In today’s social media world, reputation is more precious than diamonds. If anyone wants to know about you or your organisation, they can track you with a reasonable degree of accuracy.
While you can’t control what people think or say about you or your business, you can contribute to your own reputation by making sure your internal house is in order. For example, do your values, words and actions all line up?
Demonstrating consistency is essential to earn trust, and that’s a fundamental building block for a healthy reputation.
Understanding your external environment is also critical for building sound reputation capital. That might sound straightforward, but many people and businesses overlook this and end up blindsided by negative issues.
Lets look at a couple of examples.
Be aware of what’s going on inside your business
Recently, I was speaking with a high-level business advisor who is often called in to help struggling organisations. He told me about a large utility company whose board couldn’t work out why the place was bleeding money when they should have been making a healthy profit.
He didn’t need to be Einstein to quickly identify that two senior managers were having an affair. The pair would disappear for several hours each day – which was bad enough – but they were also syphoning money off to fund a luxury apartment for their dalliances.
He also discovered that an enterprising employee had built a false wall inside one of the organisation’s technical departments. Anyone visiting that section would have walked past without noticing that something was amiss, but one of the rooms in fact extended beyond the false wall. Everyone was shocked to learn what lay behind it.
The employee had turned part of the building into a drug laboratory. This semi-government utility was, in fact, facilitating a drug dealership that was supplying the local community. The story went even further. Once the drug lab was shut down, the employee who instigated it was seriously assaulted by some of his customers who weren’t impressed at having their supply cut off.
This is an extraordinary story with a serious message. Many organisations don’t actually know what’s going on right under their nose. They behave like ostriches with their head in the sand. I see this myself when I’m called in to manage issues and crises. Make no mistake; building a great reputation involves taking an honest look at what’s going on within your walls and addressing it, warts and all. This applies to businesses and organisations of any size.
We should never underestimate the potential for people to do things we would never dream of doing. It’s easy to assume everyone behaves the way we were brought up, but unfortunately that’s not realistic. An outsider coming in to the utility organisation could easily identify where the issues lay, yet leaders on the inside had tried and failed to put their finger on the problems.
So, take a good look around. Ask the right questions and you’ll be able to uncover potential problems before they turn into disasters.
Remove the blinkers in your external environment
I once did some work with a local council that had a huge project happening in their region – the construction of a major bridge that was being funded by their state government.
The bridge was built in a spectacular location and when it was finished there was a lot of publicity and community interest. Visitors to the area were keen to take photos, while others wanted to walk or cycle across the structure. Commercial car manufacturers wanted to film television commercials on it. However, there were no parking areas at either end of the bridge. Overnight, a relatively quiet regional area became the home of traffic jams, cars blocking roadways and angry local residents. Just as quickly, the whole thing became a PR nightmare for the council.
Their response was, “it’s not our fault. We didn’t build the bridge, we didn’t ask for the bridge, we didn’t fund the bridge, it was simply built in our geographical area.” All valid points, but none of them diminished the problem. Planning for the bridge had taken years, and it was hardly a secret. Rather than being proactive and planning for facilities that would be needed in association with the bridge, this organisation took a blinkered approach and then had to deal with the consequences.
Sadly, this type of situation is common. Even though it’s obvious something in our external environment is going to affect us, we wear our blinkers and fail to recognise the likely impacts. The fall-out is usually so much worse than if we’d identified the potential issue and taken action.
Often, we jump into branding and storytelling mode without having a good look around our organisation. Remember, the first step to building reputation capital is awareness. Be proactive in heading off problems before the headache takes hold.
Check out what's happening inside and outside your organisation. You might be amazed at what you discover.