Carillion, now Oxfam….is your place of work storm-proof?

Ramshackle shedThe Oxfam prostitution scandal has brought into focus yet again how none of us – in a personal or corporate capacity-can afford to rest on our laurels and take our reputations for granted even if, as in Oxfam’s case, some of the incidents in Haiti took place years ago.

For a charity with a long and trusted reputation the revelations could be catastrophic.

Oxfam’s senior management team will no doubt be turning over every stone in case of more nasties and hopefully ensuring that all investigations take place with full transparancy – even though more damage might be done to their reputation in the process.

It’s a crisis management cliche but every negative story is a potential opportunity to move forward, to ‘drain the swamp’ and when the time is right start on the long and bumpy road to recovery.

I would argue than in Oxfam’s case – more than most organisations in the public or private sector – it’s particularly difficult because their charitable status automatically places them on a higher moral plane than the rest of us, rightly or wrongly, and the fact that they rely on our good will and generosity for their existence.

After the crisis

Written on the back of all BBC ID cards are the FIVE BBC “Values”….Trust, Audiences, Creativity, Quality and Value for Money and Respect and Diversity.

A few years ago, when I was a BBC staffer, there was a big push on BBC values to remind us of our corporate raison d’etre.

Whatever your views of how closely the BBC sticks to them I would argue it works pretty well as a reminder to staff of what the organisation stands for – some of the senior decision-makers might benefit from a look at them now and then as well!

When the going gets tough – and the Beeb has been through its fair share of crises in the past few years, notably the Savile affair, the Andrew Gilligan Iraq claim, Equal Pay…( ok I’ll stop now, you get the picture)- the way in which the organisation usually tries to recover is by going back to first principles and examining whether its actions reflect its high-blown principles and if not, taking a long cold look at what needs to be done to try to repair the damage.

Indeed that’s what most organisations should do when they find themselves in a crisis. We’ve all seen how quickly a crisis can turn into a huge PR disaster in the cases of Carillion and The Presidents Club and there are many,many more examples on a smaller scale.

Well here’s another clich, equally as relevant as the first example – “It can take decades to build a good reputation and a weekend to destroy it”.

I shouldn’t be amazed (but I am) when I witness companies or public sector organisations trying to bury their heads in the sand  to destroy it”as their reputation starts to take a tumble with the first stirrings usually on social media.

Sometimes this is through arrogance or complacency but often because the senior team has taken its eye off the ball; they are too close to the problem so they see the micro-detail but not the wider picture – which is of course what the public and the other stakeholders can see.

“We’re ok. We’ve been through worse and got through. We’re working on rebuilding our reputation now.”

The time to work on your reputation is all the time.

I recently heard a very experienced business woman reminiscing about the days when there used to be a line of the balance sheet against REPUTATION with a discernible value attached. Nowadays she argued, despite the huge increase in social media and news outlets, few organisations actually made reputation a priority.

She believes – and I agree – that reputation should be a permanent fixture on any risk register.

Open culture, solid foundation

It’s not just about a spreadsheet either, it’s about a whole workplace culture.

So if an organisation already has an open, accountable and transparent culture whereby every employee is already aware of his or her responsibility to protect its reputation then its chances of survival when a crisis happens is much greater.

The solid foundation is already in place.

That applies to the BBC and other public services as much to SMEs and big corporations.

And while having your values on the back of your company ID cards is might be a good idea, it must be followed up by real action and be reflected in the culture otherwise it’s just fluffy, meaningless waffle.

Do all your employees and colleagues know what your organisation represents and do they put those values into practice?

Do you have a plan or process to turn to when it looks like your reputation might not be what you all think it is?

If you’re not sure of the answers to either of these questions then maybe it’s time to revisit what you do as an organisation, how you do it and ask some serious questions.

Would you emerge from the smoke,battered and bruised but in tact and ready to fight another day?

Remember,what you do today could influence how you fare in future.

Having a well-thought through crisis communications plan will serve you well.But it needs to be regularly revisited and updated and staff need to know what to do in the event of a risk to the company’s reputation.

Every single interaction that an employee has with a stakeholder can build on or detract from your reputation.

You may know that but do they?

So to answer the title of this blog -“No company’s reputation is crisis-proof’ but to paraphrase Orwell, ‘some are more robust than others’.

Tell the Boss !

Consultants come in for a hard time on occasion – often quite rightly so. But one of the beauties of a good crisis consultant is the ability to step away from the detail ,see the bigger picture and speak truth to power.

If it’s just ‘beanbags and bollocks’ then it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

You may think you know the nature of the culture in your organisation but would your senior leadership team and colleagues agree?

Is your crisis communication plan up to scratch and if not are you sure that your reputation will be stand you in good stead in the event of a crisis?

Discuss now – and spare a thought for what Oxfam are going through as you read this.

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