Reputation management is perceived as a function required for communicating with external audiences. Therefore, many companies follow the outside-in approach to reputation management. However, companies that are successful at reputation management, manage it from the inside out, starting with employees.
The outside in approach is an archaic way to manage reputation, and companies need to move into the 21st century and soon.
There are numerous problems with the outside in approach.
Firstly, companies that follow this approach view employees as commodities that are purchased, valuing employees only insofar as they can benefit the company.
Tough economic times is the second excuse for following this approach, as companies focus on getting the sales and pleasing clients or potential clients, thus excusing themselves for overworking and underpaying employees.
Finally, companies are lazy. They do not care to develop a strategy around people development. The human resources division is an administrative function in the company instead of a strategic asset. The public relations department is only there to create gimmicks and get publicity instead of being used as a viable resource to direct efficient communication towards the most important asset in the company, its people.
The ripple effect of this approach is exhausted, depressed, demotivated and unhappy employees who eventually leave once they get a better offer from a company who values their personal wellbeing and career prosperity as much as they value the employees’ contribution to the company.
Outside in approach
Companies that opt for the outside-in approach to reputation management usually have deep-rooted organisational issues that can range from unfair company policies, ineffective leadership, poor management practices, a subservient human resources division, or an under-resourced/non-existent/underestimated communication division.
Attributes of companies that adopt the outside-in approach:
- The company has no long-term people development plan or if they do have a plan the only objective is to be complaint with the BBBEE requirements.
- They throw money at cupcake Mondays, burger Wednesdays and pizza Thursdays. These can be great things to do, but these methods cannot be used to create a healthy corporate morale, it can only help maintain a healthy corporate morale.
- Employees who rarely post voluntarily on social media about the company. There can be other reasons for this. Generally, though, when employees are happy, they share company posts voluntarily and frequently. It is especially apparent with employees who are naturally serial posters or social butterflies.
- When employees live a subpar lifestyle in relation to the exclusive brand image of the company, it is especially true, in the case of employees who fill leadership roles in the company. Employees view companies as deceptive when there are discrepancies between its internal and external brand image.
These actions result in a low corporate morale which negatively affects the product or service offering.
Inside out approach
To improve a company’s reputation from the inside out, the executive leadership need to be willing to make changes that matter to employees.
A strategic plan is required, which is spearheaded by the human resources division and communication division, and the plan must have total executive support to succeed.
Each department manager must be held accountable for the implementation of the plan and each new action, change, policy or rule will have to be evaluated in relation to the plan.
Factors to consider when implementing the inside out approach:
Transparency simply means being upfront about all contractual matters from the start of the employer-employee relationship.
Employees should know what their job description is before they sign a contract, whether it is an operational or strategic role and how their role helps the company achieve its vision.
Candidates need to know the working conditions, working hours and general office rules. It is unfair to condemn people for breaking rules they did not know existed. There also needs to be clarity about who they are reporting to, the job title, and the growth prospects (or if there are any).
They need to receive a copy of the employee handbook to determine if this is the type of company they want to work for.
There must be clarity about the types of benefits the company can and can’t offer and the candidate must know the limitations of the company before signing. This way employee expectations can be managed from the start of the relationship and it prevents dissatisfaction later. Transparency protects both the employer and the employee.
Companies need to be consistent when it comes to practicing their values. For example, if one of the values of the company is integrity and they practice this value by keeping client information confidential, then they must be just as meticulous when it comes to protecting employee confidentiality. Unlike the public who are in most cases only privy to information the company chooses to share, employees are exposed to the unedited version of a company’s values.
Companies must meet the Basic Conditions of Employment. This is the simple and basic guideline for fairness. Obviously to be a great company to work for, companies will need to take it to the next level.
If a company has zero-tolerance rules, then the punishment to employees for breaking those rules need to be proportionate to the level of care required by their role. For example, a higher level of care is required from a manager than from a subordinate.
If the punishment is less severe for a senior employee than it is for the junior employee, then the company’s integrity will undoubtedly be questioned.
Companies who are not consistent, lose credibility and lose the respect of employees.
Accessibility means access to direct managers, access to other teams and access to the company’s leadership, but most important is access to information. Do employees feel empowered in the company and in their job?
The human resources division/manager or the direct manager should not be employees’ only source of information to company policies, rules and procedures.
Employees need to have this information freely at their disposal so that they can access it at any time of day and read it at their leisure without having to notify HR about their every thought, concern or disappointment.
In this way employees can independently assess whether and how they want to utilise the information at hand.
There are many ways to communicate with employees; via intranets, internal company phone apps and shared folders. Companies need to find the solution that will work best in its environment.
When information is not freely accessible, employees feel like they are prisoners in their job and that Big Brother is watching all the time.
Control might seem like a smart way to make sure people stay, so that the executive team knows exactly what is on their minds, but control is the quickest way to lose people.
When people sign an agreement to join a company, it is not a cold exchange of their time and skills for money. Employment is a commitment of a duration of someone’s lifespan, a devotion to live and breathe a brand. Employment is a huge commitment and good employers recognise this and help employees leave a legacy. Employees return the favour by helping companies leave the best legacy possible for any company – a reputation that is honourable.
Therefore, there is a massive return on investment in following the inside-out approach to reputation management.
Jennilee Peremore is a communication consultant, and owner/CEO of Jenniemore, a communication consultancy based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In 2015, she won a PRISM Award in the sponsorship category for her PR strategy submitted to the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Follow her on Twitter @JenPeremore