Putting a Price on your Reputation
Updated: Feb 19
How much is your organization's reputation worth? Do you consider "threats from within" as one of your considerations when writing your Crisis Communications Plan? I suspect workplace violence is included, but what about reputational risk? You know, the risk you take when sweeping problems under the rug and silently pray nobody lifts it?
In the past week, I've read articles about a track coach at the University of Guelph, the hero of the Fort McMurray wildfires and this morning, a well-known Canadian fashion icon was in the news. Each of them is accused of allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct. This type of crisis can directly impact the reputation of an organization. The public wants to understand "how much did the organization know?" And, "what did they do or not do about it?"
I really enjoyed a recent blog post by Crisis Communications guru Jonathan Bernstein on workplace crisis prevention. Bernstein suggests that "employers conduct comprehensive vulnerability audits" to determine not only their compliance with employment laws but also to give them a reality check on what employees are thinking and how well employees truly understand company policies" (Bernstein, 2019).
A vulnerability audit allows organizations to conduct a deep drill of organizational culture and offers a pulse check on their communications processes. What kind of messages regarding discrimination and harassment is getting into the hands of employees? Are the right tools being used to convey the messages? And, are the messages being received and understood?
Leadership needs to be leading the conversation and demonstrating a zero-tolerance work environment.
These crises are messy and complicated. Allegations need to be proven, and the reputation of the alleged rarely recover from public scrutiny. But if organizations have a process and plan of action to manage these situations they can protect their reputation.
Employees - regardless of their position - need to understand the policies and the balance of consequences they will face if they don't adhere to them. In turn, these same employees need to feel confident about raising concerns so they are are empowered to bring allegations forward.
Clearly identifying the process allows organizations a clear path to take when and if allegations surface.
Consider the value of a vulnerability check in your organization and add it to your list of "threats" when developing a Crisis Communications Plan. Raise the scenario with your leadership, communications and human resources team to identify gaps and reduce the vulnerability of your organization from within. Taking the time to walk through such a scenario may help you avoid a full-blown reputational crisis. Organizations always seem to find the time and resources to investigate following an incident. Let's try to turn this around and do more to prepare for them in advance of a headline. Trust me - your reputation is worth the cost of the time invested in protecting it.
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