Protect your reputation Featured

2:07pm EDT April 6, 2011
Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest

As I was formulating some thoughts around this topic, this tweet appeared from @DrWayneWDyer: “Your reputation is in the hands of others,” reads the tweet. “The only thing you can control is your character.” It succinctly summarizes the message I want to share with you with regard to managing company reputation.

Managing reputation begins with top leadership and is rooted in your organization’s core values and corporate governance. It is reinforced in your financial performance, corporate offices, employee relations, and customer service guidelines and policies. It is reflected in the quality of your products and services. It is expressed through your company’s social responsibility, vendor and distributor relations, and media relations.

While a corporate image can be created, a corporate reputation is earned. As CEOs, we need to treat our corporate reputation as one of our most valuable assets and protect it at all costs. Protecting corporate reputation is a proactive position rather than a reactive one. It is in reacting to a situation that we can inadvertently cover up truths, make statements we’d love to take back and make poor decisions. 

Proactively managing reputation pays off

At Greencrest, we established our core values more than a decade ago as a group exercise — getting input and consensus from all employees. In the end, the core values mirrored my own personal beliefs and defined the performance and operational tenets of our company. Because they were a part of our roots, they are relevant today and continue to be our guiding principles. They are painted on our wall and greet employees every day.

By identifying company core values, as leaders we can begin to put structure around all other policies. How are your core values reflected in your corporate governance? What about your employment and customer service policies? Corporate image is formed from internal and external communications. It is formed through the quality of products and services, our own behavior and attitudes. It is also influenced by our employees and the experience others have when interacting with us and our company and our physical offices. It can also be shaped by the company’s financial practices and our community and social responsibility.

As leaders, we must continually reinforce the company’s core values and policies and make sure our key staff represent and reinforce them, too. I have found that it is easy to become soft, too forgiving and accepting of the status quo. We become too busy to deal with important disciplinary matters or absent from managing direct reports for whatever reason. But as a company, we are at our best when we enforce our core values.

Don’t forget to plan for the unexpected

As CEOs, it is also our responsibility to manage the unexpected. My industry labels this as “crisis communications.” Organizations can successfully plan how to respond to worst-case scenarios, and in doing so, make us CEOs less “reactive” to situations where personal emotions and immediate response don’t allow us to think as clearly and rationally as we normally do. 

I have successfully counseled numerous companies through crisis situations — everything from hiring illegal immigrants to negativity around organized labor contract negotiations to unfavorable actions of key executives to job-related deaths and injuries. But when the emotional impact of false statements made about my own company took me by surprise, I hired an outside public relations consultant to coach me and to manage our internal and external communications. It was well worth the expense.

Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.” This couldn’t be more relevant today, especially in the wake of the social media revolution. Those five minutes are more like seconds. So, if you’re not managing your company’s online reputation, you need to be doing that, too.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year-old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or kborth@greencrest.com, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.