Skip to main content

Think before you leap

The World Health Organisation took just a little over 48 hours to revoke its appointment of Robert Mugabe as goodwill ambassador, following worldwide public, media and institutional outcry at an appointment which, at so many levels, was so blatantly wrong.

The wrongs of Robert Mugabe is not what I wish to argue here. What I am astounded by is that such an established institution such as WHO, with its army of strategists and planners could make such a rudimentary blunder. This reminds me that too many of us really still don't get the fact that if we are guardians of our organisations' brands, we have the responsibility to protect our organisation against risks which threaten to attack those values and thereafter, our reputation.

I have previously written about CEOs and their mistakes here. Unfortunately, u-turns and apologies will never completely obliterate the original mistake. In the reputation management world, a right never completely erases a wrong. Corporate wrong-doing tends to be remembered, tucked away in the stakeholder memory only to resurface the minute another stumble occurs.

Taking proactive steps to protect a brand and organisation's reputation against risk should be an integral part of the strategic planning process. After all, if no strategic plan is complete without an assessment of financial, operational, security and legal risks, why would the absence of reputation risk assessment be OK?

A responsible organisation which spends senior management time analysing, assessing and preparing against reputation risk would avoid this sort of blunder. More importantly, it would ensure that the conduct of its leadership and employees, as brand ambassadors, remain true to its brand values and ethical commitments. These are the organisations which receive support from its stakeholders and employees, these are the organisations able to recruit staff and partners effectively. Conversely, these are organisations which know which employee and partners to avoid. These, in other words, are organisations which are successful and sustainable.

There are six questions I always invite leadership teams I work with to think about.

  1. Are your employees as clear about your vision and values as you are? Have you evaluated the way these values are brought to life through your organisation's behaviours?
  2. Do you know who your stakeholders are? Are they identified and mapped systematically?
  3. Do you know what these stakeholders think and expect of you? Do you understand the issues which concern them, their beliefs and their biases?
  4. Do you know which of your stakeholders have the agency, legitimacy, inclination and voice to influence wider public and other key constituents' opinions?
  5. If you were to break your stakeholders' trust and support, do you know what impact this would have on your reputation? Thereafter, do you know what impact this would be on your ability to conduct your business, your 'licence to operate'?
  6. Finally, do you have a clear idea on the likelihood of reputational threats to your organisation - are you clear of the steps you would need to take to mitigate them, are these steps systematised?
Right now, I expect there is a certain amount of panic amongst the WHO leadership team, panic which would have started minutes after Mugabe's appointment was announced and social media went into collective attack. There would a scurry of "whose idea was this?" "why didn't we see this coming?" "what shall we do now?" questions and discussions. 

All this could have been avoided if they'd only thought before they leapt. 


Popular posts from this blog

Panic and the absence of leadership

I often borrow a line commonly used in crime movies when I see yet another leadership organisation fall from grace: "You could have done this the easy way, but you chose to do it the hard way".

Oxfam was a hitherto admired institution, having done impressive work around the world for more than 75 years, respected for its engagement with donors big and small, its courage in working in war- and disaster-torn regions, and its commitment to equality and fairness. The Haiti scandal has rocked it to its core, putting into question its ability to continue its operations, as governments are rethinking funding levels, donors withdrawing sponsorship and customers pulling out of their shops.

In other words, it is losing its licence to operate.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from brands which fail to protect their culture, vision and reputation. United Airlines CEO's response to the treatment of one of its passengers on a flight, Bell Pottinger's collapse through …

Moral authority and reputations

The world of corporate and national reputation is going through a whirlwind right now, even more so than usual. Two particular issues have rather preoccupied my mind recently.

One is the relationship between business and government and the other, going back to basics on the relationship between reputation and moral authority. 

Bell Pottinger has always been associated with the dark arts of public relations. Most of the industry, for decades now, have at least tried to be morally accountable in the way it communicates its clients' narrative and indeed, in selecting clients with whom it is prepared to work. Bell Pottinger appeared not to have ever been perturbed about representing clients who are morally questionable at best, and downright unacceptable at worst. It managed to weather several storms of exposure and criticism and on the way, continued to gather more and more questionable clients. Until that is, its recent South Africa debacle, made worse by a public spat between founder…

CEOs, role-modelling and bragging rights

Brian Groom reported the launch of OUTstanding in Business in today's FT, a senior network for CEO level corporate leaders aiming to encourage positive attitudes towards gay professionals. While there are plenty of gay network groups in almost every profession, such a senior level platform as this is a new and welcome initiative. The hope is that this will encourage more senior gay men and women in some of the more traditional sectors of the corporate world to come out and in turn, become role models for other young gay professionals.

Women are treading the same path and have done so for a long time. Today, there are women networks aplenty but there are still relatively few networks for senior women at the top of their tree, who can use their public image as role models for young women. I have long argued that increasingly, young women look more to public role models than their mothers and women closer to home, as has traditionally been the case.

Three years ago, I and a handful …