Antony Jenkins on "Digital Society"

Monday, January 09, 2017

18:00 - 21:00

We started 2017 with an evening with Antony Jenkins on “Digital Society”. Antony’s experience ranges from being CEO of Barclays – where he was nicknamed “Saint Antony” for his progressive agenda – to his current role as a fintech entrepreneur. He asked deep questions of where tech is taking us – is the end game dystopia or utopia?

We heard how transformative digital technologies are reshaping business and society, and how they fit with an increasingly populist, short-term business agenda. Whilst automating work and widening the skills gap, technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain offer extraordinary solutions to social and environmental issues.

Through a speech, a discussion with Axel Threlfall and audience Q&A, we covered questions such as;

  • Why has business lost the trust of society, and how can technology help and hinder this relationship?
  • How does a CEO deliver a purpose-led change management programme, and how long does it take?
  • What technologies offer the best prospects in business becoming a force for good in society?
  • What is the risk that some of the most powerful technologies are rejected by society?
  • What decisions do we need to take today which will determine whether we’re in a dystopian or a utopian pathway?

This was an evening for people in senior management roles, tech experts and those responsible for the relationship between their business and society.


Antony Jenkins 10x Future Technologies Ltd

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Axel Threlfall Reuters

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Round Tables

Climate crossroads

With the Paris Agreement ratified, greater investor interest and new tech solutions, 2017 could be a vintage year for carbon reduction. Standing against this is a sceptical US president, and companies cutting back on discretionary spend. How should carbon experts be looking to play 2017?  

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Over the past year there have been many events that could determine the level of progress towards carbon reduction goals in 2017 and beyond. These events include the ratification of the Paris agreement and the Financial Stability Board’s recommendations on climate-related financial disclosures. At a national level, 100 countries accounting for 58% of global GHGs are considering carbon pricing instruments including China, India and Brazil. China’s clean energy transition, initially prompted by a need to reduce urban air pollution and further fuelled by high value exports such as solar PV, energy storage technologies and Electric Vehicles is causing some other fossil-fuel dependent nations to re-evaluate their strategies. This, combined with the positive corporate momentum generated by initiatives such as Science Based Targets and RE100 and significant reductions in the cost of key technologies such as solar PV and energy storage, have resulted in a momentum of emerging political and corporate consensus on climate-change action.

Optimistic view from 2016 moving into 2017:
-Ratification of the Paris agreement following COP21 and the continued acceleration of the fossil fuel divestment campaign, now the fastest divestment trend in history.
-Technological advancements: China investing in electric vehicles (12% EV target by 2020), solar energy drop in price
-Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) encouraging for the future as they provide a common global framework for sustainability which corporate strategies can be aligned to.
-Tipping point achieved for key renewables - no longer an altruistic gesture, they can compete with fossil fuel generation as evidenced by accelerating take up of renewable energy PPAs by corporates. .
-Optimistic view on Trump – corporates and individuals react against negative political stance on climate change, accelerating the voluntary commitment to science based targets, adoption of low carbon technology, and behavioural change with consumers increasingly demanding products and services which contribute towards a more sustainable society.
-Good design makes low carbon products desirable e.g. Tesla accelerating more away from higher carbon alternatives.

Concerns from 2016 moving into 2017:
-Information overload, making it difficult for corporates and consumers to filter out what is most important in building confidence to act on carbon reduction.
-Climate change is already a reality with the current rate of global emissions growth still significantly above the trajectory required to limit temperature rise to 1.5degrees.
-Political and regulatory uncertainty, combined with a move away from globalisation towards nationalism in certain developed economies, means that cross-border decisions may be more difficult to achieve, particularly with respect to the UK’s future relationship with Europe.

