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The CBI – the UK’s leading business organisation – is today (Wednesday) launching an ambitious ‘programme of change’ – already well under way – to increase trust with our membership and improve our organisation for the better. These proposals will go before a vote by our members at the EGM on 6 June.

The CBI is making wide-ranging changes to our people processes, our governance structures, our culture, and refining our core purpose.

The prospectus – A Renewed CBI – for our Members, our Stakeholders and our Peopleis the result of extensive work in the weeks since the group paused activity, in which businesses, stakeholders, colleagues and external experts have all been involved in drawing up the proposed changes. 

The prospectus is the result of one of – if not – the largest CBI member listening exercise to ensure our work is informed by our members. Over the course of April and May that has involved convening more than 1000 business leaders, an in-depth survey, focus groups, and listening sessions in each of the regions and nations of the UK.

Today’s plans set out the most immediate work the organisation has done to achieve that, alongside proposals for the future of the CBI. 

Ben Rhodes, CBI Regional Director, South West, said:

“Our members and colleagues have spoken. We have listened, we have acted and we are taking accountability. An accelerated programme of change on people, governance and culture is already underway with a more focused, collaborative approach on our purpose lifting up the voices of our members.

“Our society faces serious challenges from a cost-of-living crisis to climate change with an urgent need to create truly sustainable growth across regions and nations of the UK, as well as on the global stage. We need a strong voice of business, backed by a depth of economic analysis and insights from across the whole economy and entire country. A renewed CBI can once again have a voice on the serious economic challenges the UK faces, with a General Election approaching at pace.

“The CBI has a unique role. We will work in collaboration and partnership with our members on these shared challenges, which is why this programme of change is so important. There’s not a moment to lose.”

On the CBI’s changes:

“Ahead of the EGM, our prospectus brings together the actions we’re taking. We are making radical and rapid changes to upgrade our governance structures and processes.

“Principia’s expert findings show that while our purpose and hard work to influence and inform on behalf of our members gives us a strong identity and motivates our staff, that focus has come at a cost. Blanket descriptions of the CBI’s culture being toxic are not correct, but we have work to do to embed a consistent set of values for all of our staff.

“We are on the road to recovery with all of the Fox Williams’ recommendations either completed or in progress and an exciting programme of renewal with recommendations we will adopt from Principia.

“We shall learn the lessons and emerge from this as a stronger organisation, one that is able to share what we’ve learnt and regain the right to always be a trusted voice. 

“We are working with determination and hope our members will see the serious change we are delivering. Through the reimagining of our purpose, we also attract new ones to our mission. For those who recently left, tell us what you need and we will take the necessary steps. We will continue to show our value on the important issues of the day.”

On the CBI’s Governance  

What’s happened so far?

Following the release of the Fox Williams report, CBI President, Brian McBride, initiated an immediate examination of the CBI’s governance, as part of the wider comprehensive evaluation of the CBI’s culture, structures and processes. The outcomes from this work include: 

  • Refresh of the CBI Board – four Non-Executive Directors will leave by September 2023. The two newest appointees, Jill Ader and Mark Logan, will stay on for continuity. Clare Barclay will remain on until her successor is found    
  • Victoria Cochrane – a former Global Managing Partner, Risk Management at EY – is appointed to the Board from 6 June and will chair the CBI Audit and Risk Committee
  • The CBI Executive Committee structure is evolving post-EGM, with the creation of the Chief People Officer role already in place. We will ensure a focused and accountable leadership team that reflects the skills to deliver the cultural change we need
  • All CBI Board members both Executive and Non-Executive to be re-elected by members at the AGM every year 
  • The CBI President, Brian McBride, will immediately start the search for his successor while he oversees the changes being implemented at the CBI. The handover will begin no earlier than 1 January 2024 
  • Creation of a new People and Culture sub-committee of the CBI Board that will focus on people and HR matters at the CBI
  • Establishment of an external expert Culture Advisory Committee chaired by Jill Ader and supported, amongst others, by Elizabeth Broderick, Founder of Champions of Change Coalition.

What next?

