10 things we learnt about reputation and renown – the keys to business reinvention

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1. Nowhere to hide

Social media, 24 hour news and a population sensitised by so many institutional scandals makes it impossible to bury bad news. It’s best to get it out and get on the front foot with the media, as well as your people. If you wait, rather than owning the story, you’re at risk of the story owning you.

2. Product is the backbone of reputation

When a business suffers a crisis, the strength of the product can sway people’s reactions. A strong product gives you a well of trust - people are likely to think ‘shit happens’ and see the misfortune for what it is. With a weak product however, people are more likely to judge you harshly, take longer to trust you again and are unlikely to give you any leeway next time.

3. When it comes to reputation – there is no internal vs external

Reputation leaks from the inside to the outside world, in hundreds of actions and gestures every day by your employees. Equally, it leaks back the other way – the media’s voice is far more powerful in swaying the opinions of your people than that of your internal comms. If you can utilise the media to speak to your own people, it can be a real force for good. External reputation and internal pride go hand in hand.

4. The power of ‘I don’t know’

Being a senior leader comes with certain pressures; people look to you for direction and confidence. There’s an expectation to have all the answers and saying ‘I don’t know’ can be particularly hard the first time you try. But it’s a muscle like any other, flex it, keep it in shape and it becomes less intimidating. Moreover, you’ll receive respect for your honesty and avoid the risk of being caught out.

5. Adult-to-adult

The era of paternalistic leaders that protect their people from the bad stuff is over. Employees talk, they know what’s going on and have hunches about what might be changing. Being over-protective of your employees at best infantilises them and at worst destroys trust. It is no way to get the discretionary effort you need from your people when you need to reinvent your business.

6. Reputation ignition

Many assume that reputations are destroyed in an instant and take years to re-build. However,
inside big businesses, it is possible for leaders to create a new wave of belief. The trick? Tell the truth. Leaders speaking the harsh truth about the issues, challenges or mistakes facing their business is rare. But the shock when they do can create a wave of belief, as people recognise a genuine and authentic leader. If you can follow that wave of belief, with visible action in a short enough time period, then reputation begins to shift rapidly.

7. Scrap the script

When reputation is at stake, businesses too often resort to scripting leaders. After all, no-one dares a communication error making a bad situation worse. People can smell a script from a mile off. Instead, you need to get crystal clear on your brief and have the arguments and discussions yourself, so you know the ins and outs, then speak the truth with skill and awareness.

8. Powered by purpose

Whilst purpose is not a magic bullet, and there is pride in just showing up to work and doing a good job, purpose becomes ten times more important when trying to reinvent. Transformation requires extra effort, increasing pressure and stress. When extra effort can’t be met with extra money, emotional connection to a business’s purpose can instead unlock discretionary effort. It’s this discretionary effort by employees across an organisation that drives business reputation and change.

9. One purpose, many values, multiple perspectives

Organisations have no business setting values in a modern world. Reinvention requires diversity of perspective, to challenge the norm and bring in fresh ideas. This diversity will only occur when a variety of different values come together and build inclusion. Values are personal. Rather than anchoring to the same set of values, these days it is purpose that will bring people together.

10. Built from the ground up

Reputation is influenced by the behaviours of every employee, every day. They must, therefore, be set top down not crowd-sourced. They must be specific calls to action, not broad statements of intent. No one knows how to ‘be bold’ when their company asks them to do that. They do however know what is expected when asked to ‘move fast’ or ‘talk straight’.