My good friend Bob Eccles, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, wrote an article (The Performance Frontier) that just appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Here is a PDF. I’ve been extremely interested in his work on integrated reporting for awhile now. What is integrated reporting? Essentially it is One Report that combines financial and non-financial information interactively into one document. A good example of a company that has done this is Natura. Although integrated reporting is voluntary today, it is required of all companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. But integrated reporting is much more than an online CSR showcase. When it is done right, it is an authentic and innovative two way conversation where a company convenes its stakeholders to discuss its progress meeting its financial and nonfinancial goals. For example, Natura does this through Natura Conecta where the public is invited to have a discussion on environmental and social issues related to the company. It is a living exchange, not a static one that is one-way and more push than pull.
Bob’s article has an interesting slant which he points out in the introductory sentence . . .”But a mishmash of sustainability tactics does not add up to a sustainable strategy.” He argues, along with his co-author George Serafeim also at Harvard Business School, that we need a solid framework for simultaneously boosting financial performance as well as doing good. Tactics alone won’t do the trick. They provide a model for identifying the most environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors that drive shareholder value so that both financial and ESG performance are enhanced, not just one. A company that focuses on sustainability without paying attention to the financial costs is not going to have a genuine sustainability strategy that meets everyone’s interests. Similarly, a company that focuses solely on financial performance to the exclusion of good ESG performance will lose out as well in terms of public opinion and support. A major component of reaching this perfect balance, according to them, is by identifying major innovations in products, processess and business models that achieve these improvements and accomplishes superior financial and sustainability performance. A good example is the one with Natura mentioned above. They also cite innovative business models from Dow and Hong Kong-based CLP Group. And then, of course, Bob argues that these activities are ideally communicated through integrated reporting.
What fired me up was the SASB (Sustainability Accouting Standards Board) Materiality Maps that have been created for 88 industries in 10 sectors. Each industry has its own map that prioritizes 43 ESG issues and ranks them in terms of materiality. Not all the maps are complete but take a good look at this one for the health care sector. It shows which ESG factors impact financial performance so that a company knows what to prioritize. It’s a great contribution to understanding ESG factors as well as what drives strong corporate reputation. Don’t miss it.
And congrats to Bob and George for raising an important question about how to better balance financial costs and sustainability costs so that they complement one another instead of taking away.
Lately I have been wondering if reputation is going the way of sustainability. Years ago, sustainability and corporate social responsibility was on everyone’s agendas in corporate American and around the world. It was hard to distinguish what was the difference between corporate social responsibility, corporate responsibility, community development, philantrophy, charitable giving, sustainability and all the other terms that were increasingly undefined, bundled together and fuzzy around the edges. Today, nearly all companies have CSR reports and it is expected of leading companies. CEOs too agree that CSR is critical to their business. A recent Accenture/UN Global Compact study found that 93% of global CEOs believe that sustainability issues will be critical to the future success of their business and 72% cite “brand, trust and reputation” as one of the top three factors driving them to take action on sustainability issues. Revenue growth and cost reduction are second at 44%. Everywhere you turn, sustainability is on the agenda. All in all, that’s a good thing. However, I still think that the terms have been interchangeable and are used indiscriminately except by those really in the know.
In a new book I just heard about, The Nature Of The Future: Dispatches From
The Socialstructed World by Marina Gorbis, she argues that in the future we may start to see Reputation Statement Accounts just like we get from the bank. But these monthly statements will not inform you of your monetary transactions, but will tell you “how much you’ve earned by contributing to sites such as Wikipedia or Flickr, how many points you’ve earned by providing rankings or ratings on various community sites, or how much social currency you’ve spent by
asking someone for advice.” We already have these kinds of ratings through Kred and Klout although somewhat different.
Her book also refers to the Whuffie Bank which is a nonprofit built on a new reputation currency that can be redeemed for real and virtual products and services. “The Whuffie Bank issues whuffies based on a reputation algorithm that blends information from different social networks and provides an accurate reflection of people’s web reputations. And as the Internet and social networks become a large part of people’s lives, your web influence will become an increasingly accurate reflection of you.” That sure is the truth looking us in the eye.
I am afraid to say that everyone is a reputation expert today. Reputation means so many things that it is getting harder and harder to pin down. And I hope it does not become the new sustainability which has meaning depending on who you are talking to.
On to the future.
Weber Shandwick’s annual calculation of reputation loss – the “stumble rate” – finds that a few more of the world’s largest companies retained their esteemed status as their industries’ #1 most admired company during 2012. This is good news.
Each year Weber Shandwick measures the rate at which companies lose their #1 most admired position in their respective industries on the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies survey. We call this the stumble rate. Between 2012 and 2013, 46% of the world’s largest companies experienced a stumble, slightly down from last year’s 49%. These companies did not have too great a stumble, however. On average, they dropped two places, falling from number one to number three in their respective industries. However, for those companies that did fall from their perches, the loss is agonizing. Boards of directors and CEOs will want to understand why their reputations eroded and why their competitors leaped upwards. Explanations will be in order.
