Chairman's blog: Why risk Reputation? - By David Lennan - Chairman - Work Wise UK

Work Wise Week is here again and as I look back on the last year I think, “What a mess”.

We still can’t make our minds up about “In or out” and whether as a Nation we want to be Global or European and our recent Local Elections have once again found a population struggling with Brexit issues and politicians allowing our business community to tread water. As we head to yet another election process, this time with Europe, the peoples vote will again be cast but no real or lasting decisions will be made whilst our Parliament remains deadlocked and indecisive.

Our reputation around the world is being eroded and as we all know, once people loose trust in their business, or their political leaders, reputation sinks fast and it is very difficult if not impossible to retrieve;  this is especially so in our highly connected and instantly reported world.

I have long believed and written many blogs about how our low productivity is a symptom of poor work place management which comes down to poor leadership and poor communication.  Leadership and Management practices are the real game changers in delivering success and bad to the core Organisations don’t survive, they die from within from sloppiness and apathy. Leadership and clear communication in transformation is absolutely crucial. As we have discovered from our 3 years of Brexit negotiations clarity of message is essential if you are to take people with you on the journey of change and development. The same is true in every Organisation small and large, people need to understand and be connected with the direction of travel.

Good governance is really about leadership and doing the right things, not just being followers of Laws. Creating and maintaining the highest of standards of behavior and governance from the top avoids our law makers and enforcers from becoming involved.  We are seeing far too many examples of cultures that create and hide significant issues that when exposed, lead to severe reputational damage and a loss of trust. Trust takes years to build and vanishes rapidly when cultures and behaviors are exposed to public scrutiny.

Work Wise Week provides a real opportunity to think about how your Organisation tackles the thorny questions surrounding managing reputation. What do your staff really think of the Board? How effective are they? How are you viewed by your customers and stakeholders?  What do they really think of you?  How do you measure your impact on society? What does all this mean to your future prosperity?  We really can’t afford to be on the perimeter of the important issues that affect us all, we can’t simply remain as bystanders and expect everything to turn out well. 

We never know when the next disaster may occur or what events outside our control might strike, but we do know what’s right, what’s wrong and what the limits and consequences are. We are good at managing the financial issues and tangible assets within business, but we are certainly not good at managing the less visible intangible assets in our businesses which is where reputations are won or lost. Many companies do spend time in assessing risk and many have dedicated teams that stretch the thinking to ensure that the widest possible risks are considered and contingencies plans are put in place. But according to research by Deloittes in 2018 only 42% of chief executives have discussed risks to their Organisation’s reputation in the past year  and 53% lack the process to identify events and market trends that can damage the Organisation’s reputation. According to research by Edelman 2019 76% of employees say chief executives should lead on change rather than waiting for Governments to impose it. Research also suggests that the more diverse and transparent Companies tend to reap stronger rewards. 

Understanding and managing reputational risk is very much at the heart of societal and business change and we are all contributors whether in our workplaces at home or involved in out of work activities. The necessary leadership should come from the top whether this is Government or the Board of the Organisations that we work for.  Societal and corporate injustice is widely and quickly reported and should be at the top of the Boardroom agenda. Companies that attempt to hide wrongdoing or errors of judgment are being judged very quickly in all forms of media and this can have devastating impact on reputation, which in turn affects many thousands of employees and their families deep into supply chains. Why Boards allow such incidents to impact on hard won reputation is a mystery to me, very often it comes down to Board ineffectiveness and concentrating  on the wrong issues at the wrong time.

There are very clear links with how The Board manages risk and how Board members are trusted. By creating a culture of openness and transparency and clearly communicating to all parts of the Organisation and most importantly throughout the supply chain and stakeholder groups, all parties start to understand the real trading risks and the consequences of getting it wrong. When things go wrong which they probably will at some point, careful and compassionate communication is key.

It is no longer acceptable or indeed possible for CEOs and Boards to hide behind issues and hope all will go away. It doesn’t just go away and people’s lives are affected by crisis the costs of which can be very high indeed and even lead to going out of business. The mantra should be, manage risk, reputation and value.

Work Wise Week is a great week to think about the Reputational issues affecting you and your Organisation and taking time to discuss them openly and find ways to raise them at top level for action. After all if a 16 year old from Sweden can get the whole world to take notice, surely you can also rise to the challenges that could affect you and yours.

You know the limits and the consequences of getting it wrong.