What should be done to realise the opportunities and mitigate the risks?:
-Invest in eco-friendly/new technologies in emerging markets to drive economic growth without damaging the environment, leapfrogging the use of dirty technologies and avoiding wasting money on future stranded assets.
-Inconvenient truth - changing ones’ behaviour into a more sustainable one and accepting compromises on all the convenience we enjoy today.
-Educational initiatives, peer to peer talking and taking others along the journey where there is shared value, looking into consumers and stakeholders to increase the quality and consistency of knowledge on the realities of climate change and the economic potential of early action.
-Creating and investing in negative emissions technologies.
-Inspire others to act through the dissemination of strong examples of climate-related value creation

Communicating in the digital world

How is corporate communication changing in a digital world? Do we agree that PR is dying, and that values are more important? What of our new “fake news” era? Should companies be identifying social issues they care about, and take a campaign approach? Which companies are getting this right? 

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Do you agree that PR is dying?
Example: A company spends a lot of time planning a communication strategy and someone shows less than a savoury picture that then goes viral.
• That strategy is now viewed as reactive.
• Shows that there is nothing static anymore and you need to create scenario planning in case that something does happen and have your controls ready. It is relevant just in a different way.
• It is now about quick reactionary skills
• You should have scenarios planned; Traditional PR must train the whole business to be brand ambassadors and to be prepared from the bottom up.
• Must be built into the core business not just on a comms level.
• Marketing is less important than it ever was. It has transformed to managing public opinion rather than promoting it.
• Highlights the value in a purpose driven company. If your company has its values front and center, do you need to worry about PR? Not really because it is self-regulating.
• Don’t believe PR to be dying but mass communication is, you cannot target everyone, must be much more niche to be successful, which is aided by advances in technology i.e. big data
• A large part of PR is being a realist, you cannot wait for the inevitable worst case to occur, you need to “pre-crastinate”
• 5-10 years from now will mark a big change in the communication sector and there will be a lot more room for creativity
• The future of comms will be in realistic storytelling
o Example: Following your ice cream from specific cow to store on the blockchain

Brands that we admire are often the most transparent
• Patagonia is looked at with high esteem for its transparency while we are often sceptic of companies like Apple because of their secretive nature]
• Once you become transparent you are committed to behaving in that way and must live and breathe it as a company
• The bigger the company the harder it is because of extensive global markets and multi-level supply chains.
• Hard to change opinions of past transgressions, but not impossible
o Ex: H&M and Rana Plaza, was a horrible public profile following the incident but since have really made great strides and has garnered a much better consumer view.
What are some brands that “get it right”?
• Unilever
• Some members of the table don’t necessarily agrees, that they are the golden child. Heart is in the right place, but operationally has a long way to go.
Do you think Unilever’s values are imbedded or it’s the good work of the communications team?
• Becoming imbedded. It will not happen overnight because of the size of the company but are well on their way.
• They are doing some things well, especially pushing the agenda. This is also creating value driven competition amongst other large companies, which is a very good thing.
• Don’t believe that they are greenwashing
• Agree that it is in core business. The Lever brothers were very philanthropic and the company has a much strong heritage than most other FTSE 100 companies.

Digital energy

After years of stability, is energy management starting to be disrupted? Is the disruption a product of the broader digital revolution, or more industry specific trends such as decentralised energy? Have companies got the right skillsets for this change, and what is the risk of not being involved?  

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General thoughts on the current market
• No industry is untouched by the current disruption and radical changes are occurring for many
• Because of fixed costs and infrastructure in Energy you can only disrupt in certain ways - easier to disrupt in other industries
• Some companies seeing that disruption is a necessity and is not caused by a specific factor
• Regulation is a good tracker of change, but you can’t stop disruption

Small vs big business
• More often we see the new players driving the change, forcing larger corporations to change. Relating to Antony Jenkins’ point - are big businesses agile enough?
• Would a large energy company have been better buying a smaller, more agile business rather than creating a start-up within larger business? Opens a debate on what does disruption look like and does big business understand what disruption means?
• Drive is different (less institutionalised) in start-up vs big business
• Energy policy in UK is very centralised and it’s currently difficult to have decentralised small scale. Compared to Germany’s more localised energy production
• Even with embedded benefits, the cost of locally generated energy is becoming lower than larger scale
• Many have tried to disrupt from the supply side and failed because typically you need scale for this to work in retail
• Big and small business having to readdress approach to energy management - often Energy Management gets pushed down the agenda

