Everyone reacts to hard truths in their own way.
After a helluva year we’re all a bit Zoomed out. The sound of our own voices, the sight of our own reflection staring back from whatever comms platform we use is quite draining and distracting. Sometimes I barely recognise myself looking back at me. Noom, here I come.
A reflected truth can also be very different to what we might expect. Would you recognise your organisation if you heard how people described it, or criticised it? Do you think they’d describe your organisation accurately? So, how might they describe it.
Some of us thrive in these situations, as it gives us a reason and a way to improve and better ourselves. The criticism spurs some on to a greater future. However, many people find the brutal truth intensely painful and can’t find anything constructive in the criticism or conversation. This is even wired down to slight differences in personalities. For example, a CEO with the Myers-Briggs INFJ personality type would be more sensitive to criticism about himself or his business than someone with an INTJ personality type, who often handle (and dish out) criticism well.
I wonder about the personality type of the ex-CEO of eBay who said to ‘take down’ the writers of a newsletter who had criticised his company. To follow what they thought was an instruction, other ex-eBay execs allegedly prepared a three-phase harassment campaign involving cockroaches, a funeral wreath and bloody pig masks. Revenge indeed from criticism taken badly. What personality type were they?
It takes real courage to stop and take a long, hard look at your reflection to hear the criticism and accept the real truth about your reputation. Whether this is a personal exploration or an organisational venture, the uncomfortable or even ugly truth will make us better in the long run. What do your employees think? What do your customers and prospects think? What does the media, analysts, or the market think? Perception is the reality. Perception is your reputation.
So, what can you do to get that perception back on track?
Identifying the issues
To achieve a rhapsody of reputational bliss you need to identify the most important challenges to tackle, and to get a correction campaign moving and reshaping. No one can say, ‘We have no reputational challenges’. That arrogant comment alone is an indication you will have many. There is always something to work on and ways improve.
Often when we are passionate about our organisations or our reputations, it’s quite natural to overlook the disconnect between perception versus reality. Meanwhile, the disconnect can end up as a small explosion of ugly truths; perhaps from someone leaving, a customer leaving you, a lack of growth and regret for lost opportunities. or rebellion from a neglected audience. You need to ask questions and accept the answers as the perception. What you don’t see are the lost opportunities that never came your way. How do you measure the depth of a void?
During the past 12 months, when communications has been one of the only ways of maintaining our link to our colleagues, our customers, our audiences and stakeholders, what misunderstandings have developed, what changes haven’t been acknowledged and communicated, what are the consequences of the significant and subtle cultural changes that mean nothing will be quite as it ever was?
Perhaps, with a national lockdown and a physical separation from the workplace, now is a perfect time to iron out some reputational creases – it is easier to see the issues when you are a little distanced from them.
Any reputational exploration should never be a one-person job, it should be shared and co-owned by those who are most likely to be impacted by reputational upswings or downswings. Reputation affects the whole organisation.
Rounded views: Evoking honesty from colleagues
When it comes to evaluating an organisation’s reputation, just getting the opinions of a few trusted members of the senior leadership team or the executive board isn’t going to cut it. To see real and impactful changes, you must make sure that the conversations are being had across the entire organisation and externally too. Possibly senior execs can be a little disconnected from the on-the-ground dealings to understand where some real issues might lie.
Getting an honest opinion from colleagues who may feel afraid to speak up is going to be challenging and a lack of honest engagement on the subject will hinder reputational improvement. In cases such as these, give people the option to be anonymous. In addition to getting colleagues to speak more honestly, it is imperative to get feedback from as many people in the organisation as possible. Each person has a unique view, and their opinions can help to identify issues throughout. This kind of feedback may be difficult to hear, but part of the power comes from getting up front and personal with the truth.
Bringing in external help
Once the initial exploration has been completed, it might be difficult to know where to start. Even after getting honest feedback from your colleagues, having an outsider work with you on your reputation can be much more effective than working on it exclusively internally.
Bringing in external reputation consultants or a business coach could help you to understand what to do next. An outsider can deliver the brutal truth to whoever needs to know, and with much experience, can help you find ways to measure, maintain, improve and protect your reputation.
Outsiders are more likely to notice issues, discover your innate strengths and help to get truly honest feedback from all those who matter and those who care about your organisation. Looking from all angles is key and having that external perspective can really help with the finetuning to ensure you are getting the reputation you want and deserve, the rhapsody of reputation bliss. Sounds exquisite doesn’t it?
Every word that is chosen, every conversation that is had, every decision that you make impacts what your company is best known for. A positive reputation adds concrete value and often, people are more forgiving of companies with good reputations.
It all begins by taking the brave step to look in the mirror, see the truth, accept that things need to change, and to start the change now.
Management Today states, in an article about how PR took over the world, that “there’s a perception in some quarters that PR is just about transmitting a message. It’s not. It’s first and foremost about interpreting reality, ‘reading the Zeitgeist’”.
“A good PR has to be an outsider” Simon Lewis (former ‘PR for the Queen’) is quoted. The idea is that PR people have to be prepared to tell hard truths. An example being that the banks struggling to accept being public enemy number one, is no good for anyone.
Although it should be obvious that those willing to listen to honesty, take counsel and act accordingly, have a huge advantage over those who simply bury their heads in the sand – the truth is not always welcome.
Arthur W. Page, the first PR man to serve on the board of a major public company believed that, “The public perception of an organisation is determined 90 per cent by what it does and 10 per cent by what it says”. If PR is about interpreting as well as transmitting then ‘what a company does’ and ‘what a company says’ are inseparably linked and a percentage like ten per cent simply doesn’t make sense. So, what limits the potential limitless PR?
It’s not surprising that some organisations are attracted to teams of PRs offering the world for minimal investment from them (in terms of time and money). This, I feel is what limits PR. If PR agencies continue to try and out do each other by cutting fees and over promising; the industry’s reputation (ironically) will be damaged in the long run, as ‘KPIs’ or ‘deliverables’ will be impossible to meet within the budget.
Operating as a silo, just spreading or ‘transmitting’ company news, will only go so far. Can you imagine ‘talking’ to a person and they hear nothing you say but keep speaking themselves? You probably wouldn’t ‘talk’ to them for very long. Organisations need to realise, first and foremost, an investment is needed and that investment is listening.
Although a PR has to be able to understand an outsider’s perspective, they ultimately need to be linked into the heart of the business and this requires a healthy artery in the form of an in-house contact that ‘gets’ PR.
PRs can rarely operate alone. Completely outsourcing a reputation cannot be done. It’s important organisations recognise that an investment is required.
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