Everything is about people
Last week I attended an event full of data privacy experts. Perhaps not the most obvious place to be taught a lesson about people skills but it was, in fact, an excellent refresher session. Kristy Grant-Hart was speaking about "How to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer” and her presentation contained not one single drop of CPD on the technical aspects of how to be a Data Protection Officer. Instead she talked about the most important element of nearly any job: the people. Her method holds lessons for reputation professionals of all types.
First, Kristy focused on figuring out the motivations of internal stakeholders. She uses four main categories of motivation: fear for oneself, fear for the business, a noble cause, and competitive edge. Once you have worked out the needs of your internal decision makers you can unlock their support by telling them stories that play to those motivations. In the reputation world perhaps you might explain the fate of CEOs who failed to halt a decline in reputation, or give examples of the share price performances of businesses that suffered a slump in reputation, maybe you paint a picture of your business leading the way to a better standard across the board, or how that higher standard will attract prestige customers. What matters is that you play to the audience.
To some this may sound Machiavellian – with all that implies about amorality and a lack of scruples. I prefer to think of it as akin to considering different learning styles or Myers-Briggs types or even demographic generalisations. You wouldn’t advertise to a 19-year-old female and a 56-year-old male consumer in the same fashion, would you? So, why are you using a uniform approach to your board members?
Another criticism of this approach might be that you shouldn’t have to appeal to internal stakeholders – they hired you to do a job, they should understand the importance of what you do and you should concentrate on getting the facts straight, not gussying them up for internal meetings. But we all know this isn’t how life works. Your average corporate executive receives so many emails that even the most important details can go astray unless they are attention-grabbing and we all know that most corporate battles are litigated internally ten times over before they see the light of public scrutiny.
Mostly, though, the sad truth is that we forget that this part of the battle must be won. We create maps of our external stakeholders, conduct reputation audits and polling and plan elaborate campaigns. Or we wish we could do those things but we fall down because the board won’t sign off or our boss won’t recommend it, or there isn’t budget available. This is deeply frustrating when you know that the work is important for your organisation’s future.
So here is another way to think about your role: If your job description gives you responsibility for the reputation of your organisation, then your first task is to map out the internal landscape. Not only are these people your first advocates or critics, they are also the key to unlocking holistic and vital action on reputation. That’s not Machiavellian or self-aggrandising it is the necessary foundation for your entire programme. The second task is to become a story-teller who can motivate action.
Neither of these missions is easy, and they likely don’t appear in your job description or KPIs, but if you master these skills – and remember to deploy them – you will achieve more in any future role.
Prefer your advice via your headphones? Try our new podcast: Why Everybody Hates You