The CBI will not only be actioning the recommendations of the review outlined above, but also commissioning a comprehensive externally led examination of our governance structures and processes. Ffion Hague the well-known Board evaluation and Assessment Practice will lead this.  The findings of which are expected to be shared with the CBI Board and with members by end of July 2023.

Brian McBride, CBI President, said:

“The need to bolster the CBI’s governance structures is something that has come through loud and clear during this period. We are making significant and fundamental changes to improve our organisation for the better and for the people working in it. We remain determined to restore the confidence of our members, and that of our many stakeholders, in the CBI.”  

On the CBI’s people & culture

The CBI has been taking the steps necessary since the allegations first emerged to best protect our people, reinforce our HR practices and transform our culture long-term.

People – what’s happened so far?

The Fox Williams report found that although the CBI was unaware of the most serious allegations at the time, our systems of culture management were insufficient. The organisation is implementing their recommendations in full. The CBI has also created – and filled on an interim basis – a new role of Chief People Officer reporting directly to the board.

People – what next?

The Chief People Officer is responsible for implementing the full set of recommendations and taking further steps to improve our people processes e.g. mandatory training covering harassment and bullying, employee relations best practice, mental health awareness and employment law.

Culture – what’s happened so far?

The CBI has also engaged Principia, independent experts in building ethical organisations, to lead a Culture Review, so the CBI can deliver the necessary cultural change.  The initial stages involved an extensive staff engagement exercise, to highlight areas where improvements were needed and to identify existing cultural strengths of the CBI which needed to be safeguarded.  

Principia extract:

“Through this process, we have determined that the CBI has an outward-facing culture that exhibits significant strengths – a strong external identity and purpose that staff understand and find motivational. However, the CBI has under-attended to developing a strong, values-based organisational culture and has under-prioritised people management skills.

“While we do not find that blanket descriptions such as ‘toxic’ or ‘misogynistic’ are accurate or useful descriptions of CBI culture, attitudes towards culture are inconsistent, with a lack of awareness of different experiences and limited self-reflection. This results in an under-developed and inconsistent organisational environment, with unclear expectations for behaviours and ways of holding people to account.”

Culture – what next?

Working with Principia to deliver a roadmap for cultural change – see prospectus.

On the CBI’s purpose & mission

What’s happened so far?

As part of our major listening exercise, we asked businesses what they valued most about the purpose, mission and activities of the CBI. 

They told us us to prioritise more, to amplify the voice of SMEs, regions and nations, and to maximise the impact of our Trade Association network. But predominantly, they told us that our purpose was not an area where they sought radicalchange.  

Around 70% of respondents in our Purpose and Culture survey cited the CBI’s ability to ‘speak for all business, across the whole economy on the issues of national importance’ as ‘absolutely critical’. They also told us they value our ability to bring together sectors and multiple parts of government, both local and national, including the major economic regulators. 

Policy influence and insight, and government and economic intelligence, were ‘absolutely critical’ for most businesses we spoke to. And when asked about the most important national issues on which the CBI should focus, ‘achieving sustainable growth in the economy’ dominated as a guiding principle.

What next?

Over 90% of respondents to our Purpose and Culture survey said ensuring sustainable growth in the economy was the priority. It was the most-selected option across every nation, for both SMEs and large firms, and across the main sectors of the economy. From the survey and across many conversations with businesses, the most critical economic and national issues identified were:   

  • The future of work and skills.
  • The UK as a leading internationally competitive location for business.
  • Climate, ESG and energy. 

Immediately following the EGM, the CBI will begin work on shaping a detailed work plan focused on these and other priority issues identified. We will bring this back to members to help shape, critique and approve through our councils and committees. 

The EGM takes place on 6 June. The resolution for the vote is: 

Do the changes we have made − and the commitments we have set out − to reform our governance, culture, and purpose give you the confidence you need to support the CBI? 

Across the UK, the CBI speaks on behalf of 190,000 businesses of all sizes and sectors. The CBI’s corporate members together employ nearly 7 million people, about one third of private sector-employees. With offices in the UK as well as representation in Brussels, Washington, Beijing and Delhi, the CBI communicates the British business voice around the world.  

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