Covid-19 comms

Internal Reputation Management: Communications in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak

This article first appeared on Reputation Today: https://reputationtoday.in/internal-reputation-management-communications-in-the-wake-of-the-coronavirus-outbreak/

Globally, we are witnessing an unprecedented crisis with the coronavirus outbreak disrupting businesses and life in general. It has resulted in governments and institutions taking drastic measures and communicating their actions to stem the spread of the deadly virus. For organisations and individuals, reputation is at stake. 

Reputation is broadly defined as collective perceptions by others (including employees and external stakeholders) of your personality or organisation based on actions and accomplishments over time that have a bearing on future behavior. It is not to be confused with corporate identity (collection of symbols) or corporate image (impression of how the person or entity). Among the 7 dimensions that shape reputation, as per RepTrak, 50% of the influence is from products/services, citizenship and governance, all internal metrics that matter to organisations. According to a Deloitte study, reputation risk is among the biggest concerns and a key business challenge for leaders and on average more than 25% of a company’s market value is directly attributable to its reputation.

These reputation risks are highlighted when organisations and individuals are under stress. Recently, due to the coronavirus scare, we observed a few cases of internal communications finding its way almost immediately in the public domain. Whatsapp and social media quickly spread the news and rumors added fuel to the fire and damaged reputations and increased angst and panic among citizens. Trust is at its lowest ebb and the swift spread of ‘fake news’ is partly to blame. So, how do organisations manage internal reputations? Here are a few perspectives.

  • Focus on the higher purpose: Organisations who keep their eyes on values and stick to their purpose at all times, good or bad, are known to have stronger brands and exceedingly outpace competition. Communicators have a key role to play to bring the purpose back in consciousness and help leaders articulate the narrative consistently. 
  • Quality of employees matter: Who you have on your team is as important to corporate reputation like other factors such as customer service and quality of products and services. Employees who are committed to their organisation will be more likely to support the actions or take steps to prevent erosion of trust. Therefore, hiring the right employees matters to internal reputation and management. With camera phones ubiquitous and social media access at work, there is no way to prevent leaks apart from improving the quality of staff and educating them on policies and good practices.
  • How you communicate is key: It isn’t about just communicating during a crisis. In a study by Weber Shandwick, 58% of leaders felt that the way organisations respond to crises and proactively engages the public with communications influences reputation. Involving employees, equipping them with information and tools to protect themselves and the brand they work for matters.
  • Training of employees is crucial: One among the top factors that differentiates companies with top-notch reputations and also-rans is their ability to invest in training and support of employees in gaining skills related to managing reputation. When the gap between expectations and reality widens and employees aren’t enabled to either rise up to the occasion or have expectations reset, it will lead to an erosion of reputation among stakeholders. 
  • Walk the talk helps immensely: Stakeholders are constantly watching every action organisations and leaders take. With the slowdown across the globe accelerated by the coronavirus outbreak, a few airline CEOs are taking pay cuts and leading from the front. These are positive measures and gives people belief that their organisations are in the right hands. Increased expectations from CEOs to be activists and take a stand on topics that go beyond the organisation’s purview puts more responsibility on companies to manage reputation.

Such crisis situations make or break individuals and organisations. Those who carefully think about their reputations, take their employees along and manage it transparently and honestly can gain in the long term. 

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