Time flies here at the CBI. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 11 months since I walked into the organisation’s swanky new City-of-London office to start my secondment from PwC working on The Great Business Debate.
For me, the campaign has provided the opportunity to test activities around the concept of building trust and to understand the issues businesses face in earning trust. For the CBI, it was a whole new approach to campaigns requiring the active participation of businesses and aimed at a wide audience.
So, as my year here draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned.
I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single company who doesn’t believe that the issue of falling public confidence in business isn’t huge. The challenge has always been how to tackle it. One of the key issues seems to be clearly explaining companies’ perspective on really complex issues like tax, pay, customer service and environmental impact — issues that are often misleadingly condensed down to a couple of attention-grabbing headlines in the business pages.
Getting across these complex messages in an engaging way and to sceptical audiences is not easy, and it requires companies to reach out and engage differently. There is also more that needs to be done to convey the positive story there is to tell about the contribution of business to our economy and society.
But it’s not just about communication. As one business representative said to me ‘you can’t talk your way out of a situation you behaved your way into’. Taking action is essential to build trust, and companies know they have to respond to people’s concerns and take difficult decisions. Corporate Social Responsibility might well be dead now – replaced by firms just being responsible in everything they do, all business activities, right to the core. As another contributor has said in their blog, you can’t be ‘a sinner during the week and a saint at the weekend’.
What I have found most heartening is the willingness and enthusiasm of companies to get involved in the campaign and talking to such a huge range of people from all sectors and business sizes has been truly eye-opening.
And my final lesson from the CBI? It might not be healthy, but it is hugely motivating to have bacon sarnies readily available every morning. All praise to Bob in the canteen!
Bridget Atherton is The Great Business Debate’s Member Engagement Lead