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.


Reputation Matters launches new service to support public participation

South Africa is a developing nation; infrastructure is being upgraded, new housing developments are frequently springing up, and different industries are quick to adopt new technology to keep up with the rest of the world. While we see this advancement in development, it does not come without its environmental impacts on the surrounding environment. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s) play an important role in ensuring the environmental and social impacts are mitigated as much as possible. Equally as important is including the voice of the public in the EIA process.

Reputation Matters has launched its public participation service to support environmental practitioners and developers with the public participation process.

Reputation Manager and sustainability specialist at Reputation Matters, Chris Bischoff elaborates on their new service, “We have been involved in the public participation element with past clients and we have seen the value that good media coverage has towards sharing information with the public.

Our EIA public participation service is designed to achieve media coverage that highlights the projects benefits. We also include a public survey to collect comments from affected stakeholders and to include all public concerns and recommendations in the environmental management plan. Lastly, based on the public feedback on the proposed development, we will guide the project management team and EIA practitioners on how best to communicate with interested stakeholders based on their preferred communication means.”

The purpose of public participation is to provide a source of information for the public about the EIA and proposed development. It also allows stakeholders to register as interested and affected parties (I&AP’s) to submit their comments, concerns and recommendations. Public participation is a vital component to the EIA process and will largely influence the Department of Environmental Affairs’ decision to approve a development based on the EIA.

“We want to ensure that the public participation aspect goes beyond the minimum requirements; our service is designed for this. Our team has extensive public relations and stakeholder engagement experience, along with a comprehensive understanding of the EIA process in South Africa,” says Bischoff.

For more information about Reputation Matters and their new EIA public participation service, get in touch with Chris Bischoff at chris@reputationmatters.co.za or visit www.reputationmatters.co.za. Follow Reputation Matters on Facebook (@yourreputationmatters) or Twitter (@ReputationIsKey).


Working from home during COVID-19: Tips for a virtual office

With new measures to contain COVID-19 announced by the South African government, many employers are encouraging their workforce to work from home. Reputation Matters, a proudly African research agency, has been successfully working from a virtual office space since 2008 and shares four tips for acing it.

A virtual office is an office that exists almost entirely in cyberspace. Employees are free to work from anywhere that has an Internet connection. With the arrival of COVID-19 in South Africa, an increasing number of employees are working from home to avoid spreading the virus. Besides the immediate benefit of minimising exposure to the illness, there are several benefits to adopting this approach on a permanent basis.

“Benefits of the virtual office include cost cutting on items like physical office maintenance, along with increased employee happiness and productivity as the daily commute is eliminated and they spend more time with family,” says Nalene de Klerk, reputation manager at Reputation Matters.

De Klerk explains that a virtual office does require a shift from the traditional office mentality and shares some tips for making it work:

#1: Have the right tools in place. Employees require functional laptops, cell phones, and Internet connection to work from anywhere. The virtual office also requires cloud storage and digital systems for scheduling, conferencing, and task management. Luckily, there are a host of business applications for every aspect of the business.

#2: Maintain set office hours. With increased connectivity comes the temptation to simply never switch off. Nowhere is this truer than in a virtual office, where the home environment would double as the office for many employees. ”We are encouraged to only be online after 07:00 and to switch off by 19:00, as a balanced lifestyle key for productivity,” explains de Klerk.

#3: Have set team get-togethers. With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, face to face engagements may not always be possible, but it is important for employees to check in with one another to prevent them from feeling isolated. “We have weekly Skype meetings and we check in with management telephonically for a monthly one-on-one,” suggests de Klerk. Once the virus subsides and business starts returning to normal, monthly face to face team get togethers may also help.

#4: Have the right team on board. It takes discipline and a lot of intrinsic motivation for employees to work from home. Management needs to be able to trust them to deliver quality work within agreed timelines. In the long run, management needs to ensure that they have the right people on board who will continue to function optimally from a home environment. “We have an extensive recruitment process that gauges potential employees’ ability to work remotely,” says de Klerk. Part of this is having shared corporate values that are communicated regularly, helping to build trust and guiding employee appointments.

“Those working from home for this period may find it a feasible long-term solution to boost productivity and morale,” concludes de Klerk. “We encourage you to make the most of the opportunity to step into the future of virtual offices and we would be happy to share more tips for those making the shift.”


Is your reputation fit enough for the long haul?

