Reputation Management Councils: Creating a Crisis Early Warning System
By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith
- Mitigating risk is critical for crisis readiness
- Reputation Management Council enables you look around corners
- The High Impact Agenda maximizes productivity and accountability
Like most, I’ve been startled a time or two by my iPhone’s Emergency Alert notification. While I may curse that alert for nearly giving me a heart attack, I’m ultimately glad they exist, as they give us advance notice about potential danger.
The last time I received such an alert, I wondered to myself about an early warning system for crises. What if there were an early warning system that alerted company leaders to reputational danger? At Kith we’ve created something that can come very close to accomplishing just that, no iPhone alert necessary. We call it a Reputation Management Council.
A Reputation Management Council provides an enterprise-wide view of risk and ensures an ongoing discussion is happening with the right people, at the right time. The absence of a real, time-sensitive threat can cause businesses to delay planning or not plan at all. Alternatively, trying to prepare for every scenario can be overwhelming and impractical. A Reputation Management Council meets regularly (we suggest quarterly, at a minimum) to discuss risks facing your organization and create an enterprise-wide view of risks that could impact your reputation.
We know that reputation is important to CEOs– many deem their company’s reputation as important as its profitability. A study by Burson-Marsteller found that 95% of chief executives surveyed believed that corporate reputation plays an important or very important role in the achievement of business objectives. Yet most organizations do not have a venue dedicated to reputation where critical thinking about reputation growth and risk can take place among key company leaders leading to faster response and rapid problem solving. A Reputation Management Council solves that problem.
A key attribute of a Reputation Management Council is that it is cross-disciplinary. A good Reputation Management Council should have representation from Communications, Operations and Legal at a minimum. Why such an emphasis on everyone having a seat at the table? Think about the last crisis your organization had.
Too often, I see companies in crisis get bottlenecked by internal misunderstandings. You’ve probably been on the receiving end of a proposed statement that had so many editing marks it looked like it was bleeding. Legal won’t let the communications team say what they want to say. Government relations is upset that they weren’t able to give their stakeholders a heads up. Operations is frustrated that no one understands the complexity of what they’re trying to fix, and that no, they can’t just flip a switch and make it right. This leads to slow crisis response times, which causes angry stakeholders and loss of consumer trust. Can you imagine if you had established an understanding and common vocabulary before a crisis struck, just how much easier that particular crisis would’ve been?
A lot can go wrong when there’s not a venue to regularly discuss reputational risk. A great example is what happened with Unroll.me. Unroll.me faced backlash for selling its data to Uber, who used that data to keep tabs on its competitor, Lyft. This is a completely legal practice– one that Unroll.me users agree to in the Terms & Conditions– but with Uber in the hotseat for its own avalanche of crises, the media and public viewed the revelation of this practice under a new, much angier lens.
Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but I believe that Unroll.me would’ve been better equipped to respond to this crisis if they had a venue to discuss and prepare for this risk. To be clear: I’m not saying they would have decided to not sell their data to Uber. That was a strategic risk— a risk that a company chooses to take for significant investment return. What I am saying is that had the risk been discussed at the time of the decisionmaking, or even shortly after, Unroll.me’s communications team would’ve been better prepared to respond, and maybe that blog post from the CEO that added fuel to the outrage fire would’ve never been published in the first place.
If I’ve convinced you that your company needs a Reputation Management Council, and I hope I have, you’re probably wondering how to get started. During our webinar Reputation Management Council: Creating a Crisis Early Warning System, I went into great detail about how to craft and execute your own Reputation Management Council, but here are the basics:
- First gather representatives from across disciplines. We recommend having representatives from Communications/Marketing, Legal and Operations at minimum.
- Next, you set a regular, recurring meeting. We recommend at a minimum quarterly. This meeting is where the group will discuss and plan for the various risks facing your organization.
- Once representatives and meeting dates/frequency are determined, you’ll have each of the representatives (and their respective teams) think about and compile risks presently facing the enterprise. This information will be used to populate an agenda for the Reputation Council Meeting.
Kith has created an agenda template that drives your Reputation Management Council to have a productive, efficient meeting. We call it The High Impact Agenda. This agenda is divided into four sections:
- RISK DRIVERS
The first section, the Risk Drivers, is where risks facing your organization are categorized. This happens before the meeting. Each discipline will have compiled risks and added it to one of four sections: Strategic, Preventable, External, or Industry Wide Risks. When covering this section of the agenda, your group will discuss each risk and make a determination as to whether it belongs in the To Do list section or the I.D.S section.
- TO DO LIST
To Do List items are risks that can be addressed or solved relatively quickly. If there is a Risk Driver that has a relatively straightforward solution that can be solved within the next 30 days, put it in this section. When you review the To Do List, assign an action and owner– the person or/group who is responsible for implementing the solution. Once each item in the To Do List section has been assigned an action and owner, you move on to the IDS section.
This section is the issues solving track meant to create clear, actionable solutions. The I.D.S. model is performed by Identifying the issue, Discussing the issue, and Solving the issue. Identifying the issue may mean additional exploration into the root cause of an issue, or providing additional context to uncover the real issue at hand. Discussing the issue is exactly what it sounds like– discussing the issue openly and honestly. This is the opportunity for the Council to share their group’s point of view and unique challenges they face in regards to addressing the issue. Then you solve the issue, or determine next steps. Once the Council agrees on a solution, action items must be owned by someone and added to the To-Do List, with the expectation that it will be completed within 30 days.
- WRAP UP
Lastly, you have your concluding items, which are to recap the To Do List, determine how you will cascade the information discussed during the Council meeting to your respective teams and/or executives, and rate the meeting. In rating the meeting, everybody weighs in to “rate” the meeting on a scale of 1 to 10. This is so you can chart progress on whether the meetings are improving or declining in quality. It sounds cheesy, but we highly recommend it so that you hold yourselves accountable for making meetings productive.
The High Impact Agenda template is available for download here.
We believe Reputation Management Councils are critical to an organization, so much so that it’s a key piece of Kith’s Model for Reputation Excellence. But you don’t have to take our word for it– we’ve implemented this solution for several clients and seen it work. Clients with Reputation Management Councils have seen crises become more manageable, or avoided several crises entirely.
So while it’s not an alert on your phone, a Reputation Management Council will help you address crises in advance, helping you to weather the crisis storm more effectively. Just think– what if your phone chirped, alerting you to your next crisis long before it happened. Don’t you think things would’ve gone differently?
More information about Reputation Management is available in Bill Coletti’s upcoming book Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management.