Your reputation – why it’s important

There is no
doubt that if your company has a strong reputation, you will attract better
people to work for you, your customers will be more trusting and loyal, and you
will be able to charge more for your products and services.  The bottom line is that reputation equates to
‘value’ in the market and can give your company a tangible edge over the
competition.

We have all
seen in recent years how corporate reputations can be shattered and the
subsequent damage to the underlying business – your company may not be a major
corporation but your reputation is still very precious and you fail to protect
it at your peril.

Your
reputation relies on the perceptions of your customers and other stakeholders,
including suppliers, business partners and employees.  In protecting this reputation it is important
to ensure that the reality of your business continues to match these
perceptions as it grows.  It is also
important to understand that as the world around us changes, the views and
demands of our stakeholders will also evolve, and that what your company offers
needs to change too to meet new demands.
A gap between perceptions and reality will lead to disgruntled
stakeholders and a damaged reputation.  

The best approach to reputation management is,
of course, to ensure there’s nothing negative to say and that no one is saying
it – this can be easier said than done.
A good reputation must be earned and once established needs constant
attention.

What
best to do?  Here are our top tips for
building and managing your reputation
:

1.    
Company
mission and values
:
A strong reputation starts with a clear mission and set of values which the
whole company buys into and lives by.  If
you can demonstrate a set of clearly articulated values and know that your
company’s behaviour mirrors these, then you’re well on the way. The things that
will impact your company’s reputation span right across the organisation, from
the way that you answer your phones to external callers, to your credit control
systems, the look and feel of your office, the way that you treat your suppliers.

2.    
Products and services: Your company’s reputation depends on the
quality and consistency of what you offer your customers.  If this isn’t right, no amount of marketing
spend will make your business grow.

3.    
People: Every single person within your business needs to feel responsible for
protecting its reputation.  To achieve
this, all employees need to understand and feel part of the mission and values,
and of the company’s growth and success. Put a thorough induction plan in place
for new staff and implement a training and internal communications programme to
keep everyone engaged.

4.    
Manage and learn from mistakes: Things can and do go wrong – we are only
human and most of us employ other humans to help us build our businesses.  So it’s important to monitor and predict
where weaknesses may be and have plans in place to deal with them quickly and
effectively.

5.    
Communicate: Building strong relationships with your customers is very
important for lots of reasons, some less obvious than others.  When your reputation is in question, loyal
customers can provide an important ‘balance’ to any negative noise around your
company.  Also, customers who are engaged
with you and your company are more likely to let you know in a ‘helpful way’
when things are not as they would hope; less engaged customers will be more
inclined to shame you using public digital channels.

6.    
Divide personal from professional: Keep personal matters private and well away
from social media to help protect the reputation of your business.  A social media policy will help to guide your
employees and ensure they understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour –
it is advisable to include this within your core employment contracts.

7.    
Get social: Your social media strategy should help you to monitor the
views and opinions of your customers, while also instigating and engaging in conversations
with them.  Learn a lesson from the big
brands which are now using social media channels for their front line customer
service – a prompt response to complaints and questions on social media can
turn a potentially damaging situation into a customer service success story.

8.    
Take responsibility: Now more than ever, customers, suppliers and
other stakeholders will expect your business to deliver more than just
profit.  They will be looking for
evidence of how your business is maximising its positive impact on the communities
in which it operates and minimising its negative impact on the
environment.  So, develop a corporate
social responsibility plan and make sure your stakeholders are aware of it.

9.    
Media training: Make sure spokespeople have had relevant
media training and are able to manage media interviews if the company’s
reputation is questioned.  It is vital in
times of crisis that you are not seen to be ‘hiding’ from the issues; you need
to present a concerned, reassuring and professional face for the business.  Stick firmly to the facts and do not try to cover
up truths – your customers deserve your honesty and will respect you for it.

Investors in People Accolade

Our company recently became the only public relations and marketing consultancy in Cambridge to be awarded Investors in People Bronze – the UK’s leading accreditation for business improvement through people management in the UK.   We wanted to aim high and go for the Bronze award, instead of just the core accreditation, and we’re very proud with what we’ve achieved.   

Investors in People (IIP) describes the award as ‘demonstrating a commitment to employees and representing a solid foundation of good practice in a socially responsible organisation’.

At Conscious Communications we always strive to put our people first.  We understand the importance of employee development in continuing to provide excellent results for our clients – our IIP assessor, Caroline Wormleighton, said: “Their key strengths are within their strong ethos of ethics and transparency, together with their inclusive and developmental working culture which result in a highly motivated, involved and empowered workforce.

“During the assessment process, the evidence showed that people are a valued asset to the business, a culture of involvement, trust and openness is felt throughout the organisation.”

