My father taught me at a young age that your name is everything and if you want to be successful in life you have to ensure that when someone hears your name in conversation or reads your name in print that the first thing they think is positive.
The world hasn’t changed from the time he told me that over 40 years ago, in fact today it’s even more critical because we now have the internet and social media.
Good news travels fast.
Bad news travels 100 times faster!
Understanding this, here are 5 tips on what your company can do to build and maintain its reputation and integrity.
- Always tell the truth – The internet and social media have ensured that wherever you go, your reputation will proceed you. Take Volkswagen for example. Up until a month ago VW was perceived to be one of the top manufacturers of reliable/dependable automobiles in the world. That was until some of their own people decided to put their name at risk by making some software changes that would cheat US emissions tests. If you advertise to the world that your cars are dependable, that they are safe, that they get fantastic fuel economy and that your brand meets or exceeds all environmental standards you had better be able to back up these claims. Then the world finds out that you lied, that you knowingly cheated to pass emissions tests. What does that say to the world about the integrity of your company and its leaders? The fall out will likely be huge and is likely to last a decade or more. VW had better make sure they select the correct people to lead them through this diabolical. What does VW have going for them? They need to be completely honest about what happened, who knew about it and what they will do in the future to ensure it never happens again. They need to make good with the customers who purchased these vehicles.
- Always Be Transparent – The worst example of corporate transparency in our history might be BP. While BP opened their wallet and check book to try and make amends with people who suffered from their catastrophic event in the Gulf of Mexico, they have done little to change the culture of their company and their reputation in the industry. If you don’t believe me, ask nearly any one of their employees what happened April 20, 1010 and they will give you 1 of 3 answers: We are still not sure – the investigation continues; It wasn’t our fault; The regulations in our industry create the need for complex equipment that few people understand.
Let’s be clear, if you want the world to believe your company has changed its ways you might want to start by letting the world know that you take responsibility for what happened. You share with the world what you did wrong that resulted in the deaths of 11 workers and the worst environmental incident in the Gulf of Mexico. And, you then show what measures you have taken to ensure it will never happen again.
While transparency is important when your reputation is in question, it’s even more important on a day to day basis with your employees, customers and suppliers. While we all like our paycheck, people need to know the truth and want to be proud of the company they work for.
- Walk The Talk – If your company website lists that providing a safe and environmentally responsible workplace for your employees is your company’s top priority then you had better ensure you mean that. I recently provided facilitation services for a company whose website used those exact words and then when it came time to discuss how we would rank the consequences of their reasonable and likely failure modes the team deferred to a corporate document that stated; In order for a safety or environmental incident to be classified as a high consequence failure, the failure must result in national news coverage! Let’s just say the two statements don’t match. While we want the world to believe we value the safety or our employees the corporate document clearly shows they don’t. Think of this, OSHA statistics show that on average 13 people die as a result of an on the job accident each day. How many of these do you see on the national news? Heck most aren’t even covered on the local news so this company is clearly stating to their people that if someone were to be killed at their site today that management would not consider that a high consequence! If the integrity and reputation of your company is important what you tell the world has to match what you display to your employees! Someone once said that past and present behaviors are the best predictors of future behaviors and results. This being the case doing what you say you are going to do is an important part of ensuring you and your company have a sound reputation.
- Listen to Your People – It might seem hard to believe but the integrity of your company and how you are perceived in the marketplace starts with how you treat your own people. Just last month I was working with a company who had just sent out a “confidential” employee survey and the team was discussing the survey at one of the breaks. I asked the group what kind of questions were on the survey they said, “The usual, is your boss engaged in making you a better employee, does the company care about safety, quality and so on.” I had 8 people in the room that day and only 1 said they planned on completing the on-line survey. All 8 also believed that the survey was anything but confidential, “I would rather they know I didn’t take the time to fill it out than to have them know I don’t believe a word they say.” So just how do you listen to your people when they refuse to fill out a survey? You should recognize that their silence is telling you more than the survey ever would. The fact that you’re relying on a survey already tells me that you stopped listening to your people years ago. If you want to build and maintain integrity you need to get them in a room, start a conversation on where we need to improve and create an action plan to change that includes regular updates before you leave the room. This works for large companies as well, we call them focus groups. The CEO who believes who is above hearing what the factory floor workers have to say is trying to steer a ship with no engines. Surveys are for people who have time to waste and managers who already know they are disconnected and fear the truth. Talk to your people!
- Satisfy Your Customers! – Yes, I know this should have been number 1! I just wanted to save it for last because this is the most important piece of establishing and maintaining integrity. The customer has always been and continues to be number 1! Satisfied customers provide repeat business and share your company name with others who need your products or services. Celebrate the satisfied customers and share their stories with your employees. It’s one thing to make a product or provide a service, it’s another to actually hear how that product or service has changed someone’s life. If your customer has a problem remember to focus on points 1 and 2. Be completely honest and transparent in resolving the issue and it’s very likely the customer will return. Stop celebrating sales! Today’s sales have nothing to do with future sales. While it is great to see increased business, if you want your business to continuously increase focus on satisfied customers as this is a much better indicator of future interest!
The most important part to remember here is what my Dad told me decades ago, you only get 1 reputation, for the most part people will trust you until you give them reason not to and once you have done that, getting them to come back will take a lot of work!
Doug Plucknette is President at Reliability Solutions, Inc. Prior to RSI, Doug was a Principal and the Worldwide RCM Discipline Leader at Allied Reliability Group, a reliability and operational consulting and solutions firm serving the manufacturing sector. Previously Mr. Plucknette was a Manager and Mentor at Eastman Kodak for nearly 18 years. Follow Doug on Twitter.