Every business in every region of the UK has skin in the game of this economic recovery. The summer optimism of a post-Covid bounce back has faded away against a backdrop of labour, skills and stock shortages. That makes it harder to invest in the future – but all the more necessary.
If business and government pull together, work together and learn from each other, there’s still a chance to do things differently, to seize the moment, and build a fairer, greener, stronger recovery.
The lessons, and the ideas, can come from anywhere. It’s why the CBI’s Annual Conference this year is going on the road – with sessions coming live from the Port of Tyne, software company Advanced’s offices in Birmingham, Leonardo’s manufacturing facilities in Somerset and McLaren’s in Woking, as well as from CSConnected – the compound semiconductor cluster – in Swansea and Westminster.
There are key themes that will dictate progress too – the importance of thriving regions sits alongside the imperatives of decarbonisation and innovation, while our global competitiveness can only happen if we also focus on inclusion and health.
Some businesses have already connected all the dots, and realised the opportunities
Take Spirax-Sarco Engineering.
“Sometimes people struggle with what a decarbonised economy means in practice and how it creates opportunity for business in Britain. It’s not just about compliance with carbon targets and cost – and I think we can provide an example,” says the company’s CFO Nimesh Patel.
For 130 years, the company has been helping customers become more efficient – and save money – through efficient management of steam systems. Now motivations are changing, and customers want help to reduce their carbon footprint. The company has responded by offering targeted solutions which include a focus on how steam is generated in the first place, innovating around electric thermal solutions which can be combined with sourcing renewable energy – and opening up conversations about retrofitting gas-fired boilers in industry.
Today the company already saves its customers a verified 15.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions through its products, which is equivalent to the carbon absorption of over 700 million trees.
With a presence in 68 markets, Spirax-Sarco Engineering has a ready path to international growth, but Patel also traces that back to the importance of people – both the skills needed for sales and innovation (supported by its global academy, based in the Southwest) and the value of inclusion.
“If our organisations are inclusive, we reflect more of the world around us and have a better understanding of the world around us.”
Collaboration is vital
With such cross-cutting themes affecting so many businesses, the importance of collaboration comes to the fore. Lisa Brankin, Managing Director at Ford of Britain & Ireland is speaking at the Annual Conference to share her reflections on COP26.
Ford has just announced a £230m investment in its Halewood, Merseyside plant, where it will build power units for electric vehicles from 2024. This investment was supported by the UK Government’s Automotive Transformation Fund. Ford has said it is going “all-in” on electrification with 100% of its passenger vehicles electric and two-thirds of its commercial vehicles electric or plug-in hybrid in Europe by 2030
“The Halewood announcement was good news for the North West and it’s a prime example of how business can work effectively with government,” says Brankin.
“To achieve this country’s ambitions on electric vehicles by 2030-2035, we must come together. We need the key stakeholders – government national and local, automotive companies, energy providers, and customers – partnering to devise and deliver a comprehensive, consistent and interwoven strategy that creates the right recharging infrastructure and incentives to make the move to an all-electric future a reality.”
Employers need to take a step into the uncomfortable
When CBI Director-General Tony Danker launched the CBI’s Seize the Moment strategy, he spoke about the bond between employer and employee being, “closer than ever before, after enduring a year together like no other”.
Firms are still trying to work out what that means for the long term.
Firms like Center Parcs, where for Chief Corporate Officer Raj Singh-Dehal “putting people at the heart of the business” isn’t just something you say, but something you need to follow through on. “How do you keep delivering on that promise?”
Talking about things like work-life balance, mental health and financial wellbeing might not be comfortable for employers. Neither is doing things differently after 30 years. “Change is always going to be a bit scary,” he says.
But there are simple, common-sense steps employers can take that will make a big difference – such as releasing rotas three months ahead, so employees can plan their lives, and mandating holiday through line managers, so they don’t miss out because of perceived barriers.
“Employers that don’t act are naturally putting themselves at a medium- to long-term competitive disadvantage,” Singh-Dehal warns.
“Stiff competition for staff is an opportunity for employers to ensure they stand out from the crowd and can attract talent as the world of work continues to change,” agrees Simon Winfield, Managing Director of Hays UK and Ireland.
The same pressure is on business to continue to embrace different ways of working
Flexibility around where talent is located will be important for closing the skills gaps, continues Winfield. But as Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny says, “the past 18 months have been quite enlightening for people who were totally against new ways of working.”
“The businesses that have really thrived are those who already had an honest, open and engaging way about their management style,” she continues.
While other firms battle with striking the right balance on hybrid working, Swash is currently busy getting staff back into the office until January. Once they’ve been reminded what normal feels like, the company’s sense of community has been restored, and the 400 new starters (who joined since March last year) get exposed to what Moneypenny culture is really like, she believes it’ll be easier to refine a new working model, improve productivity and drive growth.
If you have the opportunity to have a conversation and learn one thing that will make your business better, go and do it
During the pandemic, Swash got in contact with a different CEO every week – through LinkedIn, via a friend, or just at random “to share their dirty laundry”.
“Let’s just learn from people’s mistakes and what they’ve done to fix them,” she explains. “If we can all have those kinds of mentoring relationships with people from across different sectors and with different issues, surely we will all be better leaders as a result.”
And if business leaders have a duty to act as role models and influence what they can in their respective value chains – as Elaine Burchill, Chief Executive of Belfast-headquartered SHS Group, believes they do, such lessons become a virtuous circle.
To hear more from these business leaders, alongside political leaders, and discover how you can Seize the Moment, grab onto growth opportunities and learn from others, book your tickets for the Annual Conference here.