Posted tagged ‘New Year’

2010 – a year in reputation

29/12/2010

“…Everybody knew that whenever the thaw came that there was going to be big problems with water, so I think that there was a lack of preparation by NI Water, particularly in the issue of communication…”

Northern Ireland Environment Minister Edwin Poots

It’s that time of the year again when the television schedules are packed with the top 100 countdowns and the printed media publish endless top 10s recording everything from the best comedy to the worse gaffes.  December is truly the month of lists.

So it has prompted me to think of 2010 and who are the winners and losers in terms of promoting and protecting reputation.

In the UK, the year was punctuated by two weather related events as temperatures plummeted to record levels and snow and ice deluged our lives.  Virtually every organisation and person was tested and it is interesting how many 365 day 24 hour services really became fine words rather than effective actions.  The first rule of reputation is that ‘actions speak louder than words’.  However it is often the words (communications) or lack of them that really matter when the reputational chips are down.

The organisation that book-ended the year is Eurostar, the high-speed train operator running services between London Pancras and the continent.  The first problems came when their state of the art trains hit a major engineering ‘wall’ grinding to a halt in the channel tunnel in December 2009 and stranding passengers in very difficult circumstances drawing criticism from media, the public, politicians and even the French President.  In January a further failure followed by a three day suspension of service heaped criticism on the company.  And then came December 2010 with pictures of people standing in a line stretching a mile or more into freezing conditions with Police intervention to control the crowds.

Looking back, there is a common theme between the two incidents, a constant complaint of ‘lack of communication and lack of information.’  The operator of state of the art trains and stations unable to communicate basic information.  It’s patently obvious that building the best station in the world is great but when a queue forms the fact passengers have to sprawl onto the streets in minus temperatures is a reputational disaster.

Transport and infrastructure operators are easy reputational targets.  Whilst Eurostar is highlighted here it could well be the British Airports Authority (BAA) at Heathrow or any number of transport operators.  The eruption of a volcano in Iceland was enough to throw our whole infrastructure into turmoil.  And on that point in terms of reputations it isn’t just people and organisations that have a reputation to maintain:  Iceland, Ireland and Greece became economically a reputational disaster.

Utilities came in for a particular panning.  Many of us became aware of the frailties of the ‘combi-boiler’ and its incredible design flaw – the condensation pipe.  Which brilliant engineer and numerous installers had thought that the new energy efficient boiler was to fail on an unprecedented scale.

At the time of writing this blog there is a crisis in Northern Ireland as water has become a scarcity through the thaw and burst pipes.  In the capital city, Belfast, shops are out of bottled water and the council is making emergency supplies available.  Again, the main complaint is the lack of information and communication from Northern Ireland Water – I tried to log onto their website which just can’t cope and is actually displaying HTML source code as it has obviously ‘burst’ its capacity as well.

The biggest loser of the year from an economic, environmental and reputation aspect was BP when its deepwater rig blew up spilling vast amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The response was astoundingly inept from the clean up to the communication and top managers feted by their shareholders showed that they had no skill whatsoever in dealing with crisis, risk and stakeholders.

In fact inept and incompetent bosses are often those most in the reputational headlights during 2010.  Take Sepp Blatter of FIFA, an organisation that seems to be beyond any form of normal corporate governance.  Football, by far one of the biggest sports in the world is so badly ruled and managed that is it almost a standing joke.  Take the completely ludicrous attitude to the use of technology to assist officials and then compound it by a perception of corruption that permeates the very core of the sport.  The awarding of the World Cup, a shambolic bidding exercise in public procurement that ended up with FIFA near humiliating the future King of our country and its Prime Minister.

And then there is the ‘deficit’ in truth.  Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats has experienced a year when he was seen as the new hope through his X Factor style TV debate appearances that failed to materialise into a credible result at the ballot box yet gave him a mandate for power which has been an unmitigated disaster in terms of his reputation.  A recent local election result swung against his party by 31% and the throwing out of election promises and manifesto pledges has led to a major outcry.

So at its heart reputation is often attributed to individuals, inadequate communications but also how organisations manage their integrity and their risk profile particularly at a time of crisis.  Why are all these organisations that make so much of their performance all seemingly acting like lumbering dinosaurs in terms of their ability to communicate.  Why are top companies unable to talk to customers and listen to them?

Social networking certainly outfoxed most organisations; they are just woefully unable and sometimes unwilling to deal with the Twitter and Facebook generation.  In the Heathrow snow closures ‘critical’ tweets were being sent from stranded customers at a rate of four per second.  During the student protests the might of our Police force were outwitted by such applications and ‘citizen journalists’ recorded every aspect of every notable event.

Of course there were some winners.  Apple Inc faced a real crisis when its normally state of the art products hit a problem.  The technical difficulties faced by the iPhone4 at first led the company into a state of disbelief.  However, as the social networks began to rumble the company acted fast and the CEO was up in front of the cameras taking rapid action to rectify the issue.

Other companies like Caffe Nero just have it right in terms of customer service.  Their recognition scheme, Nero stars, is a great way to recognise good service and reward customers again with clear communication from the CEO.

There is a theme developing here but one that seems hard to learn – that is those organisations who put their reputation as high as their performance and growth strategies are those that perform best.  It is a lesson that hopefully more organisations will learn in 2011.

For more information about Bodyproject and our Advanced Stakeholder Management methodology that helps organisations promote and protect reputation call 0151 709 2288 or e-mail nicktaylor@bodyproject.co.uk

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