In our latest blog Mark Chambers, Associate Director (Governance), discusses the Edelman Trust Barometer, Larry Fink’s annual letter to CEOs and the role of business in society.
Two big thought leadership pieces landed in January: the Edelman Trust Barometer (now in its 22nd year of tracking global cycles of trust) and Larry Fink’s latest annual letter to CEOs. Both highlight some threats and opportunities for business against a backdrop of rapidly evolving expectations of the role of business in society.
Edelman’s survey shows trust in business holding up well alongside a continuing collapse of trust in government and the media. In an increasingly divisive and polarised environment, people are turning to very local sources of trusted information. Communication in the workplace is now a core part of people’s circle of trust. Larry Fink similarly comments that ‘employees are increasingly looking to their employer as their most trusted, competent and ethical source of information’.
Business has strengthened trust by being seen to both behave ethically and be competent at execution. There is now a great opportunity to build on those hard-earned benefits. There are ethical dimensions to a lot of internal communications around culture, conduct and standards. Choices around where to work are increasingly driven by finding shared beliefs and values. The competition to attract and retain talent is relentless. Businesses that have integrated ethical values into everything they do and say, and who reinforce their ethical values through all their internal communications, will find multiple new opportunities to drive loyalty and engagement.
And it is not just internal audiences where businesses will need to be bolder. The improved understanding of the connectivity between a business and its stakeholders, together with growing confidence in the ability of business to deliver positive change, have driven the ever increasing demand for businesses to be vocal on the issues in society. Piling in on every populist issue is not what is needed, but Larry Fink emphasises that it is not ‘woke’ to seek mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders. Both Edelman and Larry Fink warn of the need to be thoughtful and selective, and mindful of the politicisation of many societal issues.
So where and how should business use its voice and what role do values play?
Prioritising the wide list of social policy issues on which a business could potentially be engaging will not be easy. Senior management will need to develop and adopt frameworks to filter and assess the issues where intervening well or badly could have a big impact on brand and reputation. They will need to balance factors like the strength of the link to company purpose, the fit with ethical values, the degree of alignment to the key strategic objectives and risks, the strength of feeling across the range of stakeholder groups, and the extent of politicisation of the issue.
Many businesses with mature ethics programmes have already developed decision making frameworks to guide colleagues through dilemmas fraught with ambiguity and uncertainty. The experience of dealing with situations where there isn’t a clear right answer will serve them well.
In March we will hold a public event where, in discussion with Mark McGinn of Edelman, we will hear more about the findings of this year’s Trust Barometer and explore some of these issues with input from our audience - further information to follow.
Associate Director - Governance
Mark brings 30 years of experience from a successful career in business to help grow the IBE’s interaction with boards, regulators and policy makers.
After graduating in Zoology from Oxford University, Mark re-trained as a lawyer and spent his early years at Slaughter and May in their London and New York offices before moving into business. During his career, he managed world-class global functions responsible for governance, legal and regulatory risk management in large, complex, regulated businesses. He was General Counsel & Group Company Secretary at RSA Insurance Group and at Worldpay Group, and held senior positions at American Express and GE Capital. He retired as Deputy Group Company Secretary of HSBC in 2018 to pursue a second career, which also includes non-executive and advisory work.
For many years, Mark has had a successful career as a non-executive director. He is a member of the board of the Care Quality Commission, the independent regulator of health and social care in England, and chairs their Regulatory Governance Committee. He is also a non-trustee member of the Audit and Risk Committee of Maggie’s.
Previous roles included the Chair role at Amref Health Africa and Audit Committee Chair at WWF, where he also led the Committee that oversaw the development of the charity's exemplar new headquarters building. Mark was a finalist in the 2014 Sunday Times Non-Executive of the Year Awards.
The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it. – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf