Lessons from hanging off a cliff face

We are often bombarded with advice from top businesspeople, multimillionaire entrepreneurs and motivational speakers, but how often do we really listen to our own inner voice?

Life often throws lessons our way, which are not necessarily solved between the pages of a book.  Sometimes our own life experiences teach us our lessons.

Whether you are an employee or a business owner, on a regular basis you are required to manage people, teams, tight deadlines, uncertainty, and challenges. Everyone has a capacity to deal with adversity, but how often do you learn from the challenges that are thrown your way?

Chris Bischoff, reputation manager at Reputation Matters, has taken the opportunity to look at the basic lessons that he has learned from rock climbing since he started this new hobby eight months ago.

Focus on what is directly in front of you. “Standing in front of a sheer cliff face, it is very easy to get overwhelmed, nervous and tempted to quit even before you have started. Most of the times, just the act of starting is what you need to do. Once you are on your way, the most important approach to keep on making progress, is to only focus on what is in front of you,” says Bischoff. “Use what you have at your disposal, physically and mentally to focus on the task at hand.”

“In our professional lives, the same lesson applies. While it is good to have a greater plan or strategy, it is the day-to-day operational tasks that keep a business going and your clients happy. Focus on achieving the best quality outcome for those small daily tasks; ultimately the accumulation of small daily wins will help you progress towards achieving your greater goal.”

Small step, big step. “When climbing a challenging route with a limited amount of hand holds, places to grip on to, taking small steps upwards can open up more opportunities. This is one of the best pieces of advice I have received since I have started my climbing journey. On a number of occasions as I was learning new techniques to ascend a particularly difficult rockface, I would feel stuck as there was no obvious place to grip to make my next move. But by moving my feet up slightly, even as little as 10cm, potential new hand holds and cracks in the rock would enter my line of sight. This would then just be enough to get through a difficult section.”

The lesson: projects very rarely go exactly according to plan, there is always a probability that you may reach a bottleneck with any project that you are working on. Think about what you can do, that is immediate and easy to implement, that will help you progress forward. “At Reputation Matters, we rely on small team huddles and brainstorms to get us through tight deadlines, big projects and bottlenecks. It’s a very brief and simple level of team communication, but very effective to coming up with solutions and new ideas to tackle challenging work,” shares Bischoff.

You do not have a fear of heights, you have a fear of falling. This is a lesson of trust. “I remember facing my first outdoor climb and looking at the wall and thinking that it was just too high for my level of experience.” Professional climber, Alex Honnold put this into a great perspective by pointing out that people standing within the top floor of a skyscraper generally do not have a fear within themselves, meanwhile, put them on a ledge and they will be overcome with fear. Even though they are higher up in the skyscraper, the reality of falling does not exist to them, they trust the concrete that they are standing on. For people standing on the edge of a cliff, that fear is very real, it is a fear of a catastrophic fall.

“When I was just about to reach the top of the wall that I had said to myself was out of my level, I fell! Only to be caught by the rope and anchor at the top. After many falls at a similar height, and being safe, the fear became more manageable. It was the trust in my equipment that was making me progress up more challenging and higher walls.”

While my harness and the top anchor may be my most important safety parts of climbing, at work, the biggest assets are our team members and our tried and tested methodologies. We know that we individually have a big role to play with our projects and we trust each other to show up the next day with our parts done. “I know a climbing anchor and a fellow colleague may be a far-stretched comparison, but we all get a sense at some stage that we are just completely overwhelmed and having a knowledgeable and supportive colleague is an important ‘anchor’ that we need in our professional lives.”

It’s all about trust and consistently doing things in the right way, and continuous improvement.

A company’s reputation is also built on trust, consistently doing things in the right way, and continuous improvement. As with learning a new skill like climbing, it takes time to build.

Next time you are outdoors, embarking on your favourite weekend activity, think about the subtle lessons that are in front of you. Books, webinars and podcasts can be rich sources of information, but life experiences can be just as valuable.

