As every day passes there are fewer places to hide what a former American Vice President called ‘an inconvenient truth’. Al Gore was referring to climate change, but I’d like to put a fresh twist on his adage. It’s time we embraced the need for organisational culture change.
Social media and 24/7 news have created an insatiable demand for content, and the most attractive content is bad news. It’s much hard to be a nation builder; a corporate leader; a fair employer or even a good spouse these days. The truth will out.
Looking at the organisational cultures behind the brands we buy, I see much opportunity for reputational risk. The days when casual workers could be hired and fired daily are almost past. Fighting unfair employment practises used to be territory of the Trade Unions. Now a single employee blows her whistle, and a virtual picket line assembles.
Consumer rights are coming to the fore. So, if your advertising makes the claim that your margarine is enriched with Vitamin E, you had better be ready to substantiate it. All it takes is one online connection between a consumer and an employee from your production line and suddenly you have reputational damage to contend with.Protection of personal information, after decades of abuse by the financial services industry (among others) and the new and turbulent debate around social media, means that your company’s customer data management must be watertight. Ask yourself where yours is right now, on the scale between impermeable and sieve.
To take up a word so overused in corporate value statements, it’s time to demonstrate ‘Integrity’. To work through your corporate culture, your people practises, your standard operating procedures and make sure that they are aligned to the promise your brand makes to the market. Do they hold together under pressure; or are you simply living in hope?
I visit tens of business a year, and I’ve noticed a common positive feature in the best of them. The CEO takes delight in walking visitors around the premises and giving them the chance to talk openly to the staff. Not just consultants like me, but important customers and prospects. That’s very important because, no matter how technical a service you provide or how advanced a product you produce, customers take confidence from seeing the workings of the machine. And from meeting the people who make it work.
If the ‘back office’ of your business resembles a Dickensian workhouse you’ll be reticent about showing it off. But when it begins to reflect your brand promise, you’ll have something of value to showcase.
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa