Corporate reputation and branding

Tough times ahead for Enron on the recruitment front – a name change to something consumer-friendly and reliable-sounding like ‘Ronnie’ may be on the cards.

Corporate reputation can be salvaged but managing your brand reputation is obviously better. ‘Employer branding’ is the fashionable mantra but it is an expensive activity. Public cynicism among the media savvy Generation X means organisations can’t just say ‘we’re nice to our employees, save trees, and want to make the world a better place’ and expect to be believed.

Big recruitment campaigns using employer brand reach much further than potential recruits, as customers, clients and the public get a snapshot impression of an organisation. This image may be indelibly etched on their minds.

For this reason reputation management consultants have sprung up in recent years to help organisations create sustainable business and brands. Even when the firm’s mission is to create profits, they want to demonstrate this is achievable through satisfying the wider stakeholder community.

In human resources terms this means ensuring you are not exposed to unnecessary reputational risks.

Managers need to ask themselves; are ethical policies communicated clearly to everyone through induction and training? Do learning needs assessments (in non-HR speak – appraisals) take account of environmental and social issues at work? Can you objectively justify executive pay increases? Are you aware of what information about your organisation is floating about in the public domain?

Numerous horror stories about organisations have become urban myths without necessarily being true. Lurid tales of corporate skulduggery always find an eager audience. Hear the one about that firm that adds cotton wool and sawdust to its thick shakes? Or the firm that hires orphaned five-year-olds in its factory for 50 pence a week?

Heated international debate about US treatment of al-Qaida suspects in Cuba, shows genuine public concern for human rights. Organisations that brush these concerns off as the domain of middle class, lentil-eating, woolly liberals are naive.

Reputation management ranges from sweat-shop labour, length of paternity leave, to unnecessary plastic packaging, so by its breadth it is hard to deliver as a manager but it’s mostly common sense and about explaining actions.

The same is true for restoring professional credibility, when a profession such as accountancy falls from grace due to one firm’s actions, everyone else has to ensure extra transparency.

  • Carol Glover is contributing editor of People Management.

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