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January 4, 2010 | admin

Reputational New Year’s Resolutions Every Company Ought to Make

Today is the first business day of the New Year, and while many of the personal resolutions to eat right, exercise more or otherwise improve yourself may have already gone by the wayside, today is the day for companies and executives to begin with their proverbial clean slate.

While 2009 was by all accounts and all measures a difficult year, at least for today, 2010 is full of promise. My New Year’s wish is that we learn from the mistakes of the past, and resolve to make 2010 the year of Reputation.

Today, a colleague sent me a great article from the FT that provides some excellent food for thought about how those tasked with managing and protecting reputation can do just that. It also provides me with a new favorite quote about reputation, from none other than Abraham Lincoln:

“Character is the tree…reputation is the shadow.”

In the interest of nurturing the tree, so that it may cast a bigger, better, shadow in 2010, here are the Five Reputation Resolutions I think every company should make.

1. Get serious about digital/social media. Note that I am not calling it new media – because it just isn’t new anymore. And companies that are still waiting on the sidelines to “see how this develops” are missing one of the greatest opportunities to connect with their stakeholders and enhance their reputations. It’s cheap. It’s (relatively) easy. And it is powerful. Use of social media means changing attitudes about “controlling the message” – it is about conversation, interaction and even disagreement. If you want to “deliver a message” take out a billboard. If you want to enhance your reputation, join the conversation. Because it’s happening – with or without you.

2. Review your crisis plans, and update them to include use of social media. (See point 1). Sixty seconds is the new first hour – and the reputation you spent decades cultivating can be destroyed in a mere minute. Imagine the alternative reality if the Miracle on the Hudson had been a less than miraculous ending. The airline’s early statements (or non-statements) of awaiting confirmation were simulcast alongside photos of the aircraft floating in the water. This story took on a life of its own long before the airline got involved. All’s well that ends well, but it could have easily been a reputational disaster.

3. Engage your employees. No doubt many are reading this and thinking “check” – December and January are months loaded with employee communications largely driven by benefits elections and other year end housekeeping. But housekeeping isn’t employee engagement. The companies that make meaningful employee dialogue (at MWW Group we call that Employee Exchange™ vs. employee engagement in 2010 will be the ones who win the talent wars and own the upturn. Your employees are afraid. And that fear can create a near-paralysis of innovation. If that isn’t reason enough, consider the following: your employees are the embodiment of your reputation with every single stakeholder you have. They touch your customers, your shareholders, your partners and your communities every day. Entrust them with real information, and tell them what you need them to do, (beyond signing up for health care during open enrollment). Because if you won’t, someone else will…and that someone just might be offering them the chance to sign on for a new union, or a new job. Unemployment won’t be in the double digits forever, and the relationships you cultivate with your employees today will last far beyond 2010.

4. Appoint a CSR officer. Today. Corporate Social Responsibility is here to stay. It is a “must do” in this environment. And by CSR, I don’t mean “Going Green.” If 2009 was the year of “Green” (and greenwashing), I hope that 2010 will be the year of citizenship. Are you serious about a comprehensive approach to citizenship that includes your business practices, your community interaction, your workplace culture and policies as well as your commitment to the environment? Appointment of a CSR officer – and a reporting structure that demonstrates the importance of the function – is a clear signal of your organization’s seriousness about citizenship. And once you are doing the right things, then you can talk about them. Reputations are built, over time, by actions and demonstrations, not simply words.

5. Make the right decisions. I’ve blogged before about the importance of actually doing what is right – and then communicating about it, not the other way around. Communications is not a magic elixir to course-correct flawed strategy, perfume the bad-policy pig or otherwise compensate for errors in judgment, planning or best laid plans that have gone awry. When companies make bad choices, you can’t “spin it.” Remember, it is about the tree first…then the shadow.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2010.

Carreen Winters can be reached at cwinters@mww.com.

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