Why many businesses find themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle...
It is difficult to recall a time when corporate life was straightforward and clear of duplicitous decision-making, global economic woes, political threats and climate destruction. When businesses were builders of wealth, drivers of innovation and architects of job creation -- hark the white knights!
When communication was not travelling at the speed of light through technological breakthroughs (which are threatening the relevance of humans in business), and the fax machine was the most technologically advanced device in many organisations.
Today businesses, executives and boards are facing a plethora of challenges that can only be described as a man-made tsunami. And there are no warning systems to give us time to batten down the hatches and take cover.
Many companies have been left up the proverbial creek without a paddle, through either inadequate governance, or an economic environment not conducive to success. The only way to stem the raging current is through exceptional problem solving, diversity of thinking and an acceptance that something must change.
Will the real leader please stand up?
So where do we find ourselves today?
Cue Bell Pottinger, KPMG, Wells Fargo, McKinsey, SAP... and that is just the tip of the iceberg. What every one of these companies has in common, is that they underestimated the impact of communication on their ability to weather a crisis and preserve their brand. Their businesses were not resilient against reputational damage, and their mitigation planning was poor -- or nonexistent!
As an extension of them, many of the clients with whom they worked have broken ties to avoid any reputational impact by association. Arguably their adherence to business ethics, values and strategic leadership all need a lot more attention.
Nevertheless, every business will find itself teetering on a crisis of some kind or another in its life cycle, and this will be the proving ground that shows what its leadership is made of.
Every business should be holding up a mirror that exposes its vulnerabilities from the top to the bottom of the organisation.
Even with academic case knowledge and anecdotal evidence pointing to the fact that all businesses need to have a crisis-preparedness programme, very few actually invest in what is becoming a vital part of company governance -- reputational crisis mitigation strategies and training -- and therefore have low levels of resilience and a high risk of exposure.
In an environment in which preventative medicine is the oracle of good health, businesses only ask for "medical intervention" when their "life-support systems" are about to be turned off –– stakeholders voicing their dissent, customers running for the hills and talent actively looking for alternative employment are only some of the consequences.
An ineffective band-aid
Retrospective application of a band-aid is never as effective as understanding, and planning proactively for managing crisis scenarios. In a world where the response to a crisis must be as quick as it takes a protagonist to post on social media, the window of influence is limited.
Add to that the complexity of the environment in which we operate in South Africa, and the economic pressures being faced by all audiences, and companies find themselves teetering on the edge of a precipice.
Perception is king, and very often the truth –– left too long floundering in reactive response times –– fails to get ahead of a good story. The accolades of maintaining brand value will go to those who invest ahead of the issue, the companies that understand that good governance is more than a board-level checklist or adherence to a set of stipulated shareholder regulations.
Every business should be holding up a mirror that exposes its vulnerabilities from the top to the bottom of the organisation -- one that considers reputational risks at every level as an essential component of its strategy. That's not crisis communications, it's good business sense.