Business is in the doghouse. ‘Only 29% of UK adults trust business leaders to tell the truth,’ screamed the latest Ipsos MORI 2011 Veracity Index. Cridland summed up the public sentiment at the CBI Annual Conference today: ‘At its worst the impression of business is one of greed or selfish indulgence. Some people feel wronged.’
In a complete departure from the usual party line. While 2010 was the year of 'You're doing great, guys. Keep up the good work and get this economy going', this year the CBI boss took to the stage to exhort business to ‘do more’.
‘Businesses should show how they do good by doing good business,’ he said. He accused businesses of operating in a bubble: ‘somewhere along the line, [they] have become disconnected from wider society. They’ve not had the same success talking to people in their communities as they’ve had talking to their colleagues.’
The solution, according to Cridland, is to change the way that we reward success. ‘The endeavours that generate value must be fairly and more transparently rewarded – with extra reward for real success, not for doing what we are already paid for – and certainly not reward for failure.’
His remarks are a veiled criticism of the latest reports that certain FTSE 100 directors have seen pay rise by 49% this year. ‘This was an average skewed by outliers,’ he said. But is ‘hardly a sign of restraint given the economic climate.’
Is Cridland just heaping more pressure on businesses at a time when they are already struggling to survive? Are UK firms expected to fight two battles? The first, one of survival: to keep trading through a period of low consumer spending and financial tumult. The second, a PR skirmish with the general public. Businesses that are rooted in the societies and communities they serve are likely to be more closely connected to their customers. Their social responsibility makes them more likely to understand how to give them what they want. But, in these troubled times, is it one battle too many?