The importance of reputation is something everyone seems to understand, but when it comes to managing this reputation, be it an organization or person, the challenges are a little more complex. A survey of professionals from various organizations on trends in reputation and management of intangibles, titled Approaching the Future 2020, showed that 74% of respondents believe the main factor impacting reputation has to do with new expectations and requirements of interest groups.
To talk about this and other related topics, the Adventist South American News Agency interviewed journalist Ana Claudia Pais. With a [insert undergraduate degree] and MBA from PUC-RJ, she has a career of more than 20 years in the leadership of corporate communication area in national and multinational companies in the sectors of consumer goods, b2b (trade established between companies), and service. Since 2018, she has held the position of head of communication and sustainability at Yara Fertilizantes.
Understanding the concept
In times of high exposure, what do people and organizations need to understand about reputation risk?
We are living in a time of great change, questions, and uncertainties, in which the lack of coherence between speech and attitude becomes the great watershed to maintain credibility with the public. At the moment when the proliferation of false information arrives through the various channels, the reputation of each one of us can be disputed from one second to the next. And the only certainty we have today is that the fight against “fake news” is inglorious. In other words, if you have never paid attention to your reputation or cared about what others say about you or how they see your company/institution, I am sorry to inform you that you are about to be surprised↭—hopefully on the positive side, though the chances are low.
It is not the time to think about reputation the way it was managed even before the pandemic hit the world. Before, reputation was based on the perception of stakeholders about a set of factors that included the quality of products and services, work environment, governance, innovation, citizenship, and the ability to establish relationships with these audiences of interest for building trust. Today, however, what weighs most is the institutions' ability to adapt and respond to uncertain scenarios.
For this reason, communicating integrity as a competitive advantage does not make sense. In positive scenarios, integrity is more than an obligation of organizations. In negative scenarios, however, it is perceived that an organization that made efforts to become integral gives social license to continue existing. The integrity of organizations and people acts as the main element for building trust and reputation. Integrity reinforces trust, which reinforces reputation. That is why it is so important to know and recognize our weaknesses as people, leaders, and organizations.
Why is proper reputation management important?
Reputation is the main intangible asset of any institution or person, be it public or private, with or without profit. It is a prerequisite for people to do business and relate. It guarantees longevity, competitiveness, and sustainability.
Reputation is understood as the set of perceptions that the different audiences with which an organization interacts will create over time. It is formed by the sum of punctual images (real situations, experienced or reported) that validate or contradict the expectations that people have about a particular organization.
Reputation management is done by managing expectations that the different stakeholder groups have in relation to the organization. For this, it is essential to know who your target audience is and what they think of and expect from you. An organization gains a good reputation when it exceeds expectations and loses that reputation when it fails to meet expectations.
What are the basic elements for correct reputation management?
Basically, nothing has changed, yet everything has changed: have clear principles and values; attitudes consistent with those values; the ability to correct possible errors and adjustments; work with humility, transparency, and empathy— humility to recognize mistakes, transparency to talk about lessons learned and the process for changing culture, and empathy for dialogue with stakeholders and those interested in the organization.
What will define an institution's reputation after the pandemic—and consequently, its competitiveness—will be the perception of how it acted to minimize the damage to the economy and protect the population in a moment of extreme crisis.
In the current context, the challenges of the pandemic require empathic communication. It is a communication in which leaders are willing to dialogue based on a posture of listening and welcoming fears, concerns, mourning, and anxiety from the context. Strengthening organizational culture in the light of current and future challenges is also something that involves understanding how symbols, rites, rituals, and meanings need to be re-signified on this journey.
Effective and human communication has never been more necessary than it is today. Therefore, if you have not yet started the exercise of looking at your various audiences—internal and external—and seeking to understand what is important to them, I, therefore, feel you are in serious danger of seeing your world fall apart in seconds. Do not waste time; every crisis brings an opportunity, and this can be your time to organize the house.