Remember the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Emperor's New Clothes?
The Emperor is given a new 'suit' by two dishonest weavers, who tell him the clothes will be invisible to anyone who's stupid or unfit for their position. Of course the suit doesn't exist at all, and the Emperor ends up strutting around in his birthday suit - but no-one looking on is game to admit it because they don't want to look stupid. It takes the innocence of a child, who yells out "but he isn't wearing anything at all", to end the charade.
It might be just a story, but there are parallels with the way many organisations treat their reputation. It's common for issues to germinate, snowball and erupt into crises, simply because the organisation has an unspoken truth that isn't being dealt with.
I've seen a government agency brought to its knees because relatively small, niggling problems were left unresolved and allowed to fester until they reached huge proportions. A not-for-profit organisation came close to imploding because of the long-standing behaviour of a senior executive that was left unchallenged for years. A business became embroiled in a major scandal after years of neglecting its responsibiities for managing bullying and harassment.
None of these serious issues arose overnight. They each built up over time, and leaders and other key people in each organisation were just like the spectators watching the Emperor in his invisible clothes. They knew things weren't right, but for various reasons they preferred to pretend everything was OK.
I found an interesting article by Tom Northup, titled The Key Insight for Organisational Change. He says "transformation begins with awareness and cannot take place without insight." To even begin to build reputation capital in your organisation, you must exercise awareness and insight.
The Papua New Guinean word "mokita" means "the truth we all know but agree not to talk about." What is your organisation's "mokita"? What impact is it having on the way you operate, and what are the long-term risks if it isn't dealt with?
Have an honest look at what is really going on within your organisation's walls - and what's being said about you in the outside world. Armed with that knowledge, you can begin to address the issues that could build up to affect your reputation.
Don't let your organisation be exposed like the Emperor. View your current situation through the goggles of reality and authenticity, and have the courage to make necessary changes.