THE BLOG

Why We Need a Culture Club

28/01/2015 12:05 GMT | Updated 28/03/2015 09:59 GMT

A chilly Friday morning in January it was, but there was one very warm spot in the Unilever basement of Blackfriars. Gathered there were a diverse but able group of luminaries from FTSE companies, government, investors, and other professional bodies - and they were all on about the same thing. We need a Culture Club. Now. Why? People matter and drive long term business success. On this we all agree. So why don't more top companies report on their people and culture using a simple and common set of metrics?

Valuing your Talent (VyT) does just that - it's an initiative calling for common, transparent measures on human capital reporting - or people metrics. Championed by CIPD, CIMA, UKCES, CMI and IIP, its report calls for common reporting on four key people metrics: the number of full-time employees, the investment in people, the 'churn' or turnover rate, and the employee engagement scores. The most important reason for frequent reporting on these measures, everyone agreed, was the ability to capture that most elusive but most important element of a company: its culture. Because that's the ultimate articulation of why and how people are valued in an organisation, and whether or not it will succeed overtime. As CIPD's CEO Peter Cheese said, "The cultures we build within (organisations) are all critical to measuring and driving business performance." In a word, it's all about the C word.

Doug Baillie, Unilever's Chief Human Resources Officer, credited it with Unilever's sustainable success. Through their purpose driven sustainable living plan they have turned selling soap into saving the world, and in doing so, created a culture that tops lists of where today's talent wants to work and delivered a steady stream of results that has seen them overtake many in their peer group.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, reminded us that culture is usually the expression of the two things proven to be the most important drivers of long-term growth - people and innovation. By championing greater development of skills and greater transparency in people reporting, we could foster much needed long-termism. VyT he ventured, could almost, but not quite, be a 'silver bullet' in boosting productivity.

Helena Morrissey, President of the Investors Association, CEO OF Newton Asset Management and Founder of the 30% Club, reminded us that investors don't take culture seriously enough - in part, because investors over recruit geeks and under recruit those with more human sensibilities. But, she too was firm that culture is vital for the sustainable success of business, and investors needed to care more about it, and make people reporting a routine company task. She also said that, as with diversity, those who 'get' culture 'get' the Zeitgeist and all its tricky tangential issues.

And finally, Stephen Haddrill, chair of the Financial Reporting Council, also said that companies needed a strong nudge to get- and set- the right culture and lamented that 'boards don't get the culture they want'- again, in part because they don't know how to. But surely common reporting on people would help. So would understanding what good culture was and how to get it.

That's a strong consensus then. We've reached the proverbial tipping point, and you could feel it this morning in the room. Yes, there were the typical caveats in that human capital needed to be more human, that quality as well as quantity mattered, and that talent was a loaded word. And we might not yet have the definitive list of metrics that matter, though apart from those advocated by VyT, I only heard diversity and employer brand mentioned in addition (and I agree). But, as I and others commented, the yaysayers far outweighed the naysayers - and hence the warm and fuzzy ambience on this cold January day. So what next then?

Given London is the centre of financial capital, it should really rule as the thought leader of human capital. So let's capitalise on a proven effective solution. One London invented. The 30% Club, also championed by the Business Secretary, achieved a breakthrough in progress with Women on Boards - taking the number to within spitting distance of the Lord Davies target of 25%. Why not adopt a similar approach for VyT?

We have a diverse, rounded and powerful set of allies all calling for the same thing. So let's do it. Let's found a Culture Club that rallies round on a challenging but achievable target - like getting over 50% of the FTSE 350 signed up to the VyT framework by 2020. And report and track progress, directing the media spotlight on those who shine and those who don't. Employers, investors and UK PLC will all benefit - and, perhaps best of all, so will their people!

A Culture Club. I'm in. Are you?