Looking to improve your company’s reputation?  Start with improving your culture

By | June 1, 2012

Schadenfreude. That’s what a lot of people experienced earlier this year, when a mid-level equity derivatives trader used the editorial page of The New York Times to announce – quite publicly – his resignation from Goldman Sachs.  In an era of sharp political polarization and growing economic inequality, Goldman is either a lightning rod or whipping boy (depending on your metaphorical preference) for all of the frustrations that ordinary people feel about the lopsided distribution of power and wealth in the United States.  It was easy to snicker at the firm’s bad luck.  After all, it was Goldman.

 

But as they say, pride goes before the fall. The advent of the 24-hour news cycle and explosion of social media channels have created a culture in which a single employee can cause virtually any employer irreparable harm in a matter of minutes.  All that it takes is a Twitter handle and an Internet connection.

 

Leaders often cite the importance of culture in driving business performance, but increasingly, employees are calling bull@#!% when what they see doesn’t match what their employers say.  Culture doesn’t just happen.  Like reputation, companies have to build and earn their workplace environment and ethos.  Culture is driven first and foremost by what leaders do – the values they demonstrate, the choices they make.  Once a cultural foundation is established, bolstering and protecting that culture is largely about communications: Have you articulated your values and demonstrated them consistently?  Do you tie key decisions and events to the cultural “why”? Do you reward employees for living those values?  If leadership is the cultural spark, communications fans the flame.

 

While most people would readily agree on the importance of culture to business performance and to reputation, few act on it.  MWW Group surveyed 100 business leaders and professionals on this very topic, and the results were astounding.

 

Our findings include:

 

  • Three out of four business leaders believe corporate that reputation is substantially driven by their internal corporate culture. In fact, respondents overwhelmingly believe that culture is far more import than trade, industry or consumer media to their reputations. Nearly nine out of ten indicate that communications is a significant driver of culture.

 

  • While three-fifths of respondents are at least moderately concerned that they could experience a “Goldman Sachs”-type incident, 60 percent are not currently considering proactive measures to protect themselves from such an event.

 

For communications professionals, the implications are clear.  We have a mandate to counsel our clients on the interconnectedness of internal culture and external reputation.  And we need to be prepared to help them use communications to foster that culture. Acknowledging the central importance of internal culture is only half the game.  Without an integrated and ongoing dialogue that conveys the tenets of that culture and draws employees into a conversation about that culture, your company could be the next Goldman Sachs.

I’ve said it before…reputation begins at home.

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