The success of corporates, it goes without belabouring, is contingent to a cocktail of premises. Beyond the tangibles - products and services - the abstracts such as organisational value system are perhaps the bedrock of great fortune yet oft ignored. The value system manifested in employee behaviour is a critical determinant of corporate reputation.
That is why the recent debacle involving international charity NGO, Oxfam’s staff in Haiti is a refresher case study in the convergence of employees’ conduct, corporate reputation and fortunes.
Reputation is a critical determinant of brand admiration, brand loyalty and stakeholder support. The former Oxfam employees’ escapades - procuring sex from vulnerable groups - is of course lamentable. Indeed, we know they contravened the Oxfam philosophy and policy. It followed that Oxfam leadership strongly condemned and regretted the abhorrent acts.
Still, the saga generated a Public Relations crisis for Oxfam. The organisation’s reputation is on public trial and this may affect its social licence to operate. Lack of such a critical instrument as street cred, may affect fundraising, and dim the magnetism to attract pedigree talent. Crooked reputation is a source for distrusts and ill reception from host communities.
But the pendulum seems to be striking back harder - expectedly. Before Haiti, Oxfam was an elite organisation receiving enviable support, but when the debacle broke out, things started rolling south. For instance, the BBC reported that about 7,000 “regular donors” to Oxfam discontinued their benediction.
This backlash is not exclusive to Oxfam. The blue berets have also brought disrepute to the UN over allegations of sexual delinquency. Their icky actions in Congo for instance vexed the then Secretary General Koffi Anan, who branded it “an ugly stain.”
This is why a value-driven organisation, where employees observe the highest standards of conduct, morals and sound work ethic, is imperative for sustained success. Employees are intricately meshed up in the corporate brand and therefore infantile acts impact the organisation negatively. This may lead to a drop in share value, a drop in sales, bartered image and thereby ultimately affect the organisation’s profitability.
The fortunes of organisations are largely hinged on the reputation they command. Now, reputation is construct of perception, which is created through experience or narratives. And therefore, behaviours from employees that are inconsistent with expected societal standards are likely to attract a backlash.
Everyday in our boardrooms, we are as concerned about the quality of our products and services as much as the general behaviour of our staff. Great organisations strive to be in touch with their employees. They seek to understand any challenges employees could be facing and provide solutions where possible.
Employees can be fantastic and effective brigade as corporate advocates or ambassadors, conversely, they too can turn out to be the harshest critique and a source of backlash. Stakeholders closely monitor behaviours of our staff. Those who dither attract ridicule, which is transferred to the corporate brand.
It is therefore of great interest to organisations to empower their employees with all the soft skills critical to navigate the clutter of social edifice. Employees too need to be erudite and strive towards a culture of impeccable excellence in all aspects. Irresponsible behaviour from staff will always be misconstrued to be a reflection of the totality of the corporate brand.
1. Reputation is king: It is not for nothing that Robert Greene in his famous 48 Laws of Power notes that so much depends on reputation – guard it with your life. Indeed, reputation begets success. Thus, smart organisations develop robust communication departments to build trust and reputation. Remember, stakeholders’ supportive behaviour is reliant on reputation.
2. Staff-determine your reputation: However you look at it, staff are important. Employees’ behaviours are perceived as an avatar of the corporate. Scandal-ridden employees reflect badly on the organisation. This means that first, we need to cherry-pick the finest people in the market, second, they need to be empowered to meet the highest standards possible, and third, they need to be nurtured as brand ambassadors.
3. Understand your Staff: Our staffs are fallible. Some go through difficult times, others haunted by the past, while others could be simply unfit for the corporate world. Providing moral and psychological support is a good starting point towards rehabilitation. Aware of different needs, we can then assign them appropriate duties.
4. Communities deserve respect: We operate in communities that have their own aspiration, expectations, challenges, and uniqueness. It pays to respect them. Neediness is no license for exploitation. At GDC we have very robust policies where our community engagement is anchored on. Dignity for the community is at the heart of the frameworks. This way, it is much easier to jointly support community development without having the messiah syndrome or being too patronising to the discomfiture of the people.