For more information contact on reputation management contact us on research@reputationmatters.co.za or visit www.reputationmatters.co.za


Don’t get conned by collaborations

Photo credit: Unsplash

 “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ~ Helen Keller

The word “collaboration” has been used almost as much as your favourite pair of tracksuit pants that saw you through the lockdown. The right collaborations, like your trusty track pants, can give you that warm and fuzzy feeling and be quite comforting to know that someone is supporting you and is interested in your business endeavours. With time, these relationships will be faced with challenges, testing hurdles and clashes of values; all of which can wear these partnerships very thin. How do you know when these relationships are so threadbare it is time to part ways and move ahead in other directions?

Why are collaborations so important and how do you select the right strategic alliances, partners, collaborators, sub-contractors for your business?

These alliances can make or break your business, helping you gain access to different markets but, they also play a significant role when it comes to your business’ reputation. If these businesses, and more often than not, their leadership, do something dodgy, then purely by association, you are implicated in their dubious actions too and your reputation will be tarnished.

“Strategic Alliances is one of the ten elements that is measured as a part of our proprietary reputation model, the Repudometer® that we’ve developed to quantify your reputation,” shares Regine le Roux, managing director of Reputation Matters.

Robert Mulder, director and founder of StratNovation, strategic management consultants, has an extensive network of specialist consultants that he has worked with since the inception of his business 25 years ago. “I have two non-negotiable values that I follow when it comes to strategic partnerships. Trust and respect. You must stay true to your values, your brand and yourself when deciding who to do business with,’ shares Mulder.

“It can’t just be a one-way street, all parties need to trust and respect each other throughout all interaction especially those with clients, it must be reciprocal,’ adds Mulder.

“As a leader, you need to take tight control over the project that you are collaborating on. You need to do your due diligence before engaging with someone and be very wary of sweet talkers; do not let their silver tongues con you. I learnt a very dear lesson some years ago when I lost R600 000, a considerable amount of revenue, because of a sweet-talking scammer.

How can this be avoided and what are the lessons?

  • Stay true to your values and align with people that share and demonstrate the same values.
  • Open and honest channels of communication are key.
  • Respect and safeguard each other’s intellectual property.
  • Have a process in place when selecting who you want to do business with and stick to it! As part of this process, check all the parties’ competencies. Conducting “values and ethics” due diligence is important.
  • As the leader you need to steer any joint client project, have checks and balances in place throughout to make sure that it is on track and on par with your level of service as well as that which is expected by the client.
  • Have clear deliverables and milestones in place against a payment plan so that you don’t get to the end of a project and questions about invoicing and billing only raised then.

George Washington said, “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company.”

For more information on Reputation Matters visit www.reputationmatters.co.za or research@reputationmatters.co.za.

For more information on StratNovation visit www.stratnovation.co.za or info@stratnovation.co.za

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Pitch meetings go both ways

Recently I was called to help a company with some damage control as a result of negative online reviews they received. During the initial call, I did say that online reviews are generally a symptom of a larger issue. We may be able to help with the immediate containment of the situation, but, this would just be like putting a plaster over an unknown wound; we would need to dig a bit deeper and treat the root cause to avoid similar future situations.

On prepping for the meeting, I found it rather interesting that there was very little information about the company on their website, apart from a generic photo, logo and a telephone number, there was absolutely no information about who they are or what they do. I prepped as best as I could.

At the meeting, I was greeted by a rather monochromatic male-dominated boardroom. Which I found very interesting as their core target market is people living in communities, so I did find it a bit odd that the board wasn’t more demographically representative. For about the first 20 minutes, before I had even started my pitch, Mr Dominant Monochromat (DM) explained to me what he wanted done from a Google Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) point of view.  His ideal scenario is that when people Google his company’s name and include the word liar or crook, he wants articles and keywords to pop up saying,  ‘I thought the company was a crook, but they are not…’ When I managed to get a word in edgewise, I suggested that they should perhaps consider steering away from negative words such as crooks and liars and rather use more positive associations to build a positive reputation. This encouraged Mr DM to mansplain his desired approach, and that he was glad that he could teach me something new. When I at last had the opportunity to pitch my ideas and proposed plan of action; I just wanted to confirm what their vision was as I was not able to find it before the meeting. Mr DM, asked rather defensively, ‘why?! It’s to make money!’. When I went on to ask what their values were, he replied a bit annoyed with, ‘money, money, money, why what is yours?’. I then did something that I have never done in a meeting before. I wasn’t even half-way through my presentation, but I closed my laptop, packed it away and said, ‘one of our core values is respect. It is very clear that you have no respect for your customers, your employees, or for me. Your approach and values do not resonate with ours. We are not the right company to help you.’ I packed my things and left.

