If we have learned anything from the last year it is that our standard, best practice methodologies for looking around the corner are no longer accurate. The experts we relied upon and the tools they use seem less relevant in 2017.
The Brexit vote in the UK and the presidential election in the U.S. are the most visible proof points of the general public demonstrating great mistrust in leadership and institutions – and it is not hard to imagine how that skepticism can be transferred to businesses.
How does an organization build a trusted reputation in this environment? How does it maneuver a world in which the expectations of stakeholders may be changing due to events outside the control of the organization?
1. Mind the Gap.
Know your values, and act on them. Make sure there is no gap between what you say and what you do. Demonstrate authenticity. Make sure that your operations are managed to align with your values, so what you say and what you do are linked. If you struggle with being seen in the way you’d like, consider whether your communications strategy is effectively reaching the people who are important to you.
2. Take the Long View.
Stakeholders now judge organizations on their approaches to governance and commitment to fairness and transparency. Those demands are likely to increase, and they take a long time to embed in a company’s culture. Remember, a commitment to transparency can mitigate reputation risk. If the market does not see you the way you’d like to be seen, transparency may be a tool to address concerns, and answer questions.
3. Sector, Know Thyself.
The reputation of an entire industry can be impacted by a single member. Consider the domino effect from the Volkswagen scandal. Call on your industry leadership to protect reputation with self-regulation. Audit the risks facing your sector and address them. Come together to develop a strategy and crisis management plan so when an incident arises you are prepared to manage it. And if you made a mistake, own it, fix it, and tell the public how you are committed to avoiding similar mistakes in the future.
4. Data Breach: When, Not If.
Anyone can be the victim of a data breach. Who is trying to get through your walls right now to steal information? Prepare now or suffer the consequences. Ask Yahoo!
Companies in every sector and geography are vulnerable. And it’s not just a problem for the IT department. To effectively prepare for and manage through a data breach bring together a cross-functional team that includes communications, marketing, public affairs, and compliance as well as the usual suspects – enterprise risk management, business continuity and information security. Bring in outside help if your staff is too lean to develop the plan, do practice drills, and keep it up-to-date. If you wait until it happens, it is too late. Management is judged by how it steers the organization through a crisis. Plan now.
5. Don’t Go It Alone
Effective reputation management requires the building of enterprisewide reputation competence. Bring together a team that knows the priority stakeholders and their expectations, and monitors when those expectations about the company and the sector change. Develop a stakeholder-centric reputation strategy that can be deployed throughout the organization to help with management decision-making at all levels.
Reputation risk should be embedded in your organizational decision-making. Organizations with a clear reputation strategy build trust with stakeholders that can be drawn on when an organization makes a mistake, or when stakeholders believe the organization did. It is far more expensive to re-build damaged trust than it is to build it as you build your business.
If you are concerned that your organization is not fully prepared to manage its reputation and mitigate reputation risk through the challenges of 2017, download our white paper on building trust and organizational resilience.