Making fair and inclusive workplaces everyone’s business The position of business is one that rightly attracts more scrutiny than it did a few decades ago. Like politicians, the Church and many of our other great public institutions, businesses can no longer rely on a tacit acceptance of their value to the health, wealth and social progress of the UK. Yet firms remain critical to all of these – and the challenge of communicating the role of businesses in our society and economy is one that the leaders of companies – and of representative bodies like the CBI – have grappled with for many years. Greater openness is clearly a part of the answer. Transparency is to be welcomed. But firms will need to explain what they do, not just be open about it. The stories we tell matter to how people feel about a company, so long as behaviour matches up to those stories. Yet negative coverage about individual businesses can often contribute to a sense of fear. Too often, not reaching out makes things worse, not better. Nor is it the case that businesses need to be defensive. Earlier this year, the CBI worked with Porter Novelli to set this out by establishing a baseline measure of where firms stand. There was good news but also some more challenging feedback in that work. Perhaps most surprisingly, people’s views of the reputation of British businesses was better than firms had feared, with 58% saying that UK firms had a good or very good reputation, compared with fewer than 10% saying the opposite. But dig a little deeper, and the origins of concern become clear. 77% of respondents saw CEOs as far removed from the concerns of ordinary people – meaning that sometimes, when business leaders do try to explain things, we can make things worse! There are simple ways to address this, of course. Ditching the management jargon always makes a difference. But in the longer term, our survey showed that it is the familiarity people feel CEOs lack breeds trust in companies. As customers, people valued that personal touch, good value and being treated as an individual more than anything else. And the most familiar people of all with any business? Its employees, of course! Here, again, there was some positive news that reflected various CBI Employment Trends Surveys over the years. 64% of employees feel they have a good relationship with their employer. As ambassadors for the company delivering the service people want, and as citizens themselves – that is a good base from which to work. But it is not yet good enough. The position of British business in our society depends on people understanding the value companies bring, seeing firms challenge poor standards and boosting productivity. That means that getting our people strategy right matters hugely. It must be a key part of the wider industrial strategy, launched recently by Greg Clark. There is clearly room to up our game. The certainties of the Human Resources Management approach that dominated practice for two decades need to be challenged, with greater space found for meaningful employee voice, however employees choose to represent themselves or be represented. Finding ways to better develop and support line management is key to this, as they are the key actors. For business leaders thinking about how this happens effectively, the signals and incentives that are sent become all-important. It is time for a new long-termism, with the approaches to people a genuine Boardroom priority to match rhetoric about “our greatest asset”. For some firms, this is a challenge – especially as they face a more disrupted market than ever before. The Taylor Review has emphasised how fast the world of work is changing to reflect this, and our approach to managing must change with it. But the debate about the right solutions are should change with the world of work. Enhanced voice and decentralisation may sit uneasily for some – but they are the strategies that will deliver the trust, engagement and customer satisfaction that will be essential to success in the mid-21st Century, and ongoing trust in society for businesses. At the same time, others too must look afresh at the world of work. Too much of the debate around Taylor saw new problems answered by old solutions. As businesses will have to step up – so too will others. Practice matters as much as any change to the legal base. Unions and others will need to turn their attention to this, as the field where their members’ interests can be best served. Nothing emphasises this so much as the “gig” economy – where workers exist alongside each other, some happily flexibility that works for them – others feeling unable to access the work they really want. The answer to this is to focus on opportunity and practice – not to ban different forms of work and restrict choice for others. If business wants to continue to play its role – creating the wealth that supports families in wages and pensions, and paying the taxes that fund our schools and hospitals – new approaches are necessary. A more open, less jargon-heavy business community will need a focus on employee engagement to really perform - and the tools of the past two decades are unlikely to make the grade. The challenge now is to step up – and find partners who are willing to work with us on this journey towards a more open, diverse and productive workplace. Neil Carberry leads the CBI's work on issues related to two great enablers of growth in the UK – people and skills, and infrastructure.