The experience made me realise that when we pitch for work it’s very much a two-way pitch. As much as you need to impress the potential client with your methodology and credentials. There must be mutual respect gained. They also need to pitch themselves to you. You need to ask yourself whether this is a company that you want to be associated with; is this someone you can work with.

It is our vision to be Africa’s go to reputation specialists to build resilient businesses. We believe in changing the reputation of our country and continent one person and one company at a time. But, the other party also needs to put in the work, do their bit and respect that the advice and guidance that they are given is based on a track record of years of experience.

We would have made meaningful recommendations until the cows came home, but Mr DM would only have been happy if his company’s name and words such a liar and crook popped up on Google. Not the reputation building route recommended for anyone.

Sometimes saying thank you, but no thank you, and stepping away is necessary and good.

I think in this current economic climate we need to remember the fundamentals. Compromising your own values will be detrimental in the long run. When you pitch for new work, don’t be shy to ask questions, they have to impress you as much as you have to impress them, it’s a two-way street.


Can you fluently describe what your business’ unique selling proposition (USP) is? What makes you stand out from your competitors? If you say it’s the quality of your service or product, or your quick turnaround time, isn’t that exactly what they are also saying?

If you were to describe what it is that your business does in eight words, what would you say? Would your answer sound the same as the receptionist or intern’s answer? How does it compare to the person that has been with the company for ten years or more?

If you took time to ask everyone in your organisation, you might be quite surprised to find out what the rest of your team are saying. What your team is saying, becomes the the message that is communicated internally and externally, to friends, customers and other stakeholders. It has a direct impact on how your business is perceived and influences your company’s reputation. The perception of what your company does is not necessarily the truth, but it is that person’s reality which becomes their opinion that is communicated to people around them.

A few years back I realised with a shock that we didn’t have a succinct USP, our ‘eight words’ were all rather muddled. I recall asking the team to share a voice note with me describing what we do in eight words. Everyone’s voice note was quite different and varied a lot in length. Clearly, we definitely needed clarity on our eight words.

I really didn’t want to dictate what the eight words should be and I believe in being collaborative and involving the team in key decisions. If everyone is on board and gives their inputs, the chances of them buying into it, and adopting it as their own, are much greater. So at the next strategy session, we set time aside to work out what our eight words are, combing the USP and our vision. The reason for this is so that when we share our USP, we automatically share the bigger vision of expanding operations into the rest of Africa as well. Our agreed eight words: Africa’s go to reputation specialists building resilient businesses.

At your next team meeting, why not ask everyone to take a few minutes to write down what they consider it is that the business does.

There are a number of reasons it is so important to be clear in your offering:

  1. If you are fluent at what you do, it is so much easier to explain it to someone else and for them to understand and welcome it;
  2. Target your sales effort: knowing exactly what it is that you do makes it a lot easier to identify opportunities that you want to focus on which are aligned to your core services. You will also feel a lot less guilty saying ‘no’ to work that does not fit into your core offering;
  3. It helps you to identify growth opportunities;
  4. Your reputation is built upon what is communicated internally and externally. When everyone sings from the same hymn sheet and consistently sends out the same message, you are all building your company’s reputation. Keep in mind that reputations are all about consistency; you are either consistently good (building a positive reputation) or consistently inconsistent (building a negative reputation). If your core message is inconsistent, and all over the place, your service offering will most likely also be all over the place as everyone has their own version of what they should be doing. The more consistent you and your team are, the more solid your reputation will be;

While you are crafting your eight words, it is also a good idea to review your communication material and check that everything aligns to the eight word principal of describing your business. Also remember to check your internal messages and don’t neglect your induction pack for new employees. Consider finding out what your other key stakeholders think your business does, because it will help you to know if you need to re-align key messages and identify gaps in your communication initiatives.

