Predicting and managing reputational crisis

October 15, 2012, 3:37 PM GMT+0

Predicting and managing reputational crisis: CEOs In Conversation with Stephan Shakespeare, Chief Executive & Co-Founder, YouGov

YouGov-Cambridge’s forum on Reputation in the Age of Protest hosted a discussion amongst leading CEOs in front of an invited audience. Stephan Shakespeare, CEO and co-founder of YouGov, was joined in conversation by Martin Gilbert, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, Gary Hoffman, Chief Executive of NBNK Investments, and Ian Cheshire, Chief Executive of Kingfisher.

CEOs in a crisis

Martin Gilbert speaks with first-hand experience when explaining that trust and patience are critical qualities when riding out a reputational crisis. Gilbert was head of Aberdeen Asset Management when they lost 95% of the value of their share price. With the trust of the shareholders and taking a day-by-day approach to tackle the crisis he remarks how this helped him restore the reputation, and share price, of the organisation.

In the short term, the panel agree that there needs to be clear and decisive leadership with strong management to tackle a crisis. Gary Hoffman recalls his time at Northern Rock when the bank was bailed out by the government and strong leadership was required immediately to steer the troubled bank out of trouble. In the long term, action needs to be accompanied by a vision of hope for the future to start to re-build the reputation of the organisation.

Although, it is not all about how the CEO acts in the crisis. A large part of the CEO’s role, Ian Cheshire argues, is to set the tone and culture of the organisation. If a crisis emerges any ill effect can be mitigated by the positive behaviour and attitude of the organisation. He comments that “building strong relationships in the good times can store up goodwill for the bad times.”

The Changing Landscape of Media

Central to Cheshire’s comments on setting the tone and culture of an organisation is transparency. Twitter and social media at large, play a role in shedding light on and holding to account leadership in a time of crisis. Social media provides a level of accountability which encourages organisations to take responsibility for their actions and with transparency comes the need for businesses to behave with authenticity.

However, the panel consider the constant exposure to 24 hour media scrutiny and criticism may put off future leaders, while for those currently in roles, they’ll simply have to grow a thicker skin. There is also a concern that social media can emphasise the voices of the few forming an echo chamber which can distort what is really happening. This highlights the need for CEOs to have an accurate picture of what is going on, particularly when a crisis can emerge rapidly and go viral.

Reputation Crisis in the Banking Sector

With the crisis in banking, the panel explore what should be done to restore the reputation of this important industry with the public. This was prompted by research presented by YouGov’s Director, Reputation Research, Oliver Rowe earlier in the conference which showed 78% of the general public believe banking is an important industry for the economy.

The panel discuss:

  • Splitting up the banks to separate their investment and retail arms;
  • Stopping banks ‘lying’ about the amount of money that is lent to the real economy;
  • Incentive schemes within investment and retail banks that encourage the wrong sort of behaviour;
  • Competition in the retail banking market.