What's New

19 Aug 2018


Almost every week in business and other types of organisation, we’re witnessing reputations that are suddenly hanging in the balance.

Think of organisations that have previously been revered over the years. Like Oxfam. Like facebook. Like VW. Even like Australian Cricket.

All these organisations and entities have been or are currently in the process of managing damage limitation.

You can almost guarantee that their leaders immediately reached for that section in their PR agency’s documents covering ‘Crisis or Reputation Management’. But this will only tend to cover external affairs.

Internally there’s a particular way that their previously positive reputation has been built up.

That’s through their people…

We all aspire to working within organisations that others admire – whether it’s admiration from family, friends or others in the bar or pub. Some employees describe this as having legitimate ‘boasting rights’.

Research data from Nader Tavassoli of London Business School also highlights the business benefits of having a strongly positive reputation. It can attract top talent without having to pay them over the odds*.

But what if employees are suddenly made to feel ashamed of the organisation they represent?

Our experience of witnessing such a demise is that reputational damage often results in even more detrimental behavioural issues internally than it does externally through customer reactions. Recurring examples of these internal issues are absenteeism, lower engagement and productivity levels, higher turnover and fewer job offers converted.

After all most employees work for just one brand and are identified with it more strongly than customers are with any of the hundreds of brands they buy.

In their haste to repair reputations externally, when the media spotlight is on them, leaders must therefore also focus on their employees.

Here are five suggestions for those leaders:

  1. Publicly stand up for your people—to protect their standing amongst friends and family—as most of them will have been entirely unconnected and unaware of what caused the crisis. The worst thing leaders can do is to go on a public “witch hunt” that makes everyone look like a potential culprit.
  2. Equip your people, as informal spokespeople, with honest answers they can provide to those who will question the integrity of their employer or colleagues. Media training is not just for the CEO.
  3. Immediately reassure your people that the issues which have caused the house to tumble or wobble are being dealt with quickly and Apart from rogue individuals, this often involves soul searching as to what structural and/or cultural elements might have contributed to the crisis.
  4. Strong brands with a long history will have invariably overcome ups and downs in the past. Your people need to be given past examples of these scenarios, with a goal to concentrate on the purpose and values that allowed the organisation to thrive in the first place.
  5. Engage your people to proactively and collectively help repair the damage. This can involve a formal change process, involving top-down attention and bottom-up activation.

Whatever happens, once a reputation is damaged, order within the house needs to be rapidly restored.