Looking after your health and becoming fit, is very closely linked to looking after your reputation. You need good health to get you through life, and you need a good reputation to support you through your company’s journey. Regine le Roux, founder and managing director of Reputation Matters shares four lessons for building your reputation that can be learnt from physical fitness.

  1. You look and feel great! When you are fit and healthy, you feel better about yourself and you are more confident. Isn’t it great when you can fit into those pair of jeans that you’ve been struggling to get into for a while? Your energy levels are better and your outlook on life is generally more positive. There’s nothing that clears your head quite like a good run, cycle or even gym session. You’ll also find that you attract likeminded people with positive mindsets and attitudes. The same goes for your reputation. When you have a good healthy reputation, you will find that people will want to be associated with your brand and do business with your company. People are willing to spend their hard-earned cash on products and services produced by a company whose values they resonate with.
  1. Being healthy protects you from injury. The fitter you are, the faster you will be able to recuperate from an injury or illness. Being fit doesn’t mean that you won’t ever get hurt or sick, it just speeds up the recovery time.       When it comes to a reputation, the healthier your company’s reputation is, the more likely it is to protect you during a crisis. You can’t only start thinking about your health once you are sick or injured; the same goes with your reputation. You can’t start thinking about it only once there is a crisis that needs to be managed. If you’ve put in the work, be it for your own fitness or looking after your company’s reputation you are safeguarding and equipping yourself from serious injuries and major damage during a crisis.
  1. There is no quick fix. If you want to run that marathon or finish your first cycling race, you need to put in the practice. No magic potion will get you fit. You need to be consistent in your training habits; it’s all about discipline. You are not going to attempt to run a marathon if you’ve not put in the training. The things that we know we need to do are often neglected, and then we wonder how we managed to get so unfit so quickly, or where those few extra kilograms came from. There is also no quick fix to building your reputation, especially after a crisis. ‘I was once approached by a company who had been in the media for all the wrong reasons and their reputation had been in absolute tatters. They asked my advice and in the same breath said that they have a marketing budget available to deal with the said crisis,’ shares le Roux. ‘Unfortunately, there were so many other issues at play (lack of values, questionable leadership, and non-existent corporate governance), that no amount of marketing would be able to fix their predicament. They would need to restructure the whole board of directors, introduce ethics as a non-negotiable core value throughout the organisation, and take a long hard look in the mirror before doing any type of external communication,’ adds le Roux. There is no quick fix. You need to put in the work, usually internally first.
  1. Measurement is key; you need to measure your progress. As you get fitter, you invest in the right equipment, perhaps by downloading an app or two, and you push yourself to go further and faster each time.  You work on numbers, be it kilometres or kilograms, to track your progress. It is just as important to measure your reputation. What is the current perception of your organisation by your different stakeholders? Different things will be important to different people. Knowing your reputation score will definitely give you the upper hand around the boardroom table and help you to come up with solutions to take your reputation to the next level.

At Reputation Matters we believe, ‘If you treasure it, you will measure it,’. How healthy is your reputation?

Not sure where to start? Reputation Matters’ Repudometer® research provides organisations with quantified reputation scores that show exactly what is building and breaking down organisations’ reputations. The Reputation Matters mentorship programme also gives organisations access to a team of reputation specialists to help you become the business that people want to do business with.


World Wildlife Day 2020: looking at an ecocentric approach to business growth

“Business as usual has brought 100 million species to the brink of extinction. Our own survival depends on the endurance of our planet’s rich biological diversity, and we must act to avoid reaching a tipping point that is irreversible.” ~ Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations

In light of World Wildlife Day, taking place on Tuesday, 03 March 2020, Chris Bischoff, reputation manager and sustainability specialist at Reputation Matters, shares some important considerations of sustainable economic development to protect biodiversity and the ecological network.

Business growth depends on healthy ecosystems

People, business, and economies live on resources that come directly from nature. It is increasingly important for the business community to work together to avoid irreversible ecological degradation. “The human race is not a separate species that lives outside of the ecological network. We need to shift away from a human centred approach to economic development to an eco-centric approach, which encompasses us as part of the ecological network.  In this way we can promote sustainable development,” says Bischoff.

“Along with the importance of protecting nature and biodiversity, sustainability is a smart financial investment. When finite resource reserves, such as coal, start dwindling, prices for these commodities will increase. This has already been evident for many years. Renewable resources such as solar are fast becoming the option that makes the most sense,” says Bischoff.

