Brick By Brick: Rebuilding Your Reputation Post-Crisis

Why post-crisis is the best time for your company to ideate on its reputation

Critical takeaways:

  • Pattern recognition helps communicators anticipate what is likely to happen next
  • Awareness of risks present, past and future helps organizations recover their reputations more effectively
  • Values alignment post-crisis ensures a stronger, more resilient corporate reputation

 

There’s carnage in the form of negative news and rubble in the form of dwindling tweets, but you made it. You survived a crisis. The worst of it is over, and things are finally getting back to normal. I’m willing to bet you’re exhausted and grateful for any sense of normalcy at work. I hate to burst your bubble, but if reputation excellence is your goal, being post-crisis means your work has just begun.

 

There are countless blog posts, webinars and trainings that teach you how to plan for a crisis or what to do during a crisis. And those can be helpful– after all, we’ve written a few blogs on the subject ourselves. But most of the crisis-related posts and trainings rarely tell you what to do once the crisis is over. Usually this is because most assume things can and should go back to normal. This is a mistake. At Kith, we believe that post-crisis is the time lay a new foundation, brick by brick, for reputation excellence.

 

When rebuilding your reputation, think of it like building a house. To oversimplify it, you build a house brick by brick. All reputation rebuilds should consist of the following three bricks:

 

  1. Pattern Recognition
  2. Awareness
  3. Values Alignment

 

Each of these bricks creates a foundation that will best position your company to succeed post crisis.

 

As a seasoned communicator, chances are you know what a typical crisis looks like. They follow a pattern:

Let’s compare this with one of the more well-known crises: Wells Fargo’s Fake Account Scandal of 2016. In case you’re unfamiliar, Wells Fargo was in hot water following allegations that its employees create millions of fake bank accounts for customers.

 

  • First you have the initial media coverage. On September 8, 2016, Wells Fargo announced it was paying $185 million in fines to to city and federal regulators to settle the allegations surrounding the creation of fake bank accounts. The media coverage was fairly straightforward and factual.
  • Then the personal stories began to emerge. Millions of consumers were impacted by Wells Fargo’s actions, and many came out to share their stories with media or on social media. But an added layer to this story were the stories of Wells Fargo employees. There was a particularly heartbreaking piece in The New York Times where Wells Fargo employees provided firsthand accounts, by email or by phone interview, of how pressure to create accounts affected them. Many compared the pressure to feeling like they were going to have a heart attack, while another employee reported being under so much stress that she drank hand sanitizer.
  • Then you have the jokes on late night TV. John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, Stephen Colbert of The Late Show and Seth Myers of Late Night each eviscerated Wells Fargo on their respective TV shows. The resulting online clips each had more than one million views each.
  • Legislators eventually get involved. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts did what she does best and reamed CEO Tim Sloan during a hearing of the Senate Banking committee, saying “At best, you were incompetent, and at worst you were complicit. Either way, you should be fired.”
  • Then interest starts to wane. This was especially true for Wells Fargo, as weeks after the scandal broke, Donald Trump won the election for President of the United States.

 

Why is it important that you know this crisis trajectory? So that you may begin to recognize patterns and learn from others. Pattern recognition is what separates good communicators from great communicators. We think of it as one of the first bricks in rebuilding your reputation.

Pattern Recognition

Pattern recognition is the ability to see lasting patterns in data. In crisis, pattern recognition helps communicators anticipate what is likely to happen next, thus giving them a heads start on preparing defenses or reactions. Take the above trajectory, for example. If a good crisis communicator with pattern recognition knows that typically legislators are going to get involved, they’re likely going to loop in Government Relations sooner than someone who doesn’t have that ability to see around corners. By the time the person without pattern recognition gets around to involving Government Relations, they have lost valuable preparatory time.

 

Pattern recognition can be learned, and it’s a skill that every communicator should develop, hone and practice consistently. While most people develop pattern recognition from career experience, you may find yourself wanting to accelerate the process. Luckily for you, that’s possible through professional development and practice. Our preferred way of accelerating crisis pattern recognition at Kith is through crisis simulations.