Of course, the bright side of the coin is the non-stumble rate of 54%. This means that more than half of the industries in the Most Admired survey boast companies with durable reputations.
In addition to calculating the stumble rate, we also dig through the data, including the nine drivers of reputation, to glean some interesting insights about stumblers and non-stumblers. A stumbler is an industry whose top company last year is no longer the top company this year. What is interesting this year?
- 22 industries (out of nearly 60, give or take depending on the year) have never had a stumbler since we started monitoring the stumble rate in 2010. The most admired companies in these industries have been stalwarts of reputation: Automotive Retailing; Building Materials-Glass; Computer Peripherals; Consumer Food Products; Electric & Gas Utilities; Electronics; Entertainment; Household & Personal Products; Information Technology Services; Property & Casualty Insurance; Internet Services & Retailing; Metal Products; Mining, Crude Oil Production; Oil & Gas Equipment Services; Pipelines; Newspapers & Magazines Publishing; Railroads; Semiconductors; Apparel Retailers; Diversified Retailers; Food & Grocery Wholesalers; Office Equipment & Electronics Wholesalers.
- 13 industries have stumbled at least three times since 2010. The most volatile, with four stumblers each, are: Airlines, Energy and Life & Health Insurance. Those with three stumblers are: Computer Software; Consumer Credit Card & Services; Financial Data Services; Food & Drug Stores; Medical Equipment; Motor Vehicle Parts; Petroleum Refining; Telecom; Tobacco; Health Care Wholesalers.
- No one particular driver of reputation took a big hit or could be said to be the culprit for reputation erosion. The worst average declines among drivers across all stumblers were experienced only by two drivers – management quality and long-term investment. All other drivers declined by just one ranking position, on average. Perhaps some stabilization on what positively and negatively affects reputation is taking hold.
- However, four stumblers lost rank on all nine drivers. The hardest hit was the Airlines industry. The company that stumbled took the greatest blow on its quality of management driver (dropping 6 ranking spots). Ouch. Other hard-hit drivers for this company were innovation, social responsibility, long-term investment, product/service quality and global competitiveness (a loss of 5 positions on each of these qualities). The company that supplanted this stumbler improved on all of its nine drivers in impressive fashion, rising at least two rankings positions on each driver and four spots on two drivers (financial soundness and global competitiveness). This does not mean that this new “king of Airlines reputation” will necessary remain so…this particular company was also tops two years ago and, as discussed earlier, Airlines is among the three most volatile industries.
- From zero to hero in 12 months. One stumbler lost its enviable top position to a company that is a newcomer to the World’s Most Admired evaluation. This goes to show that even the most reputable companies need to be on guard from all angles – not just their traditional competitors.
I was taking a look at the new Harris Poll RQ study that was released this week. Reputations of U.S. companies are always important to review in order to see how companies or sectors are improving while others are declining. The survey has some reptuational nuggets worth sharing here.
This year, 16% of the U.S. public said that the reputation of corporate America was improving, an increase of 7% over one year earlier. That is positive news despite the fact that 49% of consumers say it is declining. That is not a surprise because trust in business has reached its lowest depths over the past few years of economic decline. But it is a good sign that reputations are making somewhat of a comeback.
But what really has left me thinking twice is not the finding that Amazon.com is the most highly reputable company in America this year, a notch above Apple. What has me in a state of awesome disbelief is that Amazon earned nearly 100% positive ratings on all measures related to Trust and that among Americans who have discussed Amazon with their family and friends, nearly 100% of these conversations were positive about the online retailer. I have rarely, if ever, seen a company ever get that close to 100%. I’ve been conducting research for a long long time and this is an amazing feat. 100% satisfaction! A rarity.
The Harris Poll also found that more than 60% of consumers say that they now “proactively try to learn more about how a company conducts itself” before they consider buying that company’s products and services. Again, the world of reputation is seriously changing when people care this much about a company’s treatment of employees, customers and communities. Values are increasingly playing a greater role in reputational perceptions and this market force is only going to continue. Mark my words.
A new reputation study by Pam Cohen, a behavioral economist for Dix & Eaton, was recently released. It appears that they are looking at various industries and chose the financial sectoras the first one. For this analysis, she drew on over two dozen data sources, government statistical information and industry rankings and surveys. Of the nine drivers of reputation, the top five that impacted corporate reputation in this industry were shareholder investment (ROI), CSR, transparency, sustainability and image. Cohen remarked: “While it is no surprise that ROI shows up among the top drivers of financial institution reputation, more telling is that corporate social responsibility is the number-two driver, and sustainability number four. This, of course, highlights our culture’s return to grass roots despite – or perhaps because of – the downturn in the economy. Values are viewed as being critical to organizational success and acceptance.” Cohen also mentions her surprise that “image” rose back into the top ranks of reputation drivers, a spot it has not held since a decade ago. To me, image is a peculiar term in many ways. When I first started in the reputation business, people used to