“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair,” or so the quote says. While there may be a degree of flexibility with those timings, the principle that it takes much longer to build a reputation than to break it is absolute. Reputation means a lot to organizations and constitutes a significant proportion of its value.
I have been reading a lot of articles recently about reputation and the number of organizations that have had their reputation damaged, sometimes through no fault of their own.
We published an article recently about false claims against travel operators and the affect these claims, however inaccurate they are, can have on the reputation of the business. Why would you go on holiday with a travel operator that has a high rate of sickness among its guests?
There was a story this morning published by the BBC that discussed how it will take a generation for Chelsea and Kensington Council to be trusted again following the Grenfell Tower fire. When people feel so let down by an organization, especially in a situation when lives have been lost, it is not easy to forget that and move on.
And we are inundated with stories of organizations that have experienced a data breach and consumers beginning to question why it cannot protect its data.
Damage to reputation can be devastating for an organization and perhaps the most famous story of all when it comes to reputation and the sudden loss of it, is that of Ratners, the high street jewellers. In his speech to the Institute of Directors, the chief executive of the company – Gerald Ratner – included the line:
"We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, "How can you sell this for such a low price?", I say, "because it's total crap."
The next day the share price plummeted and the company was on the brink of collapse.
It is this potentially disastrous impact that damage to your reputation can have that makes it a business continuity issue. Of course, that’s not to say that reputation management is the responsibility of the business continuity department, because clearly it’s not. But it is something that the business continuity department can play a role in.
Arguably loss of trust should be considered in the same light as loss of IT, loss of power, loss of building etc. The organization needs to consider what the potential impact could be, how the impact could be mitigated against, and what mechanisms could be put in place to ensure the organization continues to operate effectively and prevent it from being too disruptive
This is perhaps the perfect example of what we at the BCI have been speaking a lot about recently - management disciplines cannot work in silos any longer. On matters of reputation business continuity professionals should be engaging with communications professionals to ensure that crisis communications plans are in place and that the organization is prepared.
Is that easier said than done? Are we making progress in this respect? Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.
Executive Director of the Business Continuity Institute.