Brad Flowers, Founder
Considering our impact on the world brings up big questions. Ultimately, we are asking how we should live. It is philosophical. There was a Polish Rabbi from the 1700s who was asked a similar question. His advice was that you should keep a note in one pocket that says, “for my sake the world was created.” In the other pocket is a note saying, “I am but dust and ashes.”
We try to remember those notes as we navigate our daily work. On the one hand, we acknowledge that we are a small company with frustrating limitations on our time and money. On the other hand, we acknowledge the work we are doing is important.
This report is a look back at the last two years. It is a record of the work we have done to improve our company in a comprehensive way since becoming a B Corp in 2017. We have used the framework provided by B Lab. We have engaged in the sometimes boring work of analyzing our governance. And, we have realized that, while tedious, it has an exciting impact on all of the other areas we are improving: how we relate to each other, our community, the environment, and our clients. Because our work is the result of a team, what follows is a collection of essays and interviews with everyone involved.
This report is also a look to the future. In addition to the B Lab framework, we are using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to challenge the way we work, how we donate our time and expertise, and the types of clients we pursue. We acknowledge that we are part of a global effort by government agencies, non-profits, and businesses to work in tandem on issues that no sector can address in a silo.
Working on Us
It isn’t easy to prioritize the time to work on the business. For every week, client work could fill a week and a half. It takes discipline to step back and consider the way the company operates. Some of these highlights might seem a little basic. For us, they are a big deal and represent a ton of work that we are proud of. They also make it much more pleasant to work at Bullhorn.
- Democratic Governance: We have reorganized our business around two 90 minute meetings a week. Tuesday morning, we talk about running Bullhorn. We discuss how we grow, managerial issues, staffing gaps. Everyone participates. The second meeting is on Thursday. Here, we critique the work to be presented to clients and bring up any account management issues. Everyone participates in this, too.
- Financial Transparency: During our Tuesday meeting, we go over our financial scorecard. This document tracks revenue, accounts receivable, cash on hand, variance from the budget, sales pipeline, project efficiency, and marketing metrics. Everyone participates in this part of the meeting and understands their role in the financial success of the company.
- Centralizing Human Resources: Historically, this has been a weak spot. We had payroll and benefits, but tracking them was a nightmare. We made a move to an online platform that handles payroll, benefits, and other HR needs. Everything is easy to find, and benefits are more transparent.
- Accountability Chart: We had two problems. One, everyone had to do multiple jobs, and there was a lot of overlap. It wasn’t clear who was responsible for what. Two, it wasn’t explicit how someone progressed in their career at Bullhorn. We created an accountability chart to address both issues. Roles are clear now. And, we now have trajectories with salary ranges and what a person needs to do to move up. And, yes, it is way different than an org chart.
- Handbook: Through the B Corp framework, we realized that we act on a lot of good policies, but they hadn’t been documented somewhere tangible. We’ve since put in the work to revamp the company handbook to be reflective of current policies we abide by and make our standards clear to current and incoming employees.
- Operating Agreement: After becoming a B Corp two years ago, we officially amended our Operating Agreement to show we mean business. The amendment allows the people running the company to consider the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, in their decision-making process. This change will help us maintain our mission even if the founders are no longer around.
- Health Insurance: In one of our open meetings, a coworker brought up the fact that our policies discriminated based on gender and age. We will go into more detail later. We looked into the issue, realized it was true, and set about fixing it.
- Professional Development: We have formalized our development policy. Employees can earn up to a 5% bonus each quarter based on hitting agreed-upon goals. Those intentions are primarily related to professional development, such as taking courses, attending events, reading books, etc.
- Intern Program: We have a paid internship program that has become hugely successful. It is currently the best pipeline for someone who wants a full-time position (five current employees are former interns). We hire one design and one language intern at a time. Interns receive feedback similar to full-time employees, and we assign them meaningful tasks. It has been a great way to meet talented people and engage with our local university communities.
- Worker Flexibility: We now have workers in three different cities. Geography has been a challenge, and it has forced us to improve our communication and organizational skills. This flexibility benefits remote workers and makes it seamless for anyone who needs to work from home for part of the day. We are making better use of digital tools, our meetings are demanding more transparency, and we have more rigid expectations of communication.
We understand our working environment to be both physical and social. We are continuing to make incremental improvements in key physical environment areas like energy consumption, recycling, and composting. We have also become increasingly conscious of our role in the social environment. We are asking questions about the kind of neighbors we want to be. Can we be more supportive? Can we offer our unique skills more clearly? Here are some highlights:
- New Office: Our Lexington office was at capacity. We were pursuing plans to expand the physical space. We were also considering selling our building and buying something bigger. By discussing it openly, we concluded that having a second office in Louisville would offer our coworkers more flexibility and limit the number of miles we were driving back and forth to meet with clients.
- Pro Bono Policy: In 2019, we decided to restrict our pro bono projects: we would only work on one at a time. We had some great collaborations. We contributed naming and design to the statewide non-profit helping Kentucky businesses operate better, called Canopy. We worked with a dynamic arts middle school to create a visual identity that matched their energy: Western Middle School for the Arts. We provided design work for the inaugural TEDx event in Appalachia. And, we created an identity system for a literacy empowerment non-profit called Young Author’s Greenhouse. The work was rewarding. Our next task is to take our focus on the Sustainable Development Goals to narrow the organizations we work for to deepen our impact.
- Alternative Transportation: We have continued our focus on alternative transportation. We provide every employee with a bicycle. We also reimburse for transit use—this last period, we have given four bikes and have two more waiting. We have also had several workshops to make sure that our coworkers have the skills to wash their bikes, change flat tires, and make simple adjustments.
- Tree Planting: As part of the Reforest the Bluegrass effort, our team of volunteers planted 46 trees in an underutilized part of a city park. Reforest the Bluegrass is an effort of the city of Lexington to expand the urban forest. 2019 was the 20th year. Volunteers have planted over 140,000 trees in that 20 years and have restored 190 acres of floodplains.
- Recycling and Composting: We have a recycling policy. We also have a policy to buy recycled products when available. We compost our organic waste with a non-profit partner who uses it in community gardens.
- Electricity: While we are currently reliant on our cities’ grid, we do use Arcadia Power to offset our dependence on that grid. We connect our utility bill with their app and they match our consumption with wind and solar energy.
- Water: We have been tracking our water usage for over three years. We minimize our water consumption by using dual-flush toilets and by capturing our rainwater. Run-off is a problem we are currently working on.
- Food System: During the spring, summer, and fall months, we support our local farmers by purchasing a group CSA basket and sharing it with the office once a week. This initiative has led to further in-office conversations about cooking with fresh ingredients.