How the CBI can turn its weaknesses into strengths

It was great to see that the CBI secured strong support from its members on Tuesday, with 93% strongly backing the organisation’s new reform plans, following the recent sexual misconduct crisis.

The CBI has already implemented many of the 35 recommendations, put forward by the law firm Fox Williams, to improve its culture after a comprehensive review.

In particular, a second review by the consultancy Principia is a solid piece of work that I hope will help to transform the CBI’s culture.

It includes many principles that I personally recommend to organisations aiming to build strong transformational cultures, including placing people and culture as a core strategic function.

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While it will be important for the CBI to build on the strengths mentioned by Principia (clear purpose, a collegial environment and pockets of good practice), I also believe there is also potential for them to turn five identified cultural weaknesses into strengths too.

Firstly, Principia identified a values and behaviours gap. This is a prime opportunity for the CBI to weave values and purpose as the golden thread that runs through an organisation: through areas including values and behaviour frameworks, employee value proposition, job design, recruitment processes, onboarding processes, reward and talent management.

Cross-referencing with the employee handbook can ensure that every aspect of the employee experience is fully aligned to the CBI’s core values.

Lack of cohesive, consistent organisational leadership capabilities is the second weakness identified by the report. My Transformational Culture Model outlines seven Cs of a transformational culture: courage, connection, collaboration, common purpose, communication, compassion and curiosity.

These dimensions can be used as a guide to the capabilities needed to manage a positive people-centred workplace culture.

To tackle under-developed skills for people and team management, the CBI now has an opportunity develop the abilities and behaviours to manage people and team climate effectively.

Considering the ‘AIR’ their teams breathe: how teams Act, Interact and React can help when it comes to developing skills and strategies to manage team climate. Useful questions include: how do teams manage conflict? How do they handle change? Do leaders listen actively when team members want to speak up?

Inattention to people and culture function is the fourth weakness. For many years I have argued that HR has not been acting, nor is it viewed, as a core strategic function.

In this sense it is reassuring to hear from its new director general that an approach to people and culture will be at the heart of building a better CBI. In my recent book, Transformational Culture, I strongly advocate this purpose-driven, values based, people-centred approach, as opposed to outdated, transactional, risk averse, reactive HR policies and management systems.

Finally, the Principia report mentions under-developed and inconsistent infrastructure, with activities driven by the priorities of the director general.

Hopefully the CBI will recognise that traditional processes for issue resolution offer an outdated approach and they will put more consistent structures in place.

TCM’s Resolution Framework is an example of an alternative, collaborative and robust infrastructure for decision-making – particularly around complaints, discipline and grievance procedures.

This includes triaging, enhanced use of local resolution coaching, facilitation, mediation and restorative justice. However, it requires organisations to move from autocratic, siloed, command and control systems to a more transformational model of leadership.

Based on this report I believe that The CBI is making all the right moves to address some complex cultural challenges.

The call to build a more person-centred culture appears to have galvanised the organisation and, with the backing of its people, I hope this will prove a strong foundation to rebuild.

I believe that if CBI can adopt the transformational approaches to leadership, justice and HR systems outlined by Principia, it can turn these five weaknesses into strengths.

It now needs to implement these recommendations – continually evaluating, reviewing and crucially listening to its people.

David Liddle is founding President of the People and Culture Association (PCA)