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What can we learn from the CBI crisis?


Yesterday we held an event on how and why the CBI imploded. Here is a summary of themes that emerged.

We live in an age of volatility where institutions like the CBI can implode in a short period. A lack of preparation and poor decisions made under the pressure of increasingly demanding social and mainstream media are two crucial factors that saw the CBI collapse.

So, what lessons can business leaders learn from the crisis?

1. Leaders need support to build, manage and run purposeful organisations

Companies need someone on the board who is expert in, and responsible for, people and culture, who offers honest advice and oversees leadership in action. Global and national events like COVID-19 and the CBI crisis have signaled the importance of having a Chief People Officer (CPO) or a Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) on the board who can offer support and counsel on what a responsible culture looks like and the benefits it brings.  

2. Company culture needs to be defined from the top down

As Peter Drucker said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Having policies in place is a start, but culture is the true driver of change. There has long been a debate about whether managers are promoted for skill over leadership ability. As one of our panelists said, “skills can be taught; you can’t teach character”.

In our work around values development and culture, we place emphasis on incentivisation as a key enabler. As the CBI experience showed, policies don’t work without culture.

3. Appropriate workplace behaviour needs to be defined

The word to drive forward is ‘professionalism’. There’s been a focus on bringing our whole selves to work but that doesn’t allow for empathy and inclusion. The panel discussed how one behaves with friends and family and the moral compass we use at home; could this be translated to the workplace?

Could we be in a position where alcohol is no longer present at workplace events? The majority of people thought this was likely, but also felt it would be undesirable. There was a similar discussion around following junior people on social media. The feeling was that doing so on LinkedIn was fine – being more of a professional space – but more personal platforms, like Instagram and Facebook should be avoided. 

It would be easy to try to legislate for workplace behaviour with policies, guidelines and even banning social events, but we need to build environments where people intuitively understand where the lines are.

If you have any questions on any of the points discussed, or to understand more about shifting business environments and the insights, strategies and tactics that help business deliver, please contact: Georgia Perry