Corporate in general, do not treat corporate reputation as a strategic management process. In most cases reputation is allowed to grow and take shape in a space assuming multiple dimensions and in most cases assuming a vague and confusing form and shape. In most cases, it leads to a reputational bubble, which I gave a subject of the reputation economy. This is a dangerous approach as frequently, rather than not, the bubble is bound to burst and the company plunges in a wave of crises, which at times is fatal.
Crafting a new reputation trajectory requires two major ingredients, namely transparency and democracy! It’s about opening up your entire corporate supply chain and establishment to scrutiny, and ensuring that its conduct is in accordance with its objectives and culture of the same. Therein lies the crux of the organizational challenges. The thorny issue here where by the brands will prefer to undertake halfhearted approaches in an attempt to build the reputation economy that is robust and competitive. In this regard, the bulk of the entities will prefer portraying themselves as democratic institutions while failing both the litmus test on transparency and responsiveness on issues that have an impact on their identity mix and image. This will only but lead to a disjointed reputation economy, which fails to create a 360 degree reputation web that responds to the stakeholders’ needs and wants.
This is the crisis that faces reputation managers globally. They are outward looking and tend to promise what their internal systems cannot afford to deliver. In essence, the companies’ CEOs and top leaders are concerned with shaping the image matric at the expense of attending to the internal dislocations which currently define the identity mix. Image is how the external stakeholders view the company, while identity is how the internal stakeholders, namely the employees, investors, managers and board members view themselves. Combined, we establish a reputation, which is both the internal and external view of stakeholders.
In most instances, companies are battling with a huge reputational crisis given the process that led to its propositions and ability to meet the very same propositions. This speaks organisations creating a reputation myth which is beyond the company’s reach and thereby creating contradictions among the stakeholder chain. It therefore exert a heavy burden of trying to manage a reputation which is fragmented. In most instances, the senior company leadership fall into the mistake of focusing on the image of the corporate while relegating the identity mix of the internal stakeholders who are calling for his equal commitment to attend to the internal hygiene factors and internal dislocations.
I will therefore make five broad recommendations towards consolidating and strengthening the fragment reputations. The following five factors will therefore enhance the organizations’ respective quest towards building a solid reputation economy.
- A 360-degree approach towards understanding the stakeholder: Companies should be highly responsive in serving their multiple stakeholders. There must be no assumptions but rather undertaking a solid process of mapping all the stakeholders and methods towards engaging the stakeholders towards an organization that speaks to itself through its various stakeholders.
- Keep your story simple: The company’s storyline should be easy to follow for all the stakeholders through its various touch points. There mustn’t be contradictions at any point in the whole story cycle. This is the story of manufacturers, who will take a bold step and invite the media or produce a documentary on how the whole process of the process from procuring raw materials, production, until its packaged and ready for dispatch. Companies such as Colcom in Zimbabwe that have gone through reputation fragmentation have a chance towards consolidating its reputation by telling and living its simple story.
- Let the boss set the tone: Charismatic and pragmatic leadership helps in building positive reputation. This is true in our local and continental realities. The story of Econet is consolidated daily when its founder is at any fora, though its reputation is under increasing strain. Whereas national reputations of countries like the United States of America are under increasing pressure due to the arrogance and short comings of its leaders. There was something profound with the story of Schweppes, when the company made wrong turn by modifying one of its lead brands, Orange Crush, the CEO was quick to come out and apologies to the country before reversing the decision. This is equally true to the national reputation of China, where the president, Xi Ping, leads from the front in fighting corruption, in the process, defining the national character.
- Track your reputation footprint: The tracking of coverage and debates on the organizational reputation has to be both for offline and online communications. Due to the changing nature of communication, it is incumbent among the brands to standardize the response mechanism so that there is consistency and responsiveness pertaining to the consolidation of reputation. In all fairness, that which is not known, cannot be measured. Examples of poor monitoring are recorded in situations whereby the customers tag brands online, making complains as the case of campaigns against Colcom’s pies and Bakers Inn’s bread which had dropped below standards, yet the companies remained dead silent. This is mainly because the brands are not investing in monitoring and tracking the reputation points of contact with their stakholders.
- Find and preserve your soul: It is anomalous to be outward looking before understanding the soul of the brand. This is critical in defining how brands conduct their affairs and relates to the stakeholders chain. How it relates to issues of transparency. Without brands understanding their souls respectively, in the long run, the reputation centre is bound to fall apart. Reputation by its own nature, is a construct of organisations’ ability to live their values which become a culture and predictably delivers on its promises to the stakeholders. It is therefore critical that brands with a reputation of purpose, continuously invest in the streamlining on the value system among stakeholders. Econet started as a brand with the value system of fighting for the right to free expression, any deviation towards the leaning to the repressive systems which only but lead to the compromise of its values and doubt among stakeholders on the ability to consistently deliver on its value system.
Reputation management has even become more complex due to the rising tower of Babel that is social media, which actively creates platforms of conversations which escalate or cement negative or positive reputation respectively.