Employees are a fundamental resource for any organisation, the way they are treated and how much they value the individuals they work with impacts their performance and, in turn, the performance of the business.

There is a mass of evidence to support this theory.  One study, led by Andrew Oswald from Warwick University and a team of economists, suggests clear links between workers’ happiness and their productivity, finding that happy workers are 12 percent more productive than unhappy workers.

There are a number of ways an organisation can ensure employees feel valued, respected and engaged in their roles, and a strong management team is an essential part of the mix.  Good managers will lead by example and can make or break a company.

Our IIP assessment report noted that our “managers are inspirational role models and take advantage of management development opportunities and programmes available to them to improve the way they lead, manage, and develop.”

Good managers will also be adept at devolving responsibility, ensuring that individuals feel challenged and stimulated.  And, with this responsibility comes a sense of pride and ownership which reflects in the success of our company – as this year’s Waitrose Christmas gingerbread stall advert says: everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose so they care.

In our IIP report the assessor said: “People are very quickly encouraged to take ownership and responsibility, developing their knowledge with hands-on experience and projects.”

Individuals also need to feel that their personal goals are being met alongside the company’s and by devising a career plan for each member of our team we have established our commitment to their advancement.

Each member of our team has an annual training budget and a training log to complete which helps keep note of courses and workshops they have completed throughout the year.

Everyone also has two paid days each year to volunteer with a charity of their choice which provides them with an opportunity for personal development outside of their day to day work routine.

This is just a snap-shot of what we’ve achieved inside our business in two-and-a-bit short years and we see evidence every day of how our internal culture is reflected in the quality of our work and the results we achieve for our clients.

Of our IIP achievement, Paul Devoy, Head of Investors in People at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said: “Achieving the Investors in People Bronze standard is something that a business, as young as Conscious Communications, should be truly proud of. It is the sign of an organisation which is truly committed to good people management practice and we’d like to congratulate the company on its achievement.”

Educating Business for Women Leaders

The on-going debate about women on boards confounds the Conscious Communications team. 

Angela Merkel’s well publicised campaign to increase the number of German companies appointing women to senior posts is currently heading for a quota of 30% by 2020.  Our own Vince Cable has said he’ll look again at quotas if the target of 25% female representation on boards is not met by 2015.

Of course there should be as many women on boards as there are men but the thought that laws should be put in place to ensure that this is the case seems at odds with the net required result: successful businesses and a thriving economy. 

The central issue is one of discrimination and there is absolutely no doubt that women have been discriminated against for many reasons throughout history – employment is just one of the many arenas in which this discrimination has played out.  Extremely capable women have been blocked from rising up the ranks of male dominated companies and there have been many widely publicised cases where salaries for female employees have been unacceptably low compared with male counterparts. 

Culture and geography have also played a major role in women’s ability to achieve their potential in business.  Internationally, women account for only 11% of all board positions: Europe has the highest percentage, with Norway, Sweden and Finland at the top of the league and US lagging way behind.  This is despite the fact that up to 20% of the growth in US productivity in the past 50 years has been attributed to the inclusion of marginalised groups, including women, in the work force.

Looking at an industry close to our hearts, research has shown repeatedly that gender diverse executive teams demonstrate strong CSR performance.  But men still dominate senior CSR roles in US.  The GreenBiz 2011 salary survey found that two thirds of senior sustainability roles in large companies were held by men.

But are laws really able to impact on this discrimination?  It’s a little like legislating to stop a playground bully – the act itself will not stop, it will simply become better disguised.  No, the answer, we believe, lies not in legislation but in EDUCATION.

A recent article in the Independent cited a report showing that the average British CEO is a 53 year old male with a background in finance.  Apparently 52% of CEOs have a finance or accountancy background; only 8% have a background in marketing or advertising – no comment from Conscious Communications on this statistic!

However and wherever a woman starts on her career journey, it can’t be avoided that if she is to have a family it is likely that she will have a career break of some length. In fast moving, ever changing industries like our own, even a short career break will require her to embark on a steep learning curve to catch up when she returns.  Here, again, education is the key and Conscious Communications wonders whether investment in provision for training and CPD for women, enabling them to compete on a level playing field, would be a better use of government resources, than enforcement of legislation.  

History has taught women that they can overcome adversity if they put up enough of a fight.  There are enough great modern-day female role models to demonstrate what can be achieved.  But, we believe that all self-respecting women in business want nothing more than to know they have earned their place in the business hierarchy, not achieved it by leapfrogging capable men to the role through the exercising of legal muscle.  There’s no satisfaction or achievement in that.

Confidence breeds confidence

Last week we were invited to join a party from the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce in travelling to London for the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference.  It was a privilege to be part of the group and our thanks go to John Bridge, Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers for involving us.

