ITL #569 Look inside for the answers: the growing link between reputation and culture

3 weeks, 2 days ago

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Employees bring the outside in and can act as an early warning signal for emerging issues. By Angela Scaffidi.



Global expert Tony Langham talks about reputation being real and yet not real at the same time. It’s about what an organisation does and how well it does it. He believes, “the only way to have a great reputation is to be a great company.” He also defines your reputation as what other people say you are – how people perceive and experience your oganisation.

We all know reputation is not static. We often see the speed at which an issue can break and negatively impact an organisation’s reputation. Local issues can grow into national or even global issues within minutes. A misheard or misguided sound bite can cause irreparable damage.

The most important place to start in protecting and strengthening your reputation is to look to your employees.

It’s the right thing to do but so much more than that. Your employees bring the outside in – they share the trends, concerns and questions that matter. They can act as an early warning signal for emerging issues. They often wear many hats, which can include being customers, members of a specific sector or industry, or residents of local communities. We know that many, if not the majority, of reputational issues and crises are the result of some cultural malaise. It’s why listening to them is as important as them listening to their organisation and its leaders.

They build relationships with stakeholders. They turn the concept of stakeholder engagement into powerful partnerships and collaborations that often help an organisation to solve their most complex problems and to grow.

They also act as ambassadors for, or detractors against their employer in the many ways in which they engage with people outside of their work, including on social media. They are able to build trust, one conversation and one interaction at a time. Employees can be an organisation’s most credible voice but it can certainly go both ways.

Actions that match words

What do employees expect of the organisation they work for? There has been a lot published about the importance of a compelling purpose, of having clear priorities, and of actions that match the words shared by leaders and managers.

So which elements best motivate employees to engage with and advocate for their organisation? And what are the elements of culture that drive a great reputation? They include respect, a story that makes sense and motivates, and consistent leadership (but no rock stars). It’s not the big actions but the day-to-day small ones that all add up to a great culture, one where employees want to support their employer and to protect its reputation.

Let’s start with genuine respect for employees. This is in part determined by the kinds of conversations that are had at the top table. One of our clients recently spoke about the importance of working effectively with unions on industrial relations issues because “the unions are as concerned about our employees’ safety as we are”. This reinforced our view of their respect and concern for their people.

Employees experience this respect through Employee Value Propositions and the way in which their employer goes the extra mile for them. And they especially feel respected (or disrespected) during periods of change.

Organisations must constantly juggle maintaining order and ‘keeping the doors open’ while evolving what their organisation does and how it operates. No organisation can afford to be left behind.

A change story matters but we’ve sometimes been misguided in our efforts. The framing of a ‘burning platform’ can often do more harm than good. Chip Heath, the co-author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, says that “fear, as an emotion, creates tunnel vision…fear is the worst motivator”. Fear doesn’t work. In fact, it can serve to entrench old thinking and old ways of doing things.

Control and choice

A clear way forward and rationale for change are helpful, but what employees really want are control and choice. They want to retain the ways of thinking and working that have served them and the organization well. If some of these ways are no longer relevant, they have to figure this out for themselves. Facilitated conversations are useful but telling people doesn’t work. People want choices, even choices that may be seen as small in the scheme of things. For example, the structure of their stand up meetings or the timing of a change in their location or team.

Leadership also matters, but more as a driver and enabler than as the central player. Great leaders listen and involve their employees. They walk the talk on the things that really matter to the oganisation, such as safety, customer centricity, innovation and culture. And they share power.

Unfortunately some rock star leaders forget that the organisation’s culture was formed before they arrived and will continue on long after they have gone. They see themselves at the centre, which can only serve to increase people’s frustration and cynicism when they look up through the layers of their organisation.

The former CEO of IBM, Sam Palmisano spoke about the power of enabling employees to share their hurt, fear and frustrations as part of a ValuesJam exercise. As he later put it in Harvard Business Review, “You had to put your ego aside – not easy for a CEO to do – and realize that this was the best thing that could have happened. You could say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve unleashed this incredible negative energy’. Or you could say, ‘Oh my God, I now have this incredible mandate to drive even more change in the company’.”

 

 

 

 


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The Author

Angela Scaffidi

Angela Scaffidi, Managing Partner, SenateSHJ.

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