Old western reputation management

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By Consultant Georgi Wicks

As all businesses would know, during any decision making process, the implications of an organisation’s brand will be central. This is because perception drives reality – what people think of you or your brand drives how they interact with your organisation.

You can spend years building your brand and reputation, yet the ugly truth is, in one fell swoop, this can be destroyed. Sometimes for reasons out of your control, and others from plain bad decisions – hey, we all make them.

In these situations, it’s not ‘if’ you’ll be headline news, it’s ‘when’. The question you really need to ask is – how long for?

Now is the time to circle the wagons.

For those of you unfamiliar with this saying, let me explain.

You may remember the scene from old country and western films. They’re travelling through the desert in a convoy of horse-drawn wagons and when trouble strikes, the wagons huddle around to form a circle facing outwards – basically covering each other’s back to protect themselves from every angle.

When you’re facing a crisis or your reputation is on the line, this is what you need to do. Your biggest assets, the relationships you need to protect, and those who can save you, will come from inside your organisation.

If your internal structure is sound, you will have a solid foundation to fall back on, and at the very pointy end, a poor foundation is what can hurt you the most.

The impact and longevity of a crisis can be predicted by looking internally at your foundation, is it built to last? Have you approached professional relationships and situations ethically? Will your peers standby and go in to bat for you?

In some contexts, ‘circling the wagons’ may just be a quick catch up before going into a meeting with a new client. However, doing this ensures you show up to said meeting with a united front, your key points align and complement each other. It will also show you work together as a team and have a healthy relationship internally – creating a minimum-risk agreement between two parties.

Additionally, by circling your wagons you are able to assess the external environment from all aspects and respond in an appropriate and timely manner.

So huddle up and be a team.

I feel I need to stop here and place a disclaimer on the above advice, as with everything, in order for something to be effective and successful, good intentions and most importantly ethics must be at the heart of it all.

I can put my hand on my heart and say all the businesses I have worked with, past and present, have genuinely had the best of intentions when interacting with their clients, communities and stakeholders, and while this isn’t always acknowledged by the people they are communicating with, they are in fact ethically ‘clean’.

When faced with a crisis situation, as I’ve said, circle your wagons, however this tactic will only prove worthwhile if your business is ethically sound at heart. You will always need a solid foundation to fall back on because eventually everything comes out in the wash.

Perceived squeaky clean businesses making deals under the table, will leave a trail of destruction behind them.

These ‘sweetheart’ deals don’t last forever, and while they do have a shelf life longer than dairy, they do eventually curdle. Unlike honest mistakes, these self-beneficial strategic decisions rot at the very core of the organisation and work their way out, taking everyone with it.

Unfortunately, this behaviour isn’t confined to closed rooms, it’s all around us every day. You don’t need to look far in any city to see the impropriety lining the back pockets of businesses – you just need to know what to look for.

It is a scary world we live in when money is the bottom line to every decision, so powerful in fact it propels major businesses to play fast and loose with the law, putting people’s livelihood and lives in jeopardy.

But while these corrupt organisations appear to be going from strength to strength it is the ethically sound organisations which will stand the test of time through building solid reputations built on honesty and trust.

I will leave you with food for thought – one must remember an important fact, and I believe Frank Underwood (for all those House of Cards fans) says it best.

“He chose money over power – in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the Mc-mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

Build your reputation in stone, be accountable, and above all, be ethical.

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