Are businesses disrupting on price or through workforce skillsets?
Old world = transactional commodity focus.
Newer world = employee skill set focus
• Smart meter usage is increasing but we need stronger data
• Automated systems will become increasingly disruptive
• Market is becoming more dynamic, shifting to a more holistic perspective where we look at how we use our energy and our behaviour impacts
• Need to get away from price conversation and ensure the end consumer knows how to measure their impact
• Future market will be less about how much energy is consumed, and more about how consumers use energy. E.g. Google paid more for Nest due to the value of the data it can collect. Data value is higher than the actual energy you consume

CHALLENGE: The amount of data to manage. Must shift responsibility for checking data down the organisation so everyone is responsible.
E.g. Top 20 stores educate bottom 20 stores

Do businesses nurture conversation enough?
• Communication is difficult and some don’t want to collaborate intentionally
• Communicating within your own organisation is sometimes more difficult than between organisations
• Digital platforms are increasingly used to communicate and collaborate
• So much involved in energy – that’s where collaboration comes into play
• Must learn from each other to improve skill sets
• Emerging business that create collaboration platforms aid big business
• More automation is needed

WATER: Big changes happening.
• Opening up to competition in same way as electricity market
• Con: Get locked into one solution
• Pros: Better for environment and consumer, and is more cost effective

CHARITY: Collaboration is happening but sometimes disconnected with HQ.
• Slow progression in some areas, but also some very agile and forward thinking parts of the company.
• Behaviour change is difficult and setting energy targets is complicated
• Organisation driven by reducing cost rather than carbon reduction.

SUPERMARKETS AND BANKS: Collaborating is widespread

Big vs small: Walmart built a business outside of main company and brought it back into business. Temporarily successful but made same mistakes, implying it’s hard to innovate if you’re within the same business.

Disruption Price vs skillsets: British Gas is driving metering market . They
recognised that differentiation needs to be driven by how we interact with our environment. This is an example where trend is impacting energy and how much we use.

Collaboration: Asda recognised they didn’t have internal skillset to truly manage projects. Employed services of a company who created collaboration platform. They could have employed new workforce to manage their approach, but didn’t. chose to collaborate instead.

Digital sustainability

What digital solutions offer the best prospects for tackling social and environmental issues? From social media to data platforms to the Internet of Things to the blockchain to Artificial Intelligence. Are sustainability executives leveraging the full potential of these technologies?

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What digital solutions offer the best prospects for tackling social and environmental issues?
• Digital technology and social media can massively increase the reach and ability of companies to engage, share and collect information from stakeholders on sustainability issues. However this engagement still needs to be kept simple and local, as most sustainability issues of concern to stakeholders are local issues for them.
• Engaging credibly with stakeholders through digital technology and social media still requires a basis of trust and the ability to speak in the same language / terms as stakeholders.
• Digital technologies have enabled many companies to engage with stakeholders in their supply chain at scale, and allowed companies to horizon scan and identify sustainability issues and the future needs of suppliers and consumers in ways that they were previously unable to do.
• Some companies are investing in directly providing hardware and software for their critical suppliers, in order to engage, monitor and assess supplier’s performance and products.
• Blockchains and other digital solutions can play a real part in providing traceability over previously difficult to monitor supply chains. This is particularly important given increasing stakeholder concern and scandals in food supply chains – such as the horse-meat scandal.
• For some organisations, negative exposure through social media campaigns can push sustainability up the agenda of management teams, and in effect, significantly support the internal efforts of sustainability teams in trying to address particular sustainability issues within a company.
• Often simple technological solutions get overlooked in order to achieve the next big thing. For example, simple energy metering and monitoring systems can save companies over 20 per cent in energy costs. Yet these savings are often not fully realised, as whilst the data is usually there, the right people may not have full visibility over the data or aren’t able to use it to make the decisions.

