Three takeaways from CBI 2019

by Gareth Francis – Nov 21, 2019

The CBI Annual Conference is always an incredible opportunity to check the pulse of business and politics.

This year was no exception, especially with the backdrop of a looming general election.

Amid the myriad of insights which came from the speeches, here are three nuggets that really resonated for us.

Green credentials

Sustainability will continue to move up the corporate and political agenda. What we heard at the conference reinforces a growing shift from an attitude of ‘how do we make business less bad’ to ‘how do we make business positively good’.

One angle of the sustainability agenda, environmentalism, was discussed in every session of the day, including the speeches from each of the political leaders.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for positivity on the developments being made by many businesses, rather than attacks on consumption; Jeremy Corbyn discussed plans for a ‘green industrial revolution’ under a Labour government; while Jo Swinson discussed the Liberal Democrats’ plans for the UK, which include getting 80% of our energy from renewable sources by 2030.

While many businesses have environmentalism on their agenda, paying lip service is not enough. In the latest issue of the Hays Journal, we explore why authenticity is key in efforts to be greener, as well as the dangers of ‘green washing’ or faking your environmental credentials.

Done properly, communicating your environmental efforts effectively can attract and retain talent, open up new revenue streams and encourage other businesses to work with you. As Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said at the conference: “There is a very clear recognition of the fact [that climate change] is the greatest challenge we have ever seen, but is also the greatest economic opportunity.”

Life-long learning

The workplace is changing and what corporates offer employees will have to continue to change with it.

Providing life-long learning opportunities is part of this change and was another topic that came up throughout the day. A variety of different motivations for embracing life-long learning were mentioned – as diverse as improving board diversity to re-skilling colleagues in the face of market disruption by new technology.

Alison Rose, CEO of RBS, leads by example in this area. She told the conference that curiosity needs to be a key trait for everyone, including leaders. In order to ensure relevance in a digital world, she and her entire executive team have taken coding training. She said: “If you’re an ostrich with your head in the sand, you’re going to struggle.”

Whether you’re speaking to your clients, or delivering an internal communications campaign, showing that your business is taking advantage of opportunities to learn new skills will demonstrate that you have an eye on the future.

Reassessing technology

Inevitably, there was also a great deal of discussion of the digital world and the new challenges it presents each year.

We live at a strange time for digital, as our own research at Wardour shows. There’s an ever-increasing momentum towards the online world and yet a majority in the UK still have clear worries about the medium (more than half of UK consumers have concerns about their inability to spot fake news).

In an article last year, Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned of the ‘weaponisation’ of the technology he helped to create. And it was a theme which Baroness Lane-Fox, co-founder of, took further at the conference, citing online trolls, the spread of misinformation and the rise of fake news as examples of the challenges faced by businesses and society more generally.

While she is hopeful that many benefits are still to come from digital, there is little doubt that businesses wanting to advance in the online world will have to strive ever harder to be seen as credible and trustworthy in the months ahead.

Our thanks to the team at Hays for inviting us once again to attend the conference.

If you’d like to see how we can help you with your content plans for 2020, get in touch here.

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Published Nov 21, 2019

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