5 ways to reclaim and restore your reputation
The high profile series of corporate and personal scandals by some chiefs have left many of the best and brightest disillusioned and thinking twice about taking the helm of organizations. Add to this, the new world of cyber, citizen journalism and advocacy played out in the wild west of social media.
In 2008, a survey found that only 29 per cent of CEOs believed that social media tools can be an effective way to influence stakeholders while an equal proportion (29 per cent) believed social media outreach is ineffective.(i) In three short years, a global executive leadership survey released in June 2011 found that 65 per cent of business decision makers now believe that new media actually makes crises more difficult to manage and only 54 per cent of respondents have crisis management plans to address it.(ii) Most importantly, 81 per cent of respondents now believe that new media’s role in driving reputation during a crisis is on the rise.
Don’t despair! Smart leaders will use this climate to restore trust and integrity through concrete action starting from inside the organization. The road back to respectability runs right through your own hallways.
Under this leadership crisis, here are my five ways to assure confidence, morale and productivity.
- TURN UP THE FREQUENCY – Regular interaction with your troops is vital. If your team is alienated from you, and unaware of your vision, they will be incapable and unwilling to make, and keep, it successful. Leaders have more tools than ever to do it. Swedish hospital CEO Rod Hochman, interviews other key hospital executives and employees for his cleverly named “Rodcasts.” But though it looks like he’s in charge, his communications lead handles everything for him. There's no script. Typically they film everything in one take. In Robert Milton’s autobiography Straight From the Top he admitted how critical his daily voicemails to all Air Canada employees were to keeping employees onside during a hostile takeover attempt. Even if you’re not a billon dollar business, you too can fuel your team. For example, create a blog on your intranet and feature entries from top leaders and encourage staff to read and respond. This is a hi-tech, but more importantly, hi-touch means of sharing the vision, promoting strategy, hearing feedback and boosting comprehension of key activities.
- DON’T FEAR SOCIAL MEDIA, INFLUENCE IT – Social media’s influence is growing especially with baby-boomers. In fact, from 2008 to 2010 the percentage of people using social networking sites fell among 18 to 22-year-olds by 12 per cent and among 23 to 35-year-olds by 8 per cent. Meanwhile, social networking use increased among 36 to 49-year-olds by 4 per cent and among 50 to 65-year-olds by 11 per cent.(iii) Social media also offers organizations opportunities to have strategic hi-touch public conversations with key stakeholders. Northshore University Health System, affiliated with the University of Chicago, recognized the trend of patients gathering online using social media to discuss health circumstances and share advice on how to seek treatment. The suburban Chicago health network used its online platforms, Sharecare (health expert network) and NorthShoreConnect (patient records portal) to bring patient conversations already taking place, in-house. The effort has enabled the health provider to keep an edge over its rivals in the Chicagoland area, it also has been named among Thomson Reuter's list of the industry's top 10 hospital groups, in part because of its social media savvy.
- REWARD INGENUITY AND COMPREHENSION – Great ideas are free only once. If you want to encourage a culture of innovation and efficiency you have to make it worth everyone’s while. Performance reviews should allow for bonuses and rewards geared to an employee’s concrete efforts to improve quality. If you don’t have a program, start one immediately. Similarly, key managers’ abilities to achieve understanding among subordinates should be a main priority and be tracked, acknowledged and evaluated. Senior executives at GE Card Services are reviewed annually by subordinates and assigned scores based on a leader's ability to be understood. Not only are their wallets affected, but the company can quickly isolate poor messaging, employ new learning tools and train staff to ensure quicker adoption of priorities and change.
- EMBRACE DISSENT – Most managers would prefer their employees simply accept their word and that would be the end of it. In the new age of transparency, workers thrive on the openness and exchange of ideas. Everyone is familiar with the story of the janitor who had the “million dollar” idea but kept it to himself because “no one asked him.” Organizations cannot ignore employees or wait to hear from them – they have to make it part of their business. You can create and administer a regular employee pulse survey relatively easily. It is important to include a score on how top executives are communicating corporate strategy and vision. National Semiconductor has an effective online intranet poll called The Ballot Box that mixes general interest queries with business-related questions.'
- CLOSE THE CORPORATE GENERATION GAP – If you belong to an established or successful business, you’ve got a mix of people who have many years of service and staff who have joined more recently. There is much to learn from both. Leaders need to capitalize on the best of the experienced and new to address rapid change. The best way is through a strategic mentorship program. Former GE CEO Jack Welch underscored this in his book Jack: Straight from the Gut. He relates how both he and his protégé learned from the GE mentorship program he established. Welch learned about using technology like email and the Internet and the protégé learned about the strategy of running a billion dollar business. A few hours a week of shared experience can lead to improved performance for the experienced and the new.
By building a finely-tuned, nimble and responsive team where everyone supports the mission, outside threats to the boss and organization will be easily neutralized.
i. 2008 PR Week/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey, November 2008.
ii. 2011 Crisis Preparedness Survey by Burson-Marsteller/Penn Schoen Berland, June 28, 2011
iii. Pew Internet and American Life Project, Social networking sites and our lives, June 16, 2011