From eating twelve grapes at the strokes of midnight in Spain to breaking dishes on neighbors’ doorsteps in Denmark, people around the world have no shortage of beloved traditions for bringing good fortune in the new year. Like our perpetual New Year’s resolutions to eat less and exercise more, merely resolving not to have a crisis this year is wishful thinking and unlikely to get you very far. The key lies not in changing what we want, but in changing what we do. The trick, behavioral scientists say, is to change our habits. Here are 12 new and better reputation habits to choose from to help get you there.
1. Make Reputation a Habit
Research shows that when people start exercising regularly, they develop other healthy habits without even realizing it. Exercise is what’s known as a “keystone habit,” a habit that helps other positive habits take root. Organizations that treat reputation as a keystone habit see a similar ripple effect as workers become more sensitive to the importance of reputation and how easily it’s damaged and begin taking reputation risks into account not just in their day-to-day work, but in their personal lives and online as well.
2. Get a Risk Checkup
Going to the doctor for an annual checkup is a simple way to catch potential health problems and nip them in the bud before they become more serious and harder to treat. Regular risk checkups help your organization uncover issues and threats that are lying in wait so they can be dealt with before they explode into a crisis and become visible to the outside world.
3. Go After Low Hanging Risks
Simple measures like reviewing websites and marketing materials for language or images that were once acceptable but today could be considered offensive or reminding workers of proper safety procedures that have fallen by the wayside can significantly reduce or even eliminate your organization’s risk of a future crisis. Head off problems by identifying issues and threats to reputation that can be neutralized quickly and easily and then tackle them immediately instead of putting it off. The time, money and heartburn you’ll save by not having a crisis is the best post-holiday gift of all.
4. Get Regular Exercise
Great coaches drill into their players the importance of training the way they will compete. Regular practice builds muscle memory, sharpens reflexes and shortens reaction times. Organizations that put their crisis teams and plans to the test through regularly scheduled tabletop games and simulation exercises are faster off the line when a crisis does hit, perform better under pressure and have fewer unforced errors than those that leave performance to chance.
5. Make Reputation Everyone’s Job
Having a well-thought-out plan in case of a crisis is good. Building a culture in which people at every level are focused on keeping crises from happening is even better. In a risk-sensitive culture, workers instinctively look out for risks to reputation, take them into account in their decision-making and believe it’s their job to sound an alarm if they think reputation may be in jeopardy. When people in a risk-sensitive culture see something, they say something.
6. Nourish Google
Feeding Google a steady diet of high-quality content that people want and search engines value does more than boost search rankings. The more valuable, sought-after information you deliver, the harder you make it for negative content to gain a foothold on the first page of Google’s search results and the better protected your online reputation will be against damage.
7. Encourage Good Reputation Hygiene
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s the power of good hygiene to keep us safe. It’s just as true for reputation. Remind workers of the importance of keeping their hands and noses clean and distancing themselves from social and other situations that could reflect poorly on them and their colleagues. Be explicit with them about the value of reputation and the trust being placed in them to protect it, and publicly recognize and reward employees for actions or behaviors that successfully avert crises.
8. Create Tests, Not Rules
Giving employees strict rules to follow for every possible situation can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, provide simple tests that encourage workers to pause and consider the possible consequences of a contemplated action or decision before they proceed and inadvertently spark a firestorm. Legendary investor and reputation fanatic Warren Buffett tells managers to imagine having their decision reported on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper and read by their family, friends and colleagues. If the decision passes the newspaper test, it’s OK; if not, it’s out.
9. Bring Values into the Light
Values are a powerful tool for preventing self-inflicted corporate embarrassment. But they can’t protect reputation if they stay hidden away in an employee handbook. Set values out for workers as touchstones for daily decision-making. Encouraging questions like “Is the action we’re about to take in line with our values and what we stand for as a company?” is a good way to ensure that risks aren’t getting short shrift. Any hesitation should trigger an amber signal to seek additional input and proceed with caution.
10. Manage Stress
When we’re in survival mode, the rational thought centers of our brain power down to provide additional energy for fighting and fleeing. Pausing to take a few deep, mindful breaths before diving headfirst into a crisis gives our pre-frontal cortex a chance to reboot and get back to the critical work of problem-solving and decision-making. It also helps ground us so we can tune out the drama around us and form our own clear, objective view of the situation.
11. Update Your Alarm System
No alarm system can detect the faint wisps of a smoldering crisis better than a motivated and empowered workforce. Encourage employees to flag risks and raise reputation concerns with their managers and give them a mechanism for reporting suspected ethical breaches, toxic workplace behavior, regulatory non-compliance and other sensitive issues anonymously through an outside law firm or other third-party. Remind workers that false alarms are expected and show that the system is working and be clear about the potential consequences of turning a blind eye to problems or, worse, actively covering them up.
12. Create Your Plan
Protecting reputation is like diet and exercise—you need to make it a habit if you want to see results. So, start by scrolling back and deciding what new and better reputation habits you’re going to focus on developing this year. For more ideas and tips on how to make reputation a keystone habit in your organization, be sure to download our eBook on Building Crisis Immunity. Here’s to a crisis-free 2023 ahead.