Time to flip your thinking and build reputation capital

I've spent a lot of my career helping businesses and organisations in the middle of nasty, negative issues. Some of them are battling fully-fledged crises and all the adverse media coverage that attracts.

There are countless text books on issues and crisis management, and plenty of experts who can help your organisation communicate during a negative episode. I’m not downplaying the need for that; in fact it’s critical those situations are managed well so you can get your organisation back on track as soon as possible. However, it's reacting after the event. You're already in the middle of a bad situation and you're in the blinding glare of damage control, trying to find a way out. I'm sure you'll agree that's not a great place to be!

What I see less often is an organisation taking action before a negative issue strikes; action that will help shrink that issue or fix it all together. We're all so busy fighting the fires that we forget to take preventative action that will protect us against those fires in the first place.

And even more rare is the business leader or senior manager that gets that we're operating in the Reputation Economy. People are now more likely to base their opinion of your business or organisation on what they've heard or read (including anything consumed on social media), rather than on what you actually deliver.

As we all know, every second of the day, people's opinions on any subject are being whisked around the globe in a heartbeat. To be savvy in the Reputation Economy, you can't afford to be overtaken by negative issues or crises. You never could afford it, but now the consequences are so much greater. But you need to do much more than basic risk planning and PR. You must build reputation capital.

Building reputation capital is a blending of many tried and true management practices – all of them valuable on their own but lacking the oomph of an integrated approach. Ifcommunication, quality management, corporate social responsibility, risk management, sales/marketing and customer service could visit a laboratory and contribute part of their genetic structure to a new being, it would emerge as Reputation Capital.

Having a great business or organisational reputation isn't a nice-to-have. It's essential if you’re going to not only survive but thrive in today's Reputation Economy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a large or small business environment, the government sector, or you’re a not-for-profit. The principle is the same.

This is more than just keeping your head above water. If you’re in the business world, there's plenty of research to show that reputation now has a direct link to the health of your bottom line. The Reputation Institute says “measuring and managing corporate reputation has become the key driver of business value.” For government at all levels, a robust reputation counts for everything when the financial boffins are sharpening their knives at budget time. It saves bucket loads of time, stress and energy in managing political issues, public complaints and general angst. Not-for-profits already know that reputation is lifeblood, critical to financial and social survival.

If your organisation operates like many do - lurching from one problem or negative situation to another, despite best efforts - it's time to switch the approach. Now is the moment to flip your thinking from fighting fires to building reputation capital.