What conditions are required for sustainability executives to leverage the full potential of these technologies?
• Teams should be empowered to explore and pilot new technologies, which is a vital stage to then communicating the benefits and getting wider support for their deployment across the business.
• Sustainability teams must also ensure that they communicate the value of the new technologies to the eventual end users, both in terms of sustainability benefits and benefits to them, customers, and their team’s objectives. Without first understanding this, staff may obstruct the implementation of new digital technologies, fearing that it will make their roles obsolete, or add new burdens.
• Generating buy-in amongst the users of the digital technologies is crucial - it is imperative that they are brought along on the journey and believe in the technology’s value. Otherwise they won’t use it and it will fail.
• Having patience with older, more senior executives and teams is important, as they are often more sceptical or feel threatened by new technological solutions and take longer to embrace new ways of working.
• Recognised that the technologies themselves will often not get a company very far in terms of improving sustainability performance. It is changing the behaviours of the staff – an output of which is helping them use the new technologies – which is where companies will experience real results in terms of improved sustainability awareness and performance.

Going local, going digital

Should we expect an increased focus on how business can invest in local communities in 2017? How can business measure the return on investment, and what are the most effective means, from supporting local causes to volunteering? How can digital help?

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Starter questions:
• Should we expect an increased focus on how business can invest in local communities in 2017?
• How can business measure the return on investment, and what are the most effective means, from supporting local causes to volunteering? How can digital help?

General points and observations
• The advent of digital means that communities have more platforms to tell their stories
• Where is the healthy community? The high street is dying and mainly about consumerism – but if there’s no high street what is the community.
• If there is an unstoppable momentum about being economically efficient that that’s dystopian
• There’s still a gap between purposeful business and customers in a community
• What is missing is a community saying we have an issue you can plug this” Customers might be thinking its great you’re saving the rainforest but what about my community here
• Need to define what’s a definition of a community – there are many – where you production is, where you employ most people, your supply chain etc. These are all communities they companies are in.
• We need better community understanding as we are seeing the worrying consequences – i.e. missing basic cues and clues around the world is going – Brexit & rise of Trump

• Marrying the physical and digital –
• Building vs. integrating into a community e.g. Cadbury’s in Birmingham
• Having to have strategic alignment with global goals
• Presenteeiism – sometimes people in the community aren’t in the moment they are not taking in the problems, so harder to engage
• Armchair volunteers – need real people engaging in the real world as well
• Engagement – people are more interested in brand promotions than hearing about community work
• Hard to make it stand out amongst other messaging
• Deciding which community is best to focus on – the word community is very nebulous.

Red Flags (warnings)
• Danger of becoming insular
• Extreme version Charlie brokers black mirror where people are just focused on the digital story
• Online and real world integration – results in safety issues e.g. Pokemon go and trespassing etc.
• Switching people off by inauthentic messages

• Combine the two - technology should never get in the way e.g. food surplus supermarket initiatives: where can I get it, where could it go to. Digital acts as an instant connection not something getting in the way
• Gamifying it and reducing the barriers around participation
• Make it peer based – actions not words inspire and motivate others to get involved
• Needs to be local and at scale – making digital work for the local storytelling
• Engage people with a brand – then people will car what your brand say - not just buying a product you like but from a company you like

Good Examples
• BITC – notion of healthy high streets from healthy backstreets
• Pokemon Go –Gamified, created a digital ice breaker – benefits for health exercise and those with social anxiety make connection the real world
• Rockcorps-free music event after volunteering for a day – but catering to individual tastes so it appeals to everyone

Bad Examples
• Nike plus running – everyone running at the same time around the world but rather than be with people who are actually in your area because you are plugged into your phone – creates distance not closeness

No ones cracked it yet -
• RSPB – engagement with nature – fundamental challenge is that people not even notice birdsong or thing missing because they are so engrossed in their phones/tech

Tech meets nature

Whilst technological advancement has devastated natural capital, is it now our best chance at finding a harmony? What technologies should we be tracking and using, from platforms that provide data to reporting platforms to ESG quant funds? What could change the game for natural capital in 2017?

The gig economy

Tech platforms that underpin the gig economy are a threat and an opportunity for big business. Also, the rise of the gig economy doesn’t benefit all equally. How should companies balance the desire for a more liquid workforce with providing an appropriate employee protection?

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The gig economy has emerged as new technologies, internet of things and apps-driven businesses are enabling workers to get paid for the “gigs” they do such as a food deliver or a taxi journey instead of salaried employment on the company books.

