Companies in Zimbabwe suffer the challenge of maintaining a solid and competitive reputation over a period of time. This is because sustainable and durable reputations are a manifestation of corporate character, which is difficult to purchase or imitate. This presents a challenge of consistency of time as companies end up losing ground and plunging from one crisis to another as they engage in acts of corporate reputation deconstruction. In this installment of the column, I attend to the subject matter and give pointers towards the path to building lasting reputations.

The case of reputation deconstruction happens when stakeholders take lead in mutilating the value proposition which the company made towards the attainment of its mission and vision statement. It takes root when the company’s value systems are attacked and compromises both by internal and external stakeholders.

When such situation happens, the default reaction of the top management is to rush towards paying public relations specialists to suppress the weakening of the reputation before it becomes a fully blown crisis. This is a grave mistake. 

The ‘purchasability’ of reputation 

The attempts by companies to engage PR companies to turn around the dwindling reputation fortunes, brings to the fore the concept of ‘purchasability’ of reputation. This concept has been tested for a long time from various disciplines and there is consensus that in the short-term organizations  might record small gains towards purchasing reputations. However, in the long run, the bubble will always burst as it is impossible to purchase a character. 

I have always argued that reputation, is a 360-degree facet. Hence there are no quick gains. It has to be built ‘inside-outside’. As long as there is pre-occupation towards what the external stakeholders’ view of an organization or company, the ultimate and definite outcome is that there will be a reputation deconstruction as the envisaged positive reputation will be a buddle flying high without internal mechanism towards keeping its competitiveness.

Though attempts to purchase reputation would have worked in the age of traditional media, were the entities controlled the type of reputation that will be established and maintained in the eyes of the stakeholders, the social media has opened a floodgate of various forms of stakeholders punching holes to the reputation bubbles, that float in the air without internal stakeholder’s consensus driving them. 

Observability of the reputation 

Because reputation is not an observable and tangible asset, the top leadership always pay little attention to it, but with fatal consequences. This is what has happens with companies, they sell an impression and promise that they can’t keep due to the internal dislocations. The general promises are usually hinged on the need to impress external stakeholders and abandoning the expectations of the internal stakeholders such as employees who are the brand ambassadors of the company and shape the perceptions of the external stakeholders.

The deconstruction process of the reputation is an ongoing process, but due to the fact that the deconstruction is happening on an intangible asset, it happens without noticing if there is no set strategy on managing the complex issue of reputation. In most cases there is shock therapy as brand plunge into crisis, yet they fail to go to the drawing board and start building a strong foundation which starts internally and ultimately shape the world view of the external stakeholders 

Having noted the foregoing, I therefore recommend the following:

brand is not a veneer: a modern day brand’s values must run deep.

Strong reputations are founded on the values of the brands they are built on. Companies should therefore have a culture of developing and implementing a corporate reputation management strategy to guard against the deconstruction process. This should build a strong internal value mix that shape the identity mix and ultimately the image which the external stakeholders hold.

don’t preach: today’s stakeholders don’t like being told what to feel, think or do

The pitfalls of many companies lied in the preaching through value propositions that are in actual terms meaningless.  The world wants to see a ‘doing’ reputation, rather than preaching one. Therefore competitive reputation will be hinged and sitting firm on a foundation of internal stakeholders driving the narrative and shaping how it will then “relay” the message to the external world.

Under-promise & over-deliver: This has been the companies’ Achilles Heel, promising heaven on earth, but each passing day, through its acts of commission or omission, delivering none. There is no amount of money to correct this, except a company that is structured in defining and executing its reputation strategy.

be transparent

When trust is low, it’s imperative that stakeholder can see that the company is not withholding any bitter truth. Because we are in the knowledge economy, stakeholders are now engaged in online reviews and sharing information which can only leave the establishments exposed if they attempt to hold back on critical information about their brands. 

act on feedback

Failure to produce ongoing responsive engagement with stakeholders increase levels of distrust. Its high time the companies become responsive and accountable through coordinating themselves internally and being useful when answers are required. By doing so, the companies will be guaranteed of at least  stopping the reputation deconstruction process and building towards a better reputation mix.