Go beyond corporate social investment

“While investing in a local community initiative is great, a beach cleanup or recycling drive is not going to save a threatened species,” says Bischoff. “With many species at a critical conservation status and many environmental issues reaching tipping point, having an environmental policy and management plans is essential to reduce environmental impacts along the company’s entire value chain or product life-cycle.”

Communicate your environmental performance

While knowing your businesses impacts throughout its value chain or product lifecycle is important, equally as important is knowing whether your key stakeholders and business partners know what your company is doing to manage its environmental impacts. “Communicating your environmental performance 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. “It is also very important to be transparent about your company’s sustainability. All too often companies are called out for ‘greenwashing’, claiming that their business is sustainable or products are environmentally friendly; this has become a quick marketing tactic to gain consumer support.”

As with any company policy, an environmental policy needs to be embraced by the leadership team. “For a company to successfully implement an environmental policy or plan, employees need to comply; it is therefore important that the leadership team ‘walks the talk’, to encourage employees to follow suite,” says Bischoff.

Reputation Matters has developed a sustainability check to measure how well your stakeholders know your company’s environmental performance and how sustainable you are perceived to be.


A communication strategy to hit target every time

“Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.” ~ Morris Chang

The new decade is in full swing for most people. Many companies already have their communication strategies in place and are implementing them, while others are wrapping up their annual initiatives and preparing for the new financial year. Do you have a communication strategy?

“Communication, reputation, and brand management can be likened to the game of darts,” says Nalene de Klerk, reputation manager at Reputation Matters. “Every message is a dart. it is so important that an organisation’s communication is not merely a series of social media posts, newsletters, or press releases for the sake of it. How would you be assured of hitting your target? Your communication strategy outlines that target for you.”

The most effective communication is specifically aligned to the organisation’s overall business goals and customised for each stakeholder group. As you plan for the next 12 months, Reputation Matters shares a few guidelines:

  1. Evaluate where you are now. How are you currently being perceived? If you had to give your organisation a reputation score based on how people perceive your business, what would that score be out of ten? Here are some key points for you to consider to get that score closer to ten:
  • Identify your key stakeholders. There are a host of stakeholders to consider: media, unions, government, shareholders, the community, service providers and other strategic alliances, and so on. Prioritising key stakeholders are crucial to ensure that you give them the attention they deserve. At minimum, clients and employees should be on the priority list. To narrow down your other stakeholders, consider the influence that each group has on your growth trajectory and the risks they may pose if the relationship deteriorates.
  • Understand the strength of your stakeholder relationships. The sum of your relationships with those who are important to you ultimately determine your reputation. “People want to do business with companies that they trust and resonate with,” adds de Klerk.
  • Know what stakeholders’ communication preferences are in terms of channels and timing. You won’t necessarily talk to your employees the same way as to the media, and not everyone uses social media as extensively as you might think.
  • Brainstorm potential issues for each stakeholder group. Be proactive in your approach to communication, especially with regards to potential crisis situations.

“Knowing your stakeholders well is what gives wings to your key messages, similar to the flight on a dart,” says de Klerk. With this knowledge in place, you can start planning for the year ahead.

  1. Be strategic about your communication outputs.
  • Build your communication vision and goals around the organisation’s strategic intent. Your targets should be aligned to the company’s overall business targets.
  • Decide how you will measure the success of your communication initiatives. Have measurable objectives in place. These will vary based on your communication channels, be that newsletters, social media, or media announcements; the important thing is that you have very clear objectives in place on how best to engage your audience. What is it that you want to achieve with each piece of communication that you send out?
  • Keep an eye on what is happening in the world and in your organisation’s environment. “This is the part where you evaluate potential crosswinds that might affect your aim,” says de Klerk. It will help you identify new trends and opportunities.
  • Don’t forget that your communication should be two-way! Being open to feedback, both positive and negative, is critical to building good stakeholder relationships. It’s important to track whether the messages are being received and understoo

“Your strategy will guide your communication initiatives in the months to come and will help you to proactively build your organisation’s reputation,” shares de Klerk. “Hit your target consistently, and you will be taking your organisation’s reputation to a whole new level.”

Not sure where to start? Reputation Matters’ Repudometer® research provides organisations with quantified reputation scores that show exactly what is building and breaking down organisations’ reputations. The Reputation Matters mentorship programme also gives organisations access to a team of reputation specialists to help you become the business that people want to do business with.