To continue the reputation management discussion, visit www.reputationmatters.co.za or call +27 21 790 0208 or mail research@reputationmatters.co.za. We are also on Facebook www.facebook.com/yourreputationmatters and Twitter @ReputationIsKey

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COVID-19 doesn’t change top CEOs’ social media habits

[CAPTION] Top CEOs across the globe tend to stick to their existing communication habits during the COVID-19 crisis. Only those who were already active on social media before the pandemic used these platforms to interact with their stakeholders during the COVID-19 crisis. This is according to research by the international communication network ECCO.

ECCO analysed the personal Twitter and LinkedIn accounts of the top 20 companies (by market capitalisation)’s CEOs in 17 countries worldwide. This year was the third time that ECCO conducted the research. ECCO found that CEOs all over the world have been reluctant to send their messages through Twitter and LinkedIn.

Contrary to the general assumption that social media becomes more important during a crisis, ECCO observed a nearly unchanged share of CEOs using Twitter and LinkedIn compared to previous surveys in 2017 and 2019. The research even shows a slight decline in activity on LinkedIn, where only 46% of CEOs have and use a personal account.

Even fewer CEOs have Twitter accounts. Since 2017 the share of Twitter users has grown marginally from 15% to 20%.

South African results

Reputation Matters, the South African regional representatives in the ECCO network, conducted the research of the top 20 CEOs as listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)*. Findings indicate that Twitter is far from the preferred choice as a personal communication channel. Whereas an average of 20% of top CEOs globally have taken to Twitter, only one top CEO in South Africa had a Twitter presence. LinkedIn shows a greater uptake amongst top CEOs, although many of these personal profiles have not been active for several months, if at all.

“Social media is often a great way for companies to reach the public, but on a personal level it depends on each individual’s communication strategy,” says Nalene de Klerk, reputation manager at Reputation Matters. “It would appear that, for now, social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are not high on South Africa’s top CEOs’ radars as personal communication channels.”


Working within ecological boundaries: Five steps towards a sustainability strategy

As more countries around the world are shifting toward a circular economy, the business community is also expected to work within the ecological boundaries. This tied with consumer demand for sustainable products and services, makes sustainability a top priority.  Businesses that ignore this environmental responsibility will get called out, having a detrimental impact on their reputation.

Chris Bischoff, reputation manager and sustainability specialist at Reputation Matters, shares five steps to successfully adopt a sustainability strategy on all levels of business.

  1. Establish your environmental policy: Your environmental policy is your overarching vision for how your company will fully own its environmental and social responsibility. Like your vision, it is one sentence that everyone should know.
  2. Leadership should walk their ‘environmental talk’: The leadership team needs to be the driving force that will ensure that the environmental policy and subsequent environmental management plans are implemented throughout all areas of the business. Management needs to lead by example and ensure that it is implemented by all employees.
  3. Your employees are your environmental ambassadors: Ultimately your employees are the ones who will determine whether implementation of the environmental policy and sustainability strategy is successful. As with any company policy, it is important to ensure that your employees receive enough communication and training to know how things are done according to the environmental policy. It is also really important to communicate the ‘why’ of your environmental policy. Employees need to understand the value of sustainability, for business and the environment.
  4. Business partners affect your sustainability: Your business is not just confined to your office; your business is your entire supply or value chain. Do you know if your business partners along every point in your supply chain are complying with your sustainability strategy or environmental management plans? Communicate your environmental policy and plans with all your business partners and find out what they are doing to comply with your strategy and what their environmental policy is.
  5. Measure buy-in from your stakeholders: It is valuable to understand what your stakeholders know about your company’s sustainability. Reputation Matters has specifically design a research model, the sustainability check, to provide you with insight into your different stakeholder groups and their perceptions and understanding or your company’s sustainability strategy. Having this insight will help you communicate your sustainability strategy with your different stakeholder groups.

“Communicating your sustainability strategy increases support from your stakeholders, forces them to comply with your environmental policy and management plans, and will improve your reputation as a sustainable business,” says Bischoff.


