- Having a sound reputation and a reservoir of goodwill is critical to success in a crisis.
- Your reputation is built on authentic, positive behaviors over the long term, starting well before a crisis hits.
- Our Four As of Reputation Excellence and Seven Levers for Reputation Management will guide you as you develop your reputation.
We live in Austin, Texas and, every couple of years, we suffer an extreme drought. Luckily, the Colorado River runs through Central Texas and is dammed up in multiple places, creating a series of lakes or reservoirs that cities can draw upon during those dry spells. However, replenishing these reservoirs takes time, even when there is heavy rain, and it’s easy to run into trouble if a dry spell drags on for too long.
I use this analogy often when I’m talking with clients about reputation management. We’re seeking to help companies build a sound reputation and create a reservoir of goodwill in case things go wrong.
Seth Godin has shaped my thinking about reputation and goodwill and I particularly like this definition he uses.
Reputation is what people expect us to do next. It’s their expectation of the quality and character of the next thing we produce or say or do.
The important thing is that these expectations are built over time and are based on your actions, not what you say. Similarly, creating this goodwill reservoir requires a consistent, sustained series of positive activities over time. But like the reservoirs in Texas, these supplies of goodwill can run dry if you are only using up goodwill and aren’t replenishing it.
Do you need a reservoir?
When you have a situation where you get sideways with public expectation, it’s this reservoir of goodwill or positive impression that people have of your organization that gives you the room to manoeuver, to tell your story and to make amends. During these difficult times is when your investment in building and managing your reputation really pays off. Otherwise, you are going to want to draw from the reservoir only to find out that it’s run dry.
Take two companies: BP and Starbucks. Two very different companies in entirely different industries but, side-by-side, they provide a useful contrast.
Starbucks has developed a reservoir of goodwill over time. They treat their employees well, address social issues swiftly, and when they make a mistake, are forthright and honest about the challenges that they face and commit to fixing things. You may not agree with everything that Starbucks stands for but there is no doubt of their dedication to their beliefs.
BP, on the other hand, made limited attempts to develop this reservoir of goodwill for years. So when it needed to draw upon that reservoir after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy – which was the third, most severe, incident the firm had in less than a decade – there was no goodwill there. Since then, the company has done fantastic remediation work along the Gulf of Mexico, but this work started from a position of having a goodwill deficit. So their goodwill is being expended as soon as it is generated.
Irrespective of their industries and how you feel about each company, the most significant difference here is that one firm, Starbucks, was filling up their reservoir consistently, well before they ever needed it. Like Noah, they built their ark in advance. Conversely, BP didn’t start building until the flood hit and had no reservoir to rely on when they needed it most.
How do you fill your reservoir?
However, just saying you need to develop this reservoir in advance isn’t enough. Our clients also want to know how to do this. For that, we use our ‘Four As’ of Reputation Excellence.
The Four As provide a roadmap for companies to create a stable, reliable foundation for building an excellent reputation.
- Awareness: Who are you? What do you stand for?
- Assessment: What do others think of you? How do you measure it?
- Authority: Have you gone through a risk framework and are the top levels of your company bought in?
- Action: Once you’ve gone through the other steps, it’s time to get to work. This is the top level.
Working through these four levels will ensure that an organization understands what it stands for and how it’s viewed. This provides the foundation for building a lasting reputation.
However, by itself, the Four As won’t help you develop the specific actions and behaviors that will build your reputation. You need to think about the specific actions and steps you need to take. For that, you need our Seven Levers of Reputation Management.
These seven levers are the areas where companies have the ability to demonstrate positive behaviors in a long term context. In my Critical Moments book, we spend a long time talking about the seven levers and the impact that these have on organizations whether you’re for profit, not for profit, publicly traded, or a private company. These levers help you focus on the things that you can control. In turn, this helps build that reservoir of goodwill over the long term and in advance of any unfortunate event that impacts your organization.
However, whatever you do, it has to be authentic and sustained.
One example of that was a recent question from a client. June is LBGTQ Awareness Month and, each year, many corporations switch their Facebook and Twitter logos to rainbow flags to show solidarity and support for this community. Around the 10th of June, this client contacted us and asked, “Should we do this as well? Should we change our Twitter logo?”
“Well,” I answered, “that depends on three things.”
- First, was this a cause they genuinely supported?
- Second, was this something they were going to do every year?
- Third, was this something they would keep doing even if some people complained about it?
If the answer to all three was yes, then they should go ahead and do it.
For them, this was the beginning of a process to think and talk about this issue which was fine: we all need to start somewhere. However, my point was that in order to generate this reservoir of goodwill, their efforts would have to be sustained and consistent. Much like the lakes in Austin, or making deposits to your black box of good luck, you have to replenish your reservoir consistently and over time. Merely changing your Twitter logo for a month won’t do anything.
Fill your reservoir before the dry spell
We think it is critically important for organizations to stand for something, to build a solid reputation and to create expectations of positive behavior and high quality. But building that reputation takes time and consideration. So use our Four As for Reputation Excellence to guide you and the Seven Levers of Reputation Management to build that reputation. Pull the most appropriate levers, the ones that are most true to who you, most aggressively. That’s going to let you make a positive impact on the groups that matters to you most and to fill your reservoir of goodwill.
Just make sure you do this before a dry spell hits.