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While corporate affairs leaders are often very skilled at dealing with a crisis, most prefer to be well ahead of any reputation risks facing their organisation.

Many do this by using ‘reputation research’, a methodology that enables them to retain an up-to-date and candid perspective of their organisation and its reputation.

These corporate affairs leaders identify a set of between 20 and 50 key stakeholders who are well informed about how the organisation really operates, they will be senior individuals who are well positioned to observe the behaviour, decision-making and leadership of the organisation.

Once every two years these corporate affairs leaders use an independent research specialist to meet with the key stakeholders and fully explore their perceptions and expectations of the organisation. These confidential conversations represent candid, insightful and forthright dialogues with those that know the way the organisation behaves. Their individual comments are never attributed but their opinions and insights represent an informed evidence base. When these conversations are analysed and summarised the key findings to emerge, identify the reputation risks facing the organisation. Using reputation research reveals a lot about the company’s underlying reputation and the forces that have the potential to damage it.

Using reputation research

By understanding the background, events and history that have shaped these stakeholder perceptions, the company can make informed, evidence-based decisions about what they need to do differently. Performed well, reputation research will also gather the views of stakeholders about how the company should make change. Providing the company with a pathway to improvement, endorsed by those key stakeholders.

Who uses reputation research?

All sorts of organisations use reputation research whether they are public, private, State-owned or not-for-profit. Any organisation that values its reputation and stakeholders, will benefit from being fully informed about how stakeholder groups think, feel and speak about it.

The Reputation Paradox

While most board directors consider corporate reputation one of their major risks, few directors or executives can describe their company’s reputation today, much less with a reliable evidence base. Of all the major risks companies must manage, reputation risk is often the least informed.

Get the best out of reputation research

Brave organisations embrace reputation research, they abandon any fear of what the research may show and rely on their research partner to ask the questions of stakeholders, that matter. They commit to the research with an open mind and a willingness to learn from both the process and their key stakeholders. They place their trust in a skilled research partner to bring important stakeholder themes to the surface through proven questions, tactful probing and a strategic dialogue.

Most importantly they take on board the research findings that emerge, acknowledge the informed insights of key stakeholders and commit to progress.

Why listen to key stakeholders?

This reputation research methodology deliberately focuses on an audience of well-informed key stakeholders rather than the general public. The general public are likely to hold only simple perceptions of your company; they are not particularly well informed and may hold superficial views based on various sources. But key stakeholders include senior leaders of your significant stakeholder organisations, those knowledgeable about your; industry, strategic position, peers, performance, strategy, impact and progress.

These key stakeholders are invariably well-informed, strategic thinkers. They operate in your sector; they understand the challenges, complexities and trade-offs confronting your organisation and witness how you navigate that path.

They hold leadership roles, they deal with you on strategic issues, are informed about your capability and decisions, and have seen you both triumph and fail in a range of circumstances. As leaders in their fields they are also familiar with organisations like yours around the world, they consider and discuss your company in the context of global peers.

Who are Key stakeholders?

Key stakeholders will include investors, suppliers, clients, regulators, analysts, media, community leaders, think tanks, peers and many more. They impact your business and may be impacted by your business. Executives and directors seeking to understand how their company is perceived, should listen to those best placed to provide an informed, insightful and strategic perspective. Skillful reputation research will explore their perceptions, expectations and insights to discover your company’s underlying reputation.

What are the costs and benefits of reputation research?

Like all evidence-based management information, reputation research comes at a cost, but to perform in-depth interviews with 25 key stakeholders need not be expensive. Organisations with broader stakeholder landscapes will opt to conduct more interviews, but only because each adds informed and relevant insights from a valued stakeholder.

The benefits of reputation research can be vast, with executive teams and boards becoming better informed about the factors working for and against their company’s reputation. Plans to address issues are informed by reputation research findings, with the execution steps very often suggested by key stakeholders themselves, during the in-depth interviews.

David Armstrong is Director of Reputation Research Pty Ltd, which focuses exclusively on reputation and stakeholder research. With the experience of completing over 50 major reputation studies, involving 1500 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders including over 300 CEOs, this proven approach will illuminate your reputation journey and inform your next steps.

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