On the 2nd September 2010 I made a point in a blog post Discuss. Dissect. Decide that Reputation is a mission – critical task and is of such importance that it should be included in every meeting’s agenda and be included as a must in the Company Learning & Development Training Calendar – as a must and not an elective.
My point and reservations have now been vindicated through some interesting research by a company ReputationInc .
Here are the main facts they discovered by examining the curriculums of the leading Executive MBA programs identified by the Financial Times. They were looking to see how reputation was incorporated into the course work.
- 1 in 5 leading EMBA programs teach none of the 10 core reputation disciplines
- Just one of the 50 leading EMBAs has ‘Reputation’ as a core module
- Communications & relationship building skills are taught in less than 20% of programs
- Government & policy relations is covered by fewer than 1 in 5 EMBA program
- Governance and ethics is the most popular reputation discipline being taught to business leaders today (no surprise there)
ReputationInc cites McKinsey research that found that one-half of global CEOs say managing external affairs is one of their top-three priorities. Yet one fifth of the world’s top 50 global Executive MBA programs do not offer any training in the core disciplines of reputation management.
They report that the missing disciplines include CSR, stakeholder engagement, government relations, communications, and reputation management strategy.
More worrying still, just two of the top 50 business schools surveyed offer a dedicated reputation module and 80% offer no training on either public affairs or external communications – the two core “hands-on” skills executives need to build reputation. “The results reveal a frightening gap between the reputation skills business leaders must possess in 2012 and the cursory attention they get in the traditional executive MBA.”
The programs with the highest ranked scores for including reputation are Henley Business School, Essec/Mannheim, and the University of Texas at Austin: McCombs.
I also agree with this statement: “On this evidence, companies and shareholders should be concerned that Executive MBA programmes risk creating ineffective business leaders who leave academia without the skills to actively manage the precious asset of corporate reputation,” said John Mahony, CEO, ReputationInc. “Reputation management skills are vital for today’s CEO who sets the tone and mood for a corporation and must lead from the front in communicating the purpose of the brand and its value to society.
Many managers are not born ready to meet this challenge and will benefit from coaching and confidence building in reputation, something today’s Executive MBA courses fail to adequately provide.”
The problem though is that it is not just MBA modules that lack this, but also Director training programs, Government Officials training, town councillors development programs and Internal Learning & Development programs that suffer from this lack.
The research clearly shows that training in managing external relationships is mandatory for all executives (Again a vindication that my Stakeholder Reputation Management course has filled a very important gap these past few years)
It is my belief that the problem is derived from the past where it was believed that Reputation was naturally an extended PR & Communication function and discipline. And, although communication forms and integral part of the discipline, there is now a realisation that Reputation Management requires advanced systemic thinking skills and thorough understanding of intangible issues, reputation and strategic business drivers.
The report goes on to say that “These findings should be a red flag to corporate affairs directors and those responsible for leadership development in global corporations. Knowingly or not, next generation leaders will be under-prepared
to steward their company’s corporate reputation in the coming decade.”
This statement just reminded me of the conversation in 2010 I had with the Learning & Development Manager of an international bank when they were considering my Stakeholder Reputation Management program for internal use. He was of the opinion that it was not a must, but should be an optional elective for senior executives.
How these words will haunt now. If only the financial services community understood that importance. Just perhaps there may have been less Reputation Damage.
As Warren Buffett, the world’s most astute investor have said many times: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it, and if you understand this YOU WILL DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY”
Funny though that most managers miss the last part of the quote. The research quoted above shows how important understanding this difference is.
The missing difference in the MBA programs – “ If I do this, or make this decision, will it harm my (own) or my company’s reputation?”
Understanding this difference is vital in an Era where Reputation is the New Bottom Line.
So, you have been called in and told to cut costs by culling the workforce!
Just a simple exercise! FIFO method. First In, First Out. Basing your choice on what value the person has added to the organization.
This is the time for a Red Flag. Stop. Think. How can we part in a reputable way. This is not just a HR or cost-cutting exercise. This is an exercise that can create long-term damage to your reputation. Rather think of it as an engagement exercise of sorts.
As a consultant I always tell companies to plan any retrenchment exercise with care as it is nothing other than another large scale change exercise, and as you know the only person that loves change is a baby with a wet nappy. My experiences below is based on having advised and implementing the downsizing of a whole company as well as my experiences as a consultant the past fourteen years.
