'Reputation', Surveys And UK PLC In Times Of Brexit Uncertainty
I never know what the point of a lot of business surveys is at a time of considerable political and economic uncertainty. Are they reliable ? What do they reveal, if anything? Is there a danger those who do not have a clue will follow the dominant herd sentiment ? The UK's Confederation of British Industry (CBI) certainly comes up with a plethora of them, and the latest one, just out, is....interesting, not least because of the way in which it interprets its findings.
It starts by saying : "New analysis by the CBI has seen a rise in the number of people who believe businesses in the UK have a good reputation. The research, comparing perceptions of businesses between May and November 2017, reveals 2 in 3 people think UK businesses have a good reputation, up 7% in 6 months." Wow. Great.
It goes on to explain:
"Importantly, the improvement in business reputation has largely been driven by young people and those in work, with a significant 15% rise in positive views among 18-34 year olds. "
It then makes a considerable leap in saying; "This reinforces the view that younger people are more engaged in the debate about the UK’s future, with the Brexit negotiations and a sharper political debate intensifying the focus on jobs and the economy."
I don't know where the CBI has been hanging out, but I can't say I have noticed the political debate getting any sharper.
Apparently, "The survey found that the key driver of business reputation is a sense of pride in British business. The quality of British goods and services and the global reputation of UK business were cited by the public as having the biggest impact on reputation. Members of the public are also increasingly aware of the UK as a ‘service economy’, with more people of the opinion that businesses' biggest contribution to society are services (35%) rather than goods (31%)."
From all this we are led to the comments of CBI research partner Porter Novelli London's Managing Director Fenella Grey: "The fact that the reputation of business has improved over the past months despite a backdrop of uncertainty caused by Brexit and slowing economic growth is really positive news for the UK. It shows ‘UK plc’ is alive and kicking, and remains an important place to do business." Oh.
“What is really unexpected is that this positive shift in opinion occurred amongst millennials who in reality have the greatest number of reasons to be unhappy, as they will be working with an uncertainty created by a Brexit the majority of them didn’t want" says Ms Grey. Agreed - it's really, really surprising.
Ms Grey adds: “Over the last six months this tracker has revealed an interesting change in what drives people to think positively about business, and it’s all about people. Businesses need to see that the better you regard your employees, the better the public regard you.”
Well, it's hard to argue with that, but you may not agree with whether the tracker has revealed this shift, or whether it's a post-Brexit business wish list.
There are assumptions being made here by Britain's biggest lobbying group that are not helpful in the current climate. The first is that a 'sense of pride in British business' is somehow related to Brexit, implying patriotism, nationalism, re-affirmation of 'sovereignty' and a blue passport are all at once part and parcel of the same positive force forward.
The second point is actually an important finding that is almost dismissed by the CBI and Porter Novelli, placed as it is near the end of its press release.
"There remains however a serious challenge for business with only half of people saying they understand how a company works, and 68% believing that CEOs are out of touch with people’s lives" it reads. (my emphasis). Right. That's the real challenge, for business intending to reconnect with a sense of purpose for society.
In terms of being "out of touch with people's lives", let's talk abut CEO pay...and concrete ways to earn reputation.
Another important throw away line at the end of the findings: "82% of respondents also said a firm’s record on data security is important when choosing which businesses to buy from - a clear warning sign to businesses given recent high-profile data breaches. "
Boardrooms continue to need to be kicked into touch when it comes to acting with awareness and responsibility on cyber security. It is hard to comprehend why such a warning would be buried - unless the purpose of the survey is to boost morale, first and foremost.