The inaugural Interserve Society Report, launched this week, provides a detailed and revealing snapshot of public attitudes towards big business. The Great Business Debate discussed some of its key findings with Interserve’s Chief Executive, Adrian Ringrose, in order to find out more....
Q: Why do you think public attitudes towards big business are important to understand?
AR: It seems to have become accepted wisdom that public trust in big business is at an all time low. Most business leaders would agree that there has been a shift in public attitudes in recent years – and not in a direction we’d like to see. Our survey, carried out by Ipsos Mori, has tried to delve much deeper to look at what is actually driving and shaping public attitudes, asking why these negative attitudes have taken root and what can be done to turn them around.
It looks in detail, for example, at our standing in local communities; the ethics and values we hold; our environmental impact and it ranks how important these factors are in defining opinions. If we can understand what people want to see from big business and what they value, then we stand a much better chance of engaging with the public and re-building trust in the work we do.
Q: What are the main findings of your survey?
AR: Many of the findings do not make for comfortable reading. The perception that big business does not do enough to promote skills and training opportunities is, given our role as major employers, a wake-up call in my view. Likewise, the belief that business is mainly focused on the bottom line as opposed to the quality of service it provides goes to the heart of our license to operate. What struck me most, however, was that more than 80% of respondents could not think of a single big business that contributes positively to their local community. This suggests that much of the good work we do goes unnoticed and we have a big challenge on our hands to communicate and engage better with the people we serve, employ and provide services for. There were positive findings with a recognition that the jobs, apprenticeships and opportunities we create are vital – foundations we can build on in future.
Q: What do you think is the most interesting result?
AR: Although I have already mentioned the startling stat that over 80% of respondents cannot name a positive contribution business makes to their community, the most interesting result for me was that two thirds of people thought that big businesses need to do more to communicate positive community contributions to the general public if they are to rebuild trust. This may seem obvious, but it gives us an important platform to build on. First, there is a public appetite to hear more about our contribution and second, it provides business with an achievable step to rebuilding trust.
Q: What will Interserve do on the back of this research?
AR: We launched our SustainAbilities programme exactly two years ago, which was all about valuing more than financial reward and return. This report has reinforced just how important it is that we communicate and live these values wherever we work, much more forcefully. If there is one practical thing we can do straight away, it is to ensure we are more open, more transparent and more engaged with the people we are serving and working with.
Q: What will you do as a business leader as a result of the research?
AR: I think that business leaders can put the issues that matter most to the public at the forefront of their organisations agenda. I’ll certainly be setting the tone in our business that communicating the job we do to the communities where we work is of the utmost importance. It’s something we know is important, but this survey shows just how big a challenge we have to rebuild that dialogue with the public. See the article on the Great Business Debate - What's the value of business to the UK?