them, leaders can ensure that their business goes from simply not being part of the problem to actively being part of the solution.
Especially in recent months with the pandemic and high-profile racial injustice we have experienced, “compassion is a business imperative,” stated McCarthy. If your employees aren’t taking care of themselves, they can’t function in your business, he explained. As a leader, one of your most important tasks will be fostering this compassion while encouraging a healthy, engaging dialogue. Make sure your employees have the space to both listen and be heard, even if those conversations are awkward or uncomfortable. As McCarthy put it, “comfortable doesn’t create space.”
Expand this idea of compassion and education throughout your organization. As a leader, it can be tempting to jump to solutions and take decisive action but “decisiveness can masquerade as intelligence,” cautioned McCarthy. He advises taking time to educate yourself before rushing to a decision. Admit when you don’t know and even when you are wrong, and encourage your employees to do the same. Creating this expectation of honesty, education, and compassion shows those inside and outside your organization that you care and are willing to learn and grow.
Results Based Accountability
Even a socially active business such as Ben and Jerry’s is still a business and is accountable to certain success metrics. Like all businesses, they measure things like revenue and profit. Beyond that, the ice cream company looks at social metrics that tie to their values. For instance, they may measure carbon emission standards or the effectiveness of social mission campaigns.
Other social justice metrics are much harder to measure. They may be better served with results-based accountability. For example, McCarthy explained, a business may want the result of more diversity in their leadership. If that doesn’t happen, though, they must be agile enough to change strategies to accomplish that goal.
Its important to remember, though, that just because you can’t measure the ROI of something doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Ben and Jerry’s social justice missions are hard to measure but are closely tied to the values and core of the company.
From its founding in 1978, Ben and Jerry knew they wanted their company to do things differently. More than 40 years later, they remain successful. The company is bolstered by employees and customers that want to be a part of something a bit more important than just ice cream. We were fortunate to learn from Matthew as we strive to live our values and create meaningful change in our community.