Managing Reputational Risk

As part of our ongoing series of events ‘Is Your Board Good Enough’, speakers from Moon Consulting, JBP, CBI and law firm, Burges Salmon, discussed how companies can manage reputational risk in the workplace. Below we look at the key themes.

We live in a modern era where every issue is magnified by social media.  We also exist in a time where people expect to be able to air their views and opinions.

However, despite this climate of open communication and public scrutiny, many companies lack the expertise to enable them to react quickly when a problem arises as a result.  This leaves them exposed to the risk of significant reputational damage.

Increased reputational risk

Recent polls by ComRes and YouGov indicate that incidents of sexual harassment and workplace bullying are on the rise.

In addition, the recent gender pay gap reporting data shows that 78% of employers pay more to men than women and The Guardian recently reported that three quarters of the largest charities are also paying significantly more to men than women.    

Both these areas present significant risk to companies as they attract unwanted media attention. Employers need to take notice and make sure that they are prepared should they find themselves in the media spotlight.

Planning can help mitigate reputational damage

Reputational damage can affect a company in myriad ways. Companies should protect themselves by implementing robust policies and procedures internally, and should plan in advance for the worse case scenario. Don’t wait until the press arrive on your doorstep. Seek advice in advance, develop a strategy and ensure that an associated support infrastructure is in place. 

When an issue does arise, escalate it to board level as quickly as possible. Consider who else may need to be involved - HR, for example, will often need to work alongside the Board to manage any legal risks and potential reputational fall-out. This is particularly important in today’s culture of ubiquitous communications, where a disgruntled employee could quite easily take to social media to get their message out.

If you decide to release a statement when responding to an incident, make sure that you address the issue quickly across the relevant social media platforms and press outlets, and show strong leadership. Demonstrate to the audience that you care, are taking the issue seriously, are assisting the authorities, are investigating the matter and that you are fully committed to supporting anyone who has been affected.

Be mindful of phraseology – it is important to strike the right balance between acknowledging that you care whilst at the same time protecting the company’s interests and not undermining your position on liability from a legal perspective.

The impact of social media

Negative engagement on social media can have an adverse effect on a company’s reputation and its financial position in seconds.

Whilst most companies embrace social media from a brand and community perspective, it is important to be able to manage the platforms that you are on when something goes viral for the wrong reason – particularly when it’s coming from one of your own employees.

Remind staff of their responsibilities on social media. Restrict who is authorised to post on the company's behalf where a corporate account is being used and make clear in policies that individuals who are not authorised to comment on corporate matters will need to set up any social media accounts only in their own names and should make it clear that they are not holding themselves out as making statements on behalf of the company.

Monitor social media and use it to help shape the company’s communications strategy.  Make sure you are on the front-foot to steer the message and conversation.

Culture is the key

Help reduce reputational risk by investing time in creating a healthy, open culture within your organisation. Foster a culture throughout your organisation where bullying and harassment are not tolerated and do all that you can through training and role modelling to ensure these values are maintained.  

Cultural messaging needs to be led from the top but without the buy-in from the workforce, you can end up with meaningless straplines.

Employees need to know who they can go to if they have concerns. Introduce technology such as ‘Talk to Spot’, which can help break the culture of silence around sexual harassment.

Having ’diversity’ or ’respect at work’ ambassadors can also help employee engagement and prevent issues from escalating. 

Conclusions

  • Be an empathetic employer and ‘keep it human’ – if you get that right everything will flow from this.
  • Carry out a risk analysis to identify weak spots and then plan for every eventuality so that if something does go awry you are prepared for it and can act swiftly and decisively.
  • Focus on the culture within your organisation - use the gender pay gap as a driver for positive change within your organisation.
  • Risk intelligence is key - continually assess your risk profile.