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  • Writer's picturePeak Performance International

3 Culture Priorities For Minimising Reputational Risk During COVID-19

Maintaining a good reputation comes with the risk that everything an organisation does or says could become public knowledge. A good reputation starts with leadership integrity and a healthy organisational culture, so it is concerning to note that in BDO’s latest Global Risk Landscape survey, 47% of business leaders believe that the biggest threat facing their organisation is the risk posed by poor culture. COVID-19 is increasing that risk and making organisations and executives particularly vulnerable to reputational damage.

Earlier this month I joined corporate communications thought leader Melissa Le Mesurier and PR/crisis expert Tony Nicholls to present a webinar “Managing reputational risk and staying ahead of the COVID curve” for members of The CEO Institute. We discussed the actions leaders should be taking now to get on the front foot in the post-COVID world and help prevent damage to their reputation, brand and organisational culture.

The key to managing reputational risk from an internal communications and external public relations perspective is being prepared, and it’s the same for culture. Here are my top three culture priorities for minimising reputational risk.

1. Be positive and proactive

Pre-COVID we accepted that culture is hard to change and it takes a long time, and that can be true. But what this pandemic has shown is that people and organisations are able to change how they operate and pivot quickly if they get the WHY, or it is a necessity. COVID is a massive change event that has caused people, organisations and societies to pause, look inside, re-evaluate and for some, radically change how they operate. Despite all the challenges, this a unique opportunity for leaders to get on the front foot and take a good hard look at their leadership and their culture and determine how they need and want ‘to be’ for the future.

When it comes to evolving their organisational culture leaders have two options. They can positively and proactively shape their culture, so they are primed to thrive in the ‘new normal’. Or, like happens most often, they can leave it to chance and risk their culture evolving in ways that negatively impact employee engagement, productivity, creativity, customer satisfaction, financial results and potentially their personal and organisational reputation.

2. Ensure values are lived not just laminated

There is plenty of research that shows that the most successful organisations are purpose-led and values-driven. They have a distinct reason for being and a clear set of values and behaviours that they live by. Values reflect what is most important to us at a particular point in time. They are important because they underlie the decisions we make and the actions we take.

Many employees are currently facing major disruption to their work environment amid decreased controls and support systems. Work-around solutions, privacy, confidentiality and security lapses and reduced supervision are virtually unavoidable. Organisations are relying on their people to make the right decisions and do the right thing, often when they’re under considerable stress. A defined set of organisational values and behaviours are their guide-rails and they need to be reviewed and refreshed regularly to ensure that they resonate and fit the times.

3. Nurture your emotional culture

The feelings people have and express at work reflect an organisation’s collective emotional culture. Every organisation has an underlying emotional culture, not all of them positive.

Examples abound of dysfunctional emotional cultures that are plagued by fear. Organisations where people are scared of making decisions in case they make a mistake, scared of being reprimanded or diminished in front of their peers, or scared of losing their job if they don’t make their numbers. And that fear drives certain behaviours that can lead to ethical lapses and reputational damage.

This time it's a different, more basic fear that’s triggering an emotional response. Some people are worried for their very survival – physically, mentally, financially. Others are stressed out trying to juggle work and family responsibilities. Some feel isolated and powerless being in lockdown. Likely some are feeling all the above. To the contrary, there are others who feel safe and secure, they’re delighted with the change in their work situation and thriving in the new way of operating. Everyone has a different experience.

For better or worse, the way people feel obviously impacts their decision making and behavioural choices. As well as caring for their people, it’s important that leaders are aware of their own emotions and the impact their emotional state has on others. Paraphrasing the famous quote from Maya Angelou, “… people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Prioritising emotional wellbeing needs to be a priority, not the least because an organisation’s collective emotional culture is a big risk factor in the current crisis situation. How organisations treat their people, their customers and suppliers now will determine whether they emerge post-COVID with their reputation intact and the goodwill they need to succeed in the future.

Linley Watson is CEO of Peak Performance International, a Melbourne-based people and culture consultancy. For more information on managing reputational risk contact Linley on T: 0403149220 E:

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