Three steps to rebuilding reputation

posted by Brian Shrowder

I had the pleasure last month of presenting to a national symposium of consulting engineers and other professional service firms. We had some terrific questions from the floor.

One question that has stuck with me is, “How do you rebuild reputation after a crisis?”

There are no shortcuts to brand and reputation recovery. Indeed, some studies indicate that it takes roughly four years for a company to fully repair a damaged reputation. I suggest there at least three essential steps to post-crisis reputation recovery:

1. Fix the problem, or at least take practical steps towards making sure there’s no repeat. JPMorgan Chase’s recent management reshuffle is a case in point: it is widely seen as creating more checks and balances to restore investors’ trust following the bank’s $6 billion trading losses.

2. Repair relationships with the people who are most important to your business – your customers, employees, investors and partners. If at fault, front up and apologise. If resolving an issue, tell them how – and how you will make things right.

3. Sustain results in the post-crisis environment. Politicians talk about getting ‘clear air’, when issues abate and positive messages can be heard. It’s the same for crisis recoverers: it needs a sustained period of good performance, an avoidance of any repeat crises and a demonstration that your company’s values are being adhered to.

None of this will be easy or quick. Four years is a long time to restore your reputation.

In fact, it’s the same time frame faced by any athlete who’s missed gold in London and wants to improve their ranking in Rio. For companies, too, rebuilding reputation is an Olympic-sized challenge.

Has your crisis already started?

posted by Brian Shrowder

There’s no shortage of schadenfreude these days as the world looks on at the Libor scandal engulfing Britain’s banks and the ongoing investigation into newspaper phone-hacking.

“How could they have let this happen?” is just one of the questions being asked of these companies by the British public.

No doubt we’ll all know more when the banking and Leveson inquiries hand down their findings. But there’s one aspect of these events that should give all CEOs pause for thought.

In both instances the seeds of today’s crises were sown years ago by employees’ actions which, we are told, were unknown to senior management.

Those events are now directly impacting reputation and shareholder confidence. The repercussions seem ever-widening.

Here’s my question: What if the beginning of a crisis has already occurred in your organisation and is smouldering away right now without your knowledge?

It’s a frightening prospect. And one worth planning for.

Having effective governance and early warning systems in place will help manage the risk of a ‘sleeping’ crisis. A culture of vigilance and a willingness to confront difficult issues early on can be the best preventative medicine.

As a first step, consider a clear-eyed audit of your risks and issues and a crisis plan to help you through the worst scenario.

It’s always better to uncover the bad news today before it makes tomorrow’s headlines.

The banana peel effect

posted by Brian Shrowder

One of Australia’s more successful political figures, former Queensland state premier Peter Beattie, was quoted recently talking about the pressures posed by the 24/7 news cycle on people in public life.

“They are constantly on beck and call, and frankly I don’t care how smart anyone is, one day you will make a mistake,” he said. And when that happens, the mistake is publicly repeated again and again. 

“Boo-hoo”, you might think. If you’re a politician, media scrutiny comes with the territory.

But hold on a moment.  If media interviews are that difficult for a seasoned professional how hard must it be for those other spokespeople – the CEOs, GMs and corporate affairs managers – who face the media infrequently, perhaps only when there is a difficult issue that’s stirred public interest?

It’s the banana peel effect. A trip or slip-up made in an unguarded moment will always be more newsworthy than the media release already in a journalist’s hands.  

Sometimes it’s the thrill of the ‘gotcha’, as happens when world leaders are (all too often) caught chatting near a ‘hot’ mike at a G7 summit.

While there’s no magic bullet for handling the media’s banana peel, there are ways to help avoid a misstep. Honesty and authenticity are a given, but there’s more to it than that.

For all the new rules of social media, there are some old rules that still apply: having a well-prepared message and a disciplined focus, and giving proper attention to your audiences’ real concerns are as important now in the age of digital communications as they have ever been.