Responsible business has been steadily climbing up the agenda, driven by growing investor and regulatory interest in ESG issues, and an organisational focus on values and purpose. Work should be a force for good, and the CIPD calls for businesses to consider the needs of multiple stakeholders – beyond shareholders – and ensure employees benefit from the value created by organisations.

This three-year research project tells the story of responsible business and trustworthy leadership through the peak and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of UK senior leader experience. From the candid reflections of over 150 CEOs, HR directors and leaders across FTSE 100 firms, public sector bodies and high street brands, we offer a unique insight into leading an organisation during crisis. We identify key learnings that leaders should consider in their practice to build responsible businesses and embed cultures of trust, and explore the changing role of the HR profession.

The third and final report in the series reflects on the lessons learned from COVID-19, including practical applications for leadership and HR practice, and the responsibilities of leaders and followers as we enter a period perhaps more complex and challenging than the pandemic itself.

Download the 2022 report and executive summary:

The second report, written in 2021, focuses on maintaining and rebuilding trust during turbulent times, as the longer-term impact of the pandemic becomes clearer.

The first report and executive summary, written in 2020, offers an ‘oral history’ of leading through a once-in-a-generation pandemic, the decisions and trade-offs leaders made, and the personal experience and toll of leading through crisis.

Key learnings

These reports offer practical applications for leaders as we navigate through the challenges and opportunities created by the pandemic:

  • Rethink talent streams, leadership development and your own leadership practice: New ways of leading are essential to success, and leaders should maintain the humane and personal leadership that emerged during COVID-19.

  • Understand the importance of work as a community, not just a workspace or a series of tasks: Invest in building cultures of trust and recognise that many in the workforce may require sustained and focused ‘re-engagement’ after prolonged social isolation. Be alert to tensions inherent between individual needs or demands and the collective good of the organisation and community.

  • Remain purpose- and principles-led through continued uncertainty: The pandemic has strengthened purpose for many and it is purpose that will allow organisations to thrive in a post-COVID-19 economy.  

  • Engage in a deep understanding of your ecosystem and orientate yourself externally: Leaders need to understand the needs of multiple stakeholders (whether or not they are able to meet all those needs is another matter). HR leaders must also look upwards and outwards, engaging with a broader range of stakeholders beyond the boundaries of the organisation. 

  • Be active in addressing inequalities and champion social justice within the workplace as issues for all to own: To avoid the emergence of a two-tier workforce, leaders must acknowledge divisions and tensions between parts of the workforce and address imbalances. 

Professor Veronica Hope Hailey

Veronica Hope Hailey is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and Emeritus Professor at the School of Management, University of Bath, where she was also Dean and University Vice President for seven years until 2020. Veronica is now mainly known for her research on trust and trustworthy leadership. For the last 30 years, Veronica has worked all over the world to deliver leadership development at the most senior levels in the private, public and third sectors.

Katie Jacobs

Katie Jacobs is Senior Stakeholder Lead at the CIPD, where she runs the CIPD’s HR leader network for HRDs/CPOs. She is also a business journalist and writer specialising in business, workplace/HR and management/leadership issues.

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