Great expectations

6 July 2020

As we emerge from “our national hibernation”, blinking into the light, we are welcomed by a scene ever more challenging and fluid for reputation management.

Corporate and individual behaviour is today being scrutinised in ways and against standards that were impossible to predict. Coronavirus (and also the reaction to BLM) has undeniably changed the rules of the game, but the question remains for how long and by how much?

For many, the experience of lock-down has prompted a re-evaluation of personal and professional priorities. More than bidding ‘au revoir’ to the office and the commute, the embrace of home working and the wholesale adoption of new technologies has demonstrated for many that a different balance between work and life can be had.

At DRD we’ve also spoken to several big companies from across the professional services who have been prompted by the pandemic to fundamentally review their business models and purpose. Even some of the more red-in-tooth-and-claw professional services firms are looking at whether maintaining hard-driving working practices to maximise billable hours and profit is culturally sustainable. Or will employees increasingly demand a more flexible working pattern, in a company that can articulate more clearly its purpose and social benefit?

Expectations of corporate behaviour changed very quickly when Covid-19 struck. Businesses that were perceived to put profit before the health and safety of employees, or were judged to have not done enough to demonstrate their social contribution, came under severe criticism. An arguably even tougher set of decisions is looming for business leaders as the furlough scheme winds down in the autumn and the economic impact of lock down begins to be felt even more acutely.

Every decision, whether about returning to work, the end of government support, or restructuring, has complex operational, financial and reputational considerations. Rarely before can the latter have been of such importance, so elevated are the stakes.

What complicates matters further is that there is no such thing has historic behaviour. In today’s climate past actions are considered fair game and can and will be judged from the febrile perspective of now. It is the conflagration of current and latent issues that amplifies reputation risk. Purpose, community, equality and diversity had been buzzwords in corporate governance for years. But in many cases it has taken recent events to make them material for many Boards.

Which makes it every more important to understand your reputational vulnerabilities, not just in light of current circumstances but in light of past action, to join the dots in different ways. At DRD we’ve developed a Reputational Diagnostics tool to help businesses recognise their current exposure and where future reputational risk lies.

The conduct, choices and performance of businesses can look very different through the prism of Covid-19 and BLM. Understanding these new drivers of reputation in today’s highly charged context is fundamental to the ability of businesses to survive, recover and thrive.

Duncan Fulton, DRD Partner

PHOTO Credit: cigpannonia

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