Three steps provide the basis for good reputation management.
Participation: Seek input from a broad range of stakeholders. Start to make partnerships with non-governmental organizations to help you to draft some clearly articulated goals, creating a business case linked to a rationale of corporate responsibility. Listen to all affected communities to address their concerns while creating personal relationships and reaching effective understandings with local leaders, including self-appointed leaders. Engage your employees, enlisting their involvement as representatives to ensure organizational alignment around your goals and values.
Advocacy: Offer a clearly articulated strategy that is relevant to your customers, as well as consistent with your bottom line. Engage in debate with critics – even the intractable ones; inform media, especially online: regard all those who speak about you as having a reason to do so and treat them accordingly as stakeholders. Engage your partners through adequate communications, from shareholders and staff to NGOs and academics. Foster a culture that encourages free expression, amplifying your engagement and creating connections.
Evaluation: Evolve behaviour based on collective inputs. Have measurable outcomes, specific quantitative and qualitative targets. Report frequently on progress against metrics. Acknowledge where progress is too slow and organise a path to improved performance. Be prepared to amend your strategy and goals in order to improve your reputation.
This is still largely unfamiliar ground for business leaders. But innovation in industry is often prevented by justified public concerns, and government is unable and business unwilling to assist. Business has the opportunity to redefine value as incorporating values, connecting more closely with its stakeholders by explaining the economic, social and environmental context in which it tries to operate. Trust will be given to those companies and industries that recognise the need to move beyond the balance sheet toward a better understanding of commerce and business.