Time to measure the trust factor

Total contribution reporting is an idea whose time has come, writes Karina Robinson

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Rumour has it that, over the generations, my family has postponed pregnancies and put weddings on hold to ensure our customary holiday at the Lorünser ski and spa hotel in the Alberg is not cancelled. Dating from 1927, this traditional guesthouse in the Austrian Alps has created such strong brand loyalty among its patrons that, unlike the snow, it doesn’t melt between seasons.

That allegiance is what companies must attempt to create, now, to attract and retain talent, amid boundary-blurring and changes in investment criteria. The war for talent in financial and professional services firms is exacerbated by the appeal of ‘tech’, both startups and established companies, which market their coolness and their social aspirations. Meanwhile, the demarcation lines between personal life and business life are blurring on the back of the digital revolution and flexible working. It is no longer acceptable to use the phrase, “Well, that’s business!” when referring to a morally dubious choice.

And investment decisions by Millennials, who stand to inherit substantial amounts from their Baby Boomer parents, are strongly linked to their values. Almost 80% of Millennials described themselves as impact investors seeking both financial and social impact returns, according to a study by Toniic, a global investing forum. The sample covered six continents. In fact, even youth who do not yet have the funds to invest, affect valuations. Witness their campaign against the ultra-powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US, which has led top investors to explore gun companies and purchase AR-15 magazines from some them, and ask questions about their business models.

What must all companies do? Be ahead of the curve. The tone is set from the top and, surprisingly for an era of mistrust, trust in the voices of chief executives has increased between 2017 and 2018, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. The chief executive’s most important task is to build trust, and they are expected to “take the lead on change rather than waiting for the government to impose it,” the report said.

The chief executive role is a great opportunity, which needs to be allied to specific measures. Get the younger generations of staff involved in policy changes, which will give them a sense of stakeholder ownership – rather like the Lorünser “belongs” just as much to my son as it does to me and my mother, and many, many years ago to my grandfather.

The Austrian hotel, like many of its kind, is a family business, a corporate version of the family. There is a reason the traditional family unit is one of the most successful creations ever. Its in-built diversity and inclusion – the toddler and the teenager look at the world differently – is a given in a family business but needs nurturing in the corporate world.

How do you report on matters like the chief executive’s increased focus on profit sustainability and a substantial growth in employee engagement and loyalty? A classic set of accounts does not reflect this. Nor does an environmental, social and governance (ESG) report. Instead, integrated reporting is the way forward.

One of the pioneers in total contribution reporting is The Crown Estate, a fascinating business which owns real-estate assets, like most of St James’s in central London, as well as managing the seabed around the UK. The reporting method consists of measuring the impact of six pillars: physical resources, natural resources, financial resources, people, network and know how, in order to see how the business is creating value for all stakeholders.

Not every company will manage to create the Lorünser experience. But those – like The Crown Estate – that choose to take the voyage will find it will brings them as close to it as possible. 

— Karina Robinson is chief executive of Robinson Hambro

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