Crowdsourcing a business plan to create value

In 2019, Anglian Water 'codified' its corporate purpose to demonstrate that it puts customers and the environment at the heart of what it does

There aren’t many companies that would seek the opinion of half a million customers while developing its business strategy, but that’s exactly what Anglian Water did. In part, this was to develop trust in the water company, but the consultation also served to demonstrate that its goals can never be achieved in isolation.

Take water efficiency, for example. Anglian Water can tackle the supply chain, such as fixing leaks, but it needs customers’ help to influence the demand side. By tuning into customer thinking, and understanding their views on other macro factors, such as the environment, Anglian Water was able to develop a five-year business plan that serves all stakeholders.

As Ciaran Nelson, director of brand and communications at Anglian Water, explains in this Conscious Communicator podcast, customers don’t choose their water suppliers: each region is served by a monopoly. So, taking customers on a journey reinforces trust, gives them a greater understanding of what the business is trying to achieve and brings a corporate purpose to life.

In return, Anglian Water changed its Articles of Association to ensure that its owners consider not only their own fiduciary interests but also those of customers, and the environment it serves, when making any decisions. In effect, the price rises proposed by the business

‘Delivering our purpose of Creating environmental and social prosperity in the region we serve is not mutually exclusive to us delivering what we need to for our customers, for our communities, for the environment, and for our shareholders,’ explains Nelson. ‘We cannot put red lines through environmental obligations, or diversity projects, or engagement programmes because they are how we will deliver our business plan. They’re not mutually exclusive.’

Indeed, Anglian Water’s corporate purpose is now so well-entrenched into the business that colleagues now question whether their actions and decisions serve their customers or protect the environment. ‘I think it’s one thing to present your purpose externally,’ says Nelson. ‘It’s something quite different to flip it within the business so that people have that clear line of sight from what you say to what that means that they need to do on a day-to-day basis.’

Anecdotal evidence apart, Anglian Water now needs to know whether its strategy is having its desired effect, which will involve metrics. It has partnered with the British Standards Institute (BSI) to create a publicly accessible standard for sustainable business.

‘Not only are we setting good standards for ourselves, and measuring whether we’re delivering or not, but I seriously hope that we’re setting standards that other businesses across the country can get on board with,’ explains Nelson. ‘As a regulated monopoly and supplier of an essential public service, the bar is set appropriately high for us. It’s our job to show that this is how business can be a force for good in the country, and whether we measure up against those metrics will be a measure of that.’

Listen to the latest Conscious Communicator podcast