On day one of Spectra, the online conference focused on reputation management, Sabia Schwarzer, Global Head of Communications and Responsibility, Allianz, spoke about the importance of reputation counselling.
I, you and we
Schwarzer explained that a good reputation provides the license to operate, in turn giving options and room to manoeuvre in.
“In our networked world, it’s so important for people to understand what you stand for, who you are and what your values are as a company. The only thing you would have to remember about reputation and reputation counsel are: I, you and we,” said Schwarzer before diving into to explain the three.
“The ‘I’ is either the company, or the CEO, or the person whose reputation is at stake or the person who is engaging with stakeholders,” she explained. “Reputation counsel is important because it builds a bridge between your stakeholders and the person.”
She added, “A CEO doesn’t just express his or her values, but represents a company. There’s not much difference between your public and personal persona; both need to be consistent. Reputation counsel can help you combine your personal and company’s values, building a bridge between the two.”
“The ‘you’ represents the stakeholders – customers, employees, investors, regulators and even societies. There have been some surprising stakeholders like children, too. Think about Greta Thunberg, for instance – who would have thought that a 16-year old girl would become such an important stakeholder and a figurehead of a movement? The ‘you’ refers to the people you are talking to, and they want to be treated as humans and adults. What that means is that if you’re having a conversation or dialogue, it needs to be at eye level,” Schwarzer said.
She said often, she notices that the dialogue comes from a position of superiority and turns into arm-wrestling than a dialogue, failing to be constructive. Goodwill comes from listening and not just answering. It isn’t about winning arguments or being right, but wanting to solve an issue. It’s impossible to expand the license to operate otherwise, she feels.
Further, she added, “You have to realise that you can’t please everybody. An important aspect of reputation management is making people aware of the trade-offs that you face and it’s important to face them head on. Honesty, transparency and taking a stand are more important than pleasing everybody in this complex world.”
Schwarzer said that the ‘we’ stands for community. “I think over the past 15 years, the communication community has become so important. If you think about social media, every person can create their own community – not just their friends but there might be interested in research, trends. Managing that community today is also an important aspect of reputation management. Communications has so many analytical tools available today, that you can actually look through data and find out where those communities are that are talking about these trends.” Companies need to go and meaningfully participate in those conversations,” she said.
In closing, she noted that the ‘we’ is that entity or big group that’s going to solve problems for the world. Take climate change, for instance. It’s too large a problem to be solved by one company or even one nation. It needs a collective effort and to prosper in the world, the ‘we’ is important to move forward as a community.