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Risk assessments: the first step in reputation protection

September 12, 2012 by Jonathan Hemus

Crises don’t seem to respect the summer holiday season and so businesses like G4S and ATOS Origin have been fighting to protect their reputations as the rest of us headed for the beach over the last couple of months.
And whilst an organisation’s response to a crisis usually determines the reputational impact, it’s what it does beforehand that will largely shape the quality of its response.
With this in mind, it’s timely to remind ourselves that a reputational risk assessment is essential if businesses are to be properly protected from crisis events.
The process works best when a diverse group of executives are brought together to consider possible risks: the HR director considers risks related to people, the production director those related to manufacturing and so on. At the session these risks are shared and others are added as part of the brainstorming process.
Identifying risks on the basis of people’s personal knowledge and expertise is essential. However, it is not enough. So, simply conducting the assessment based on people’s professional experience is insufficient.
The best way of overcoming this is through role play.  Ask participants to consider the organisation from an alternative, more challenging perspective. For example, an undercover reporter wanting to write a scare story about the organisation – what’s the most damaging story they could uncover? Or an ex-employee recently fired by the company – what would they say about the company and its vulnerabilities? Or an arch-competitor seeking to gain competitive advantage – what flaws would they expose?
Taking this approach allows company executives to be more open-minded and realistic about problems the organisation may face. It allows them to consider the worst case scenario.
Having completed the identification exercise, risk prioritisation can follow based on their likelihood and impact.
This analysis provides a pre-cursor for crisis prevention and preparation. From a communication perspective, preparation can take place so that the organisation is geared up to respond as soon as a crisis strikes. So, for example, if an oil company knows that one of its priority risks is an environmental incident, it can pre-prepare a positioning paper outlining its policy on the environment, its training and other actions relevant to this area.
Just as importantly, the risk assessment serves as a wake up call. It communicates the fact that the organisation is not immune from crisis – it could happen to us.
The value of an annual reputational risk assessment as a driver of crisis planning and crisis management training is enormous. And, if the crisis ever strikes for real, the head start it provides can pay dividends in the form of a preserved reputation for years to come.  As some of this summer’s crisis winners and losers would surely testify.
Crises don’t seem to respect the summer holiday season and so businesses like G4S and ATOS Origin have been fighting to protect their reputations as the rest of us headed for the beach over the last couple of months.
And whilst an organisation’s response to a crisis usually determines the reputational impact, it’s what it does beforehand that will largely shape the quality of its response.
With this in mind, it’s timely to remind ourselves that a reputational risk assessment is essential if businesses are to be properly protected from crisis events.
The process works best when a diverse group of executives are brought together to consider possible risks: the HR director considers risks related to people, the production director those related to manufacturing and so on. At the session these risks are shared and others are added as part of the brainstorming process.
Identifying risks on the basis of people’s personal knowledge and expertise is essential. However, it is not enough. So, simply conducting the assessment based on people’s professional experience is insufficient.
The best way of overcoming this is through role play.  Ask participants to consider the organisation from an alternative, more challenging perspective. For example, an undercover reporter wanting to write a scare story about the organisation – what’s the most damaging story they could uncover? Or an ex-employee recently fired by the company – what would they say about the company and its vulnerabilities? Or an arch-competitor seeking to gain competitive advantage – what flaws would they expose?
Taking this approach allows company executives to be more open-minded and realistic about problems the organisation may face. It allows them to consider the worst case scenario.
Having completed the identification exercise, risk prioritisation can follow based on their likelihood and impact.
This analysis provides a pre-cursor for crisis prevention and preparation. From a communication perspective, preparation can take place so that the organisation is geared up to respond as soon as a crisis strikes. So, for example, if an oil company knows that one of its priority risks is an environmental incident, it can pre-prepare a positioning paper outlining its policy on the environment, its training and other actions relevant to this area.
Just as importantly, the risk assessment serves as a wake up call. It communicates the fact that the organisation is not immune from crisis – it could happen to us.
The value of an annual reputational risk assessment as a driver of crisis planning and crisis management training is enormous. And, if the crisis ever strikes for real, the head start it provides can pay dividends in the form of a preserved reputation for years to come.  As some of this summer’s crisis winners and losers would surely testify.

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