Any retrenchment exercise has not only environmental and company impact but also psychological impact on both the people being laid off as well as survivors and stakeholders. They are all faced with uncertainty. Networks of relationships are interrupted.
I believe that companies should provide options: Examples:
** Avoiding Layoffs … there really are options ..Why not provide business start up training to those people – help them to become free agents to the organization? Allow them to tender their services back to the organization.
** How about running innovative cost-cutting campaigns in the business? Ask staff to come up with ideas and cost-saving suggestions. Make it a large scale awareness exercise and innovative thinking campaign.
** Companies should provide training to people on how to deal with being laid off. Many will take it personally, iro of the current economic climate.
** Managers should be trained with how to manage layoffs carefully and thoughtfully. A question that should be asked is: Are we looking at the human cost of these actions? Layoffs are not about "headcount"; they are about people. Unfortunately layoffs spread a fear virus that can leave an entire organization weakened and open to attack.
The Fear Virus
Let’s assume that you are laying off 1000 people. Assume that each of the people laid off has close working relationships with just 5 people … that’s almost 5000 "surviving" employees who are now traumatized by watching their friends being laid off. These people are now living in and acting from fear. Plus their informal network for getting work done is shredded. Productivity? Reputation Conscious? Not likely.
Now let’s assume that each of the 5000 traumatized employees spends several hours talking about layoffs and their fears to just 10 co-workers. Now there are 50, 000 fear-based employees doing their best to do ‘’CYA’’ and avoid risk and management scrutiny.
And these people as well as the original 1000 laid off people go home and have angry and fearful conversations with their family members, neighbours and friends. They spread messages that undertake a life of its own and become a virus of its own on all the social networks.
Let’s say that each person spreads fear and distrust of organizations to 10 people … now we’ve got a fear virus affecting millions. At this point it tips and takes on a life of its own, creating environments where people don’t trust management and are not about to take chances, volunteer for new projects or propose new ideas. (Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point)
Would that company have a good reputation? Forget it! The seeds for destruction is sown!
The same company will have to spend more the next time round to recruit staff and encourage employment (One of the dangers of Reputation Risk)
Here are some other thoughts that may help guide lay-offs in a humane and reputable way:
I firmly believe that communication is the key to successfully implementing any large-scale organizational change. Whether you are implementing new systems, redesigning business processes, or transforming organization structures through downsizing and M&A, effective communication is absolutely critical.
A former colleague used to write, "Communication is more than the tangible vehicles and tools that convey information; it is the glue that binds internal and external stakeholders to your vision, mission, goals and activities. Effective communication engages the hearts and minds of all stakeholders."
With regards to a change process, the objective of these communications is to move your target audiences along the following continuum with the stated effects:
- Awareness – individuals are conscious of the change
- Understanding – individuals have a shared meaning of the change
- Acceptance – individuals internalize the change and have a more favourable outlook
- Alignment – individuals provide appropriate levels of support for the change
- Commitment – individuals begin to claim responsibility and ownership for the change
This is only achieved by developing a communication strategy that utilizes multiple communication vehicles and delivery channels throughout the course of the change process. Most importantly, these communications must build upon each other to share a bit more of the story as it unfolds. It is not sufficient to make a global announcement the day before or the day the change occurs.
Now let me put the above into practical terms. A few "nuts and bolts” regarding lay-offs that I picked up, being part of a team that had to dismantle an organization:
- Give as much advance notice as possible.
- Have the lay-offs announced by the person with the highest authority possible, hopefully the decision maker or the top person in the organization to whom the person belongs or, minimally, the supervisor, i.e. someone the person respects or has some personal relationship with. (I believe that Standard Bank did this) For the sake of humanity, such notices should be made in person. Retrenchment notices are stone-age stuff. The notification session should be interactive sessions. Those making the announcements MUST be briefed or trained on what to expect and how to handle various reactions, i.e. give them models like the grieving process (denial, resistance, exploration, commitment), have them prepare questions, etc. If notification cannot be made in person, then telephone can be substituted if done properly and by the right person, e.g. someone the person has some relationship with. If individual notification is not possible, it might be done in as small a group as possible, but this is certainly not a preferred alternative by any stretch of the imagination. Follow-up or augment the human notification with a concrete, written set of plans or guidelines that the laid off person can refer to as he or she tries to accommodate the lay-off, e.g. steps that will take place, contact people, how to access unemployment, etc.