The speaker line-up for the day was quite extraordinary, with Rt Hon William Hague MP and Rt Hon Ed MIlliband MP making personal appearances; the Prime Minister, not to be outshone, delivered a pre-recorded speech to the conference, in which he talked about the UK’s battle for its economic future and how the work of the BCC is “vital for winning that battle”. 

In his presentation, the Foreign Secretary talked eloquently of five areas of focus for the government in strengthening Britain: building stability; increasing UK competitiveness; boosting trade and investment; fighting for an open and fair global market; investing in international security.  His full speech can be found here.

Other speakers included Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Rt Hon Lord Heseltine CH, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP.

For us, the most memorable words of the day were delivered by John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce: “Hope is not a strategy”, he said.  “It is no use hoping for a Eurozone recovery any time soon, or a booming US economy in the immediate future.”

The underlying message of the conference was the need to ‘drive business confidence’, a strapline that our own Chambers in Cambridgeshire have adopted for the coming year.  John Longworth told the conference:  “Bold action must be taken now to boost confidence so that businesses can create wealth and prosperity….. Confidence is the key, confidence and an enterprise friendly environment.” 

Export was another strong theme of the conference.  William Hague illustrated the importance of the international marketplace for UK businesses with the examples of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which now account for 20 per cent of world economic output, double that of ten years ago.  The UK still lags “behind European competitors in the market share of exports to emerging markets,” he said.  “British SMEs are currently less likely to export than their European competitors.  Our ambition is to see as many as 100,000 more exporters by the year 2020.” There could certainly be no misunderstanding at the conference that the government is expecting and imploring UK SMEs to lead this international growth.

One of the most interesting discussions during the day was that between Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive, UK Corporate Banking Division, RBS Group, Samir Desai, CEO, Funding Circle and Lucy Armstrong, Chair, Capital for Enterprise.  A rather apologetic opening speech from Chris Sullivan set the scene from corporate banking and there followed a lively discussion about the growth of peer to peer lending platforms and the potential for new challenger banks to enter the market.  Regional banking featured as an important potential focus for the future.  For those of us old enough to remember how banking used to be, this news may herald a welcome return to something that delivers a little more control as well as flexibility, and the personal attention of old-fashioned bank managers who understand their customers businesses.  We can’t see any negatives in that.

The other highlight of the event was a lively delivery by the passionate Wayne Hemingway MBE, Founder, Red or Dead.  Wayne Hemingway stressed that creativity is the 2nd biggest driver of our economy and claimed that by losing control of our city centres the people have lost the ability to grow that creativity in the way that his own business started.  He went on to lambast multiple retailers for treating UK manufacturers as a soft touch and claimed that, in doing so, they were contributing to the UK slow economic recovery.

Echoing the sentiment of John Longworth’s words, he concluded that we “all need to recognise that we can do better” and that recognising the need for change is a vital first step.

Fanning the sparks of the sustainability revolution

The Growing British Business report says that ‘growth pioneers’ will be responsible for the UK’s recovery.   Learning from history, we know that this is true and we don’t really need a survey of 500 UK decision makers to confirm it.  Indeed, it is this pioneering leadership which we believe is the only way to a truly sustainable future for our planet, let alone for business. 

As a race, humans will do as little as necessary to satisfy external demands and mostly will only do this once self-serving motivations are fulfilled.  Every day, we hear that the only way for businesses to realistically adopt positive change towards a more sustainable future, is for change to be practical and for it to deliver to the bottom line.  This is, of course, true.  So, knowing that really self-less leaders will be the notable exceptions that headline in history, we are reliant on exceptionally successful business leaders, who can afford to take the high road, to dedicate their time and energy to leading the way forward.

The Growing British Business report shows some interesting regional groupings with Cambridge earning a top ranking for fostering many of growth pioneers in its ‘hi-tech hub’.  Dr David Cleevely of Analysys fame, Charles Cotton, Chair of Cambridge Phenomenon Ltd and Neul Ltd, and Hermann Hauser UK Computer Personality of the Year in 1984, are a few of Cambridge’s great names, and companies like Ubisense, Abcam, Amadeus, Redgate Software, RealVNC, Autonomy, Jagex have leaders snapping at their heels.

Growing British Business claims that Cambridge has reached the heady rankings of a ‘super city’, primed to spearhead the UK’s economic recovery and, earlier this year, The Guardian reported that Cambridge’s hi-tech cluster now sports 1,400 companies, supporting 40,000 jobs.  Indeed David Cleevely recently told Prince Andrew that the city has the potential to develop a new clutch of $10bn companies taking it to the ‘next level of global greatness’. 

So, maybe Cambridge, with its hot-bed of pioneering leaders, is where the real sustainability revolution is set to start.  We’re glad we’re here to fan the sparks!

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