 

Crisis simulations accelerate pattern recognition by putting you through a highly realistic crisis, but in a safe environment. You are able to test your reaction time, writing skills, strategy development, all in a simulated scenario. This allows you and your team the opportunity to test your existing skillset and learn new skills without fear of errors that impact their business. Regular crisis simulations help bolster skills and pattern recognition so that, in a real crisis, that crisis muscle memory already exists, even if you don’t have 20+ years of career experience.

Awareness

There’s a JFK quote that we at Kith love: “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” We strongly believe that every crisis presents an opportunity, especially after the crisis is over.

 

Post-crisis, your organization is in a unique position. Some may say it’s vulnerable, others may describe the position as damaged or painful. But post-crisis, your organization has an opportunity to really look inward and evaluate. We call this Awareness, and it’s part of our Kith Reputation Excellence Model.

Awareness is one of Kith’s Four A’s. Just as the Four P’s helped marketers organize their go-to-market efforts, the Four A’s make the journey to reputational excellence manageable. Before now, many people’s thoughts around reputation have been vague. I often hear people express excellent ideas—they want to do something for their employees, or they want to get the word out about their innovative processes—but they don’t know how to implement them. The Four A’s offer a measurable, sustainable mechanism for creating positive impressions on key stakeholders.

 

Post-crisis, it’s all-too-common for companies to want to get back to “business as usual.” I understand this desire. Nobody is particularly interested in revisiting a time of pain and stress for the company. But I’m here to tell you that you must in order to gain awareness of your company, its risks, its industry and all that led to the crisis you just emerged from.

 

We’ve created a way for organizations to review their times of crisis in a productive and non-emotional way with Kith’s Crisis Discussion Guide. You can find it here. The original intent behind the creation of this guide was to help companies evaluate crises experienced by others in order to avoid these mistakes themselves. However, this debrief can always be used as a self-evaluation tool.

 

Taking an objective, non-emotional look at how the crisis happened, how you handled it, and where you go from here is critical if you wish to build a stronger organization post-crisis. Utilizing our thoughtful discussion guide helps you and your team uncover insights that are applicable to your unique organization.

 

Once you’ve evaluated the crisis that just took place, it’s time to review and organize other potential risks facing your company. This is where Kith’s Risk Framework is a critical tool. Kith’s Risk Framework is a streamlined system that organizes risk into 3 distinct categories — Strategic, Preventable and External — providing you with insights and a framework your whole organization can understand and execute upon. We talked about the Risk Framework in greater detail here.

 

After a crisis is a great time for companies to review and organize risk, as the crisis they just experienced likely is a risk they need to re-evaluate.

 

Once you’ve looked inward, then it’s time to look ahead and lay the third brick.

Values Alignment

After a crisis, your company must align on its values. Values are critical to any organization and its reputation. In fact, values are the underpinning of each of Kith’s 7 Levers to pull for reputational growth. Having clearly defined and accepted values not only bolsters your corporate reputation, but leads to better decision making in times of crisis.

It’s possible that a recent crisis called your values into question. Now’s the time for your organization to sit down and really dig in on what it wants and believes its values to be. Values alignment requires participation from all disciplines– not just communications– and all levels, including the CEO.

 

There are five steps to values alignment:

 

  1. Understand your environment: Gain understanding about your industry and competitive landscape and ensure everyone understands
  2. Review strategies and discuss winning moves: Review current strategies and reflect on things your company viewed as “wins”
  3. Envision reputational excellence: Determine what “reputational excellence” looks like to your company
  4. Discuss, debate and agree on details: This is when your company hammers out final decisions on the above points
  5. Cascade and communicate: Share this information with your organization

 

A best practice for kicking off values alignment is one we adapted from Rhythm Systems, an organization that helps companies identify, track and collaborate on their unique top priorities. The practice, called Start, Stop, Keep, asks executives the following questions:

 

  1. What should we START doing?
  2. What should we STOP doing?
  3. What should we KEEP doing?

 

These three simple questions help identify the priorities of an organization’s leadership, thus helping the company align on values.

Conclusion

A crisis does not mean the end of your company. For many companies, it was the beginning. Some of the more famous bouncebacks from crisis that come to mind: the Netflix/Qwikster debacle, Tylenol’s cyanide scare and Home Depot’s data breach are all examples of how you can succeed post-crisis if you take the right steps to rebuild. But, like building anything, it takes work. If you use the tools and bricks we’ve provided above, you’ll be well on your way to a stronger and more resilient reputation.

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