Reputation Matters launches free reputation management eBook

Reputation Matters have launched a free ebook outlining 40 tips and tricks to manage your reputation and communication during the lockdown. Their specialist team have compiled this practical guide based on their extensive knowledge and experience that they have gained over the last 15 years.

“At Reputation Matters we believe in growing businesses and growing people. We build businesses that people want to do business with,” shares founder and managing director, Regine le Roux.

“The team have been absolutely amazing in turning this ebook around in a week,” says le Roux. Your Reputation Matters, 40 tips and tricks during lockdown, is an easy reference book and is aimed at guiding people on how to manage their reputation and communication during a crisis, such as this current COVID-19 lockdown situation.

The content is aimed at providing practical advice from managing your communication during a crisis, etiquette tips on setting up a virtual office, embracing communication tips from millennials to planning for the future. 

If you would like a free copy of the ebook register for it here: www.reputationmatters.co.za/ebook 

Reputation Matters have also made several free webinars on reputation management available, for more information on these sessions contact: research@reputationmatters.co.za


Visit the official COVID-19 resource portal

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we all know how important it is to get your information and updates from credible sources.

In line with our governments request, please visit https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ to get information directly from the National Department of Health’s official COVID-19 South African Resource Portal.

Please note that as we heed the government’s call for physical distancing, we are still fully operational and continue to work virtually should you require any reputation or communication support.  We wish to thank everyone at the front line fighting this virus, and we thank our President and the leadership teams steering our country. 

We wish you health, safety, and strength during this time.


Seven habits of highly successful crisis communicators

For the first time since the digital age, the entire world is faced with same health pandemic crisis and the same threats and fears. It’s a crisis of such magnitude that no textbook could ever have fully prepared any of us for it.

Whatever your location or type of business you run, the way in which you communicate during a crisis remains the same. Regine le Roux, founder and managing director of Reputation Matters, shares seven habits of highly successful crisis communicators.

ONE: Have a plan. In the ideal world, everyone would already have a crisis communication plan in place having scenario planning plotted out with high risk / high impact; high risk / low impact etc. identified. Part of the plan would include:

  • Who the key stakeholders are that need to be communicated with;
  • How: The channels of communication to be used and,
  • What the key messages need to be .

The minute there is a crisis, everyone should know who needs to communicate what to whom. It’s very important to have a clear spokesperson during the crisis: this person should ideally be the leader of the organisation, e.g. Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer etc.

“Linking it to COVID-19, I don’t think anyone anticipated this virus to morph into a global pandemic. It’s difficult to know exactly how to prepare for something like this, but every business should be prepared for a worst case scenario where their offices may need to be shut down in the event of an emergency.

But, having a plan in place of how to engage with your key stakeholders should at minimum include: employees, customers, shareholders and suppliers,” shares, le Roux. 

TWO: Be responsive and give timeous feedback. It’s a very uncertain time for everyone. Communication is key.

Key things to communicate and to keep in mind during this time:

  • Respect: Adhering to government decisions and guidelines
  • Office hours: Will the business be open or closed?
  • Team availability: Will the team be available? Will they be working remotely?
  • Contact information: If anyone has questions, who can they contact?
  • Health advice: Bring in the health message of social distancing / washing hands / sanitising

 

THREE: Keep stakeholders updated. The South African government has been a prime example of how it should be done, keeping the public up to date with the situation and what needs to be done, and there is regular communication directly from the President. Because of government’s consistent and proactive communication, the majority of South Africans know that we are going into lockdown from tonight, Thursday, 26 March 2020 and we understand the seriousness of the matter.

If you work in the event or training industries, or were looking forward to an event yourself, you know that there is a lot of uncertainty about whether the event is going ahead or not. It’s important to let delegates know as soon as possible whether it’s going ahead, being postponed, or being cancelled. Delegates need to know what is happening to their bookings. Ditto for the tourism industry: what is happening to flight and accommodation bookings?

FOUR: Stick to your guns. The message needs to be clear and consistent: “This is what needs to happen; these are the parameters; and these are the consequences.”