A major benefit to companies is that they are no longer restricted to the talent pool within their geography. They can outsource tasks and projects, often to people anywhere in the world. They can acquire the very best talent available worldwide on open talent networks and build highly skilled dispersed teams that work across time zones. They can reduce their costs, take advantage of cheaper labour and shift the burden of taxation and risk of social safety net onto the freelancer, contractor, service provider, etc.

The gig citizen (participant in the gig economy) chooses to build career opportunities and develop skill sets of their own free will, mixing and matching employment with contractual/freelance arrangements. The benefits are flexibility, scope and opportunity to build a collection of experiences and parallel career. The gig economy lowers barriers to entry to certain careers and sectors and enables people to access jobs and skill development opportunities previously out of reach. A diverse portfolio of professional and industry experience as well as numerous skill sets make one’s work life less susceptible to market and economic forces. The gig economy has also enabled socially and economically excluded communities in the world to get greater access to work and career opportunities and channelled to them income streams and raised standards of living that would not have been accessible without tech platforms and gigs.

The drawbacks of “gigs” include the loss of employee benefits, stripping workers of rights that have been built for years, For companies gigs citizen may be cheaper on a project by project basis but workers have less sense of belonging or engagement, teams suffer from lack of continuity of members and individuals lose out on training and career development. At present, the burden of balancing the inequalities of a gig economy lies with the gig citizen who needs to secure a rate of pay to cover the cost of social benefits, training and development sickness pay and other risks. Governments will sooner rather than later need to develop policies, regulations and legal frameworks to address the needs of the gig economy. For now, the trend is to turn all contractors into employees ensuring they qualify for employee rights and pay their tax and National Insurance at source. As the gig economy is a middle of the way world, one approach to greater protection could see the minimum wage transformed into an equitable wage for all.

The sustainability skillset

Do you agree that 2017 will test sustainability skills sets more than previous years? Is there an increasing divide in the skill sets that employers are looking for and those that the next generation are offering and think we need? What are the helpful ones – digital, business case analysis, technical knowledge, tenacity, empathy, persuasion, innovation?

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Previous trends and current themes
• Although there has been a trend for integrating sustainability into a number of different roles in businesses, there is still a tendency for Sustainability Teams to work in silos. Often a Sustainability Manager will struggle to engage with employees and stakeholders.
• Increasingly, sustainability is permeating into new roles and the approach of sustainability teams working in silos is changing to towards sustainability being incorporated into other roles.
• In many organisations, internal discussions still aren’t happening between sustainability teams and communications teams, which means that progress isn’t being communicated internally and externally and companies are missing out on the brand and employee engagement benefits of this.
• Gaps in sustainability skills currently tend to be at Senior Executive level.
• There is a trend towards transparency in supply chains and a need for external support to find solutions fit for purpose and oversee implementation.
Skill sets the next generation are bringing to the industry
• Generally, graduates are offering the right skills as sustainability is well embedded into education now.
• Increasingly, grads want to find purpose in a job, so are bringing the right attitudes and soft skills such as tenacity.
• However there was some discussion around whether the new generation are coming out of education with the right critical thinking and resilience skills.
• Support from government is key to students taking up STEM subjects and following a career in technology. This is not currently effective – for example if all chemistry students graduating this year became Chemistry Teachers, we would only just fill the current gap. Most students aren’t aware of what a green career is and career advisers generally don’t seem to be promoting careers in sustainability. However it’s encouraging that that climate change is coming back into the curriculum.
• The government are creating increasing uncertainty in apprenticeships and education due to change in direction and policy (e.g. pulling the Green Deal). Currently education is not reactive enough to respond to employment needs. Support for agencies to teach sustainability skills is being withdrawn and there is a shift towards some schools/ colleges needing to part fund apprenticeships.
What sustainability skills will be needed in 2017?
• Communications skills are becoming increasingly important. There are an increasing number of sustainability marketing roles being recruited for and Sustainability Managers are expected to communicate achievements effectively.
• Technologies are outstripping the knowledge and skills of employees in many areas, so there is an increasing need for technical knowledge and skills. However if all the emphasis is on adapting to a digital economy, there is a danger of losing soft skills in the next generation. We still need the human element to interpret and communicate data effectively.
• There seems to be a gap in good data analysts and data scientists. However employees with technical skills need a good base of soft skills too in order to communicate effectively.
• In terms of recruitment, there is a huge difference between companies who now have sustainability in their ‘DNA’ and those who are just starting on their journey, so they recruit for different skill sets.
Specific skills needed in 2017 and beyond: creating effective business cases and ability to adapt language and approach to different stakeholders, innovation, skills to ask the right probing questions, effective engagement & behaviour change skills, entrepreneurial skills are important (being an ‘intrepreneur’ in a large company is key to an effective strategy and moving away from a risk adverse culture), influencing skills are key for stakeholder engagement, knowledge of CSR strategy, demand for soft skills is increasing, change management, a comfort with uncertainty and tenacity to overcome barriers.