- If at all possible have a workshop for workers which should be held immediately (within 24-48 hours of the notice) that explains things like unemployment, severance pay, job hunting, etc. Experts should conduct the session but the leadership should be represented to help clarify how things will be implemented or viewed in the organization.
- A good counselling program should be available to the laid off workers, e.g. financial counselling, job searching, starting your own business programs, grief counselling, etc. If at all possible, a list of job opportunities should be provided.
- As much as possible, respect the privacy of those laid off for as long as possible even though that will be eventually lost as transition occurs. The word will get out but time gives the employee a chance to adjust or get thru some of the grief cycle before having to deal with well meaning co-workers. Even expressions of sympathy may be hard to take for someone in denial or resistance. If possible, give the laid off person some time off, but no more than one work day. He/she will need a support group to help deal with some of the chaos they will experience and removing them from that becomes counterproductive if too long.
- Provide a hotline. Email offers a great venue because email can be routed to an appropriate expert. If that is not available, provide a phone or drop box for people to provide concerns, anonymously if they prefer.
- The potential for workplace violence is real. Think about it, very seriously; both from the perspective or prevention and remediation.
- Remember, not only the laid off workers will be affected. Briefings or other forums where they can get information and share concerns are important for them, too. The culture will be affected, not to mention the formal and informal organization. Some thinking needs to be given to ensuring proper reconnection of the loose ends that will inevitably take place as people leave. The people who are left need to feel a sense of regained homeostasis as soon as possible.
I know many organizations do not deal with lay-offs so compassionately, i.e. notice is made and the employee is supervised while clearing his/her desk and immediately escorted off the premises. This has changed due to legal restrictions, but the above suggestions will go a long way to show why the organisation regards itself as an Admired company, as it lives up to its brand promises.
The list above is is certainly not comprehensive but some stuff I learned thru first hand observation, I offer them because my heart goes out to the estimated 50 million people worldwide who will be affected this year.
Economically it will not always be possible to put all of the above into action, but remember you want to part ways with an ex-employee in a manner that the company’s integrity and reputation will not be jeopardised.
· For those who know of professionals who will be laid-off, please ask them to contact me. I may be able to assist them with setting up their own consulting practices. For the past twelve years I have run a program called Market your Consulting Practice that have been well received by those wanting to turn their professional knowledge into a personal advantage.
Just wondering? Have PR lost the plot?
I was looking for something in my files when the following quote in a document caught my attention. This is what the Task Force on the stature and role of Public Relations formed by PRSA in 1980, pointed out.
"The greatest value of the public relations professional is in anticipating and shaping what is happening, not in reporting or coping with what has already been determined. By the time an organisation is confronted with attitudes of its publics (like negativity of the staff) it is usually too late for public relations thinking to have an effect on them".
Ouch! I read about PR & Publicity all the time. I read about Reactive thinking all the time. I read about publicity campaigns all the time. Seldom do I read about training staff in PR and related issues.
Our work lies in shaping the future. This got me thinking. These days PR knowledge is no longer enough.
You need to know what’s happening in the environment as well as knowledge management. Not only do you need to know how to do research, you need skills in futuristic thinking and the new discipline – knowledge management i.e not only is the PR person required to be a doer but also a shaper and an influencer.
I guess the ante has been raised.
Results change when we change.
We experts are always debating change – large systems scale change, etc. But let’s narrow it down to the jugular. If it is going to be, it is up to me!
It is when individuals start to take responsibility that real change occurs. Look at Mandela, Ghandi, etc.
We advise, we consult, we conjure! But is when a person says so far and no more.
We have CRM systems in companies, we have large systems, and yet research will tell us that people want to be acknowledged as individuals. The lessons are paramount. We need to ensure that all our change programs touch the individual.
So , what can we do? Plenty! If we see a truck in front of our car that is smoking badly, why do we not take a photograph, write about it to the company or even write on our blogs about it.
In the picture below this baby is pointing at the Baby Food Manufacturers saying: ‘’Don’t think you can just put G.M. food into my baby milk powder. I will hold you accountable”
Why do we wait for others? The era of citizen journalism have arrived. In South Africa they even pay citizens for that type of information.