FIVE: In any crisis, empathy is very important. Whenever there is a crisis, people are impacted and we need to remember that we are dealing with human beings who are each coping in a different way. Be sure to highlight that in any communication

SIX: Keep in simple. The best way to help people listen and remember things is to keep it simple. “I have been receiving many newsletters around the pandemic,” says Le Roux. “I think a lot of it should be simplified to get the message across. Sometimes short and sweet cuts through all the noise.”  

SEVEN: Take action. “Here’s a basic example,” shares le Roux, “It wouldn’t help saying we need to social distance ourselves and then to call a meeting where you need people in the same room. I have actually noticed a few press conferences taking place where the media are invited into a room and the key message is about social distancing; leaders need to walk the talk and set the example.” It may also be tricky to balance the need for profitability with the need to provide employees with safety and a stable income. However, the businesses who are as committed to their employees’ well-being as they say they are will have to demonstrate it in the coming weeks and months.

And here’s a bonus good habit: before sharing anything, check the sources. There is a lot of fake news doing the rounds, spreading panic. Distributing fake news is now a criminal offence, and you may be liable for a fine or imprisonment.

Le Roux concludes, “I read a great line in a Harvard Business Review article earlier today:  This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.* We wish to thank everyone at the front line fighting this virus; thank our President and leadership teams; and wish all the best to everyone during the national lockdown.


Taking a page from the Millennial communication book during COVID-19 lockdown

Millennials: often described as the ‘instant-gratification-generation’, the multi-tasking individuals who are glued to their phones and the generation who makes use of different communication channels, as opposed to their Generation X or Baby Boomer parents. With the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are going to be home-bound. For businesses to remain functional to some degree, it is crucial to optimise the virtual office space. There have been many negative connotations to the Millennial generation, but for once, we can learn something from their communication style and preferences.

 

Millennials are individuals aged between 25 to 39 years of age. Their parents are usually classified as Baby Boomers (aged 55 and older) or Generation X (aged between 40 and 54).  Numerous academic articles have confirmed that the older generations view Millennials as individuals who are overconfident, requires constant praise and are generally seen as high maintenance. Chanell Kemp, a reputation specialist at Reputation Matters, who completed her Masters dissertation on the topic, says that now is the ideal time to take a page from the Millennial communication book.

 

Here are five preferences that characterise Millennial communication that can be used during lock down and working from a virtual office space:

Topic: Millennials prefer communication to be brief but meaningful and engaging. Provide enough detail but keep it to the point and stay positive. “When in lockdown, we should focus on staying positive and energised during the pandemic. Keeping the communication brief and meaningful mean that it is more likely to be read, especially as there is a lot of social commentary from all angles at the moment,” says Kemp.

Medium: Millennials prefer texting and sending WhatsApp’s as the most preferred medium for communication. Their phones are often described as their greatest asset. During the lockdown, mobile phones will also be one of the biggest assets for organisations and friendships. Organisations can use mobile phones to conduct meetings and instead of having a get-togethers over weekends, friends are already communicating and sharing their favourite beverages using WhatsApp groups or Facetime apps.

Time: Millennials function on a 24/7 cycle and they like to have all the information, all the time, regardless of business hours. “Organisations are currently saving on travel time, but strong measures should be put in place to ensure that employees don’t fall into a 24/7 work schedule,” warns Kemp. This brings us to the fourth communication preference, respect. Millennials prefer to feel respected when older generations are communicating with them. The entire world is influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we should not only communicate in a respectful manner, but also respect the measures that the Government put in place to protect businesses and limit the spread of this virus through complying with the lockdown rules.

Finally, Millennials focus on communication with meaning. Millennials have a strong sense of responsibility for the contribution towards the “greater good” and committing to the social bottom line. “Although the COVID-19 virus has an enormous impact on the global economy, we should focus on the messages we spread and how we communicate in a time like this,” says Kemp. “It is crucial to remain positive, comply with the measures that Government have set in place and keep your workforce motivated. We should also ensure that we spread the correct messages, information and statistics and steer clear of fake news. Now is the time to stand together, empower and inform your workforce in order to equip them for this lockdown.” concludes Kemp.