Although there was agreement that sustainability will need more technology skills in 2017, demand for soft skills such as innovation, influencing, tenacity and adaptability is increasing and there is a need for tech skills in combination with soft skills.

Transparent supply chains

Does digital technology offer a game-changing solution for better value chains, from transparency to knowledge sharing? Is the level of supply chain disclosure we’re seeing at manufacturers such as G-STAR and Patagonia going to be the norm in the future, and what other breakthroughs are you seeing?  

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1. What can drive the transparency of supply chains?
• Currently transparency is driven by what the company wants to be transparent about. Difficult to manage supply chains when company only interested in what is relevant to them – external forces are required to change this!
• Consumers: Becoming more enlightened and can drive to some extent – some consumers have strong beliefs which affect purchasing decisions, but still massive gaps when it comes to the majority.
• Consumers don’t rely on brands as much as they used to, so need to rely on trust marks instead, for example Fairtrade etc.
• Longer term relationships needed with suppliers can forecast for scale and work transparency into processes - needs to be longer term to get value from supply chain rather than short term contracts for best price
• Legislation and compliance: required in order to enforce transparency. It can then also create a race to the top amongst competitors
• Require verification or challenging what companies report about supply chain management.
• Technology is often only an enabler. For example, pending the EU and US modern slavery legislation that driving the change, it is the power of the Internet and the digital upskilling of people on the ground and having them share opinions that will see real change. ‘Fairtrade Gold’ example – someone is easily able to go online to check the price of gold
• Technologies like digital DNA and tracing - start from a disingenuous position to prove it is what it is, rather than use it as a basis of trust. This kind of pressure that businesses may get caught out through digital will encourage honesty
• Blockchain can be used for self-regulation. Challenge with Blockchain is its linkage to physical product – i.e. diamonds vs fruit. Its application is more difficult in some industries compared to others. It is only ever as reliable as the data provided, so still a long way away from global supply chain application in terms of being able to identify from consumer to producer

2. Transparency in supply chain is relatively good as a baseline today within large businesses, but can digital technology improve efficiency of gaining access to data, and is complete transparency a reality?
• As supply chains become more transparent, it becomes more complex
• Currently companies not enforced to do too much, and not held accountable for tiers too far down the line. Often times they prefer to not know what happening in tiers 5 and 6 so cannot be held liable. They often claim to do certain things, that not done in reality.
• Hard to work out whether or not some businesses taking supply chain management seriously or not, and secondly whether actually managing the risks that are being identified
• Entering into world where radical transparency is required – no longer sufficient to just report, but information about the supply chain and how it happens is important. For example: mapping commodity trader efforts – third party analysts to collate data and develop industry reports in addition to company reports

• Moving from a phase of GRI reporting to Blockchain or remote sensing enabled collection of data – leap frog from individual businesses reporting on CR activities to a third party (with a well-designed governance structure) collecting, testing and analysing data from a wide range of organisations so can then benchmark across an entire industry. Businesses can then pledge commitments, and can then be held to account. This will also encourage businesses to ensure that data being provided is correct
• Data however is not always sufficient, context is important as well – so need a way to identify this.
• As key issues change from day to day, give consumers the ability to scan a product to determine necessary footprint data. With ability to mine big data, can throw up whole range of attributes not from company but externally, and then need to democratize the information available. Need to make it easy to for consumers make a moral decision when information in front of them. A challenge with this model is that people are not necessarily information hungry when actually buying, so need to catch them in the purchasing decision periods beforehand
• Could result in an information overload, but issue comes down to consumers understanding of what it all means - certain silos of information can be usefully boiled down into social movements around key issues can become conscious level in minds of consumers and therefore becomes a consideration in purchasing decision – this will force business to raise the bar in their supply chains – this can be driven by NGOs and media to help make sense of it all-
• Or make data easier to understand – for example, filter products in shops with a sustainability rating scale
• A common standard is needed – Trustmarks have long term standings behind them, and things like modern slavery legislation puts obligations on retailers, but still lacking a place for consumers to go to see what is acceptable practice

⇒ Important to understand implications of a truly transparent supply chain – if it is indeed a good thing, the pace of supply chains need to be able to cope with adaption of change.

Values vs populism

Cynicism towards ‘elites’ – including big business - is on the rise. Is there an opportunity for business and leaders to stand-up for key values? In doing so, can they use their place at the forefront of digital technologies and AI to connect with society better, especially the upcoming generation of digital natives?

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OBSTACLES – What is stopping a value driven future for business/elites?

Values vs. Profit – A business perspective is blind to values and the business case backs up replacing employees with technology.
Disruptive technologies have a tendency to be fist available to those who can afford it or those who understand it. For example, cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin – those who understand it are the first to take advantage of it and it has a capability to disrupt the current financial system, ruled by an ‘intellectual elite’.

RED FLAGS/OBSTACLES – what opposition might there be from those affected by change?

One might argue that in automating particular jobs, we are taking away the manual component and leaving the human analytical, creative element which can be seen as a positive. However, in reality the business case is that we want to cut costs and reap the greatest financial reward, forgoing any business values whilst doing so.

A topical example of this is the rail unions striking over a proposed move towards an automated tube service. This would result in drastically cutting staff numbers as their roles become redundant. The unions argue that this would make the tube unsafe but the reality is the job can be done automatically without paying a salary to the programming that operates the system. Again, cutting costs in a win for big business however there is no moral or ethical victory as people are left jobless and feeling disconnected, ready to be swept into the arms of a populist/anti-establishment movement.

Problem: No alternatives being offered.

There are cases where efficient tech solutions aren’t necessarily preferred e.g. One particular food delivery service are investing more in drivers because people enjoy the personal relationship that you develop with your regular driver. If we move toward driverless vehicles, there is the potential to lose this relationship.

OPPORTUNITIES/EXAMPLES of ways to repair the discord between the ‘little guy’ and the ‘elite’?
Upskilling – job needs aren’t necessarily reducing, just changing and so investment needs to be made in helping people to transition to the emerging job market.

Business decisions need to be made using a long-term value-driven framework, rather than a short-term profit framework. This can been supported by incorporating values into corporate KPI’s. For example, performance review (and so promotion or bonus) is based on, not just ‘What’ you do (number of sales/profit), but ‘How’ you do it (respect/integrity/service).

A business that is owned by members and doesn’t have shareholders ensures that decisions are framed in the ‘people’s’ best interests. In an increasingly digitised world, investments become values driven rather than purely business driven as a result of the membership structure of the organisation which re-enforces values and increased trust in business.

There is a need for smart collective decision making in government and institutions that focuses on the needs of the population and keeps up with the pace of technological change. Institutions that build fences and walls to protect the way they have always done things are far less likely to succeed in the changing landscape, as opposed to those who innovate and change.

Venue Detail

Bank of America Merrill Lynch: King Edward Hall

King Edward Hall | 2 King Edward Street | London | EC1A 1HQ


Bank of America's offices are a very short walk from St Paul's tube station (Central Line). Exit the station at Cheapside/Newgate Street. Go past the BT centre, with it on your right-hand side and take the first available right down Edward Street. Continue down this road for 80m and the entrance to the venue is on your left-hand side.

Do not go to the main reception desk at their offices when you arrive. You are looking for an entrance that leads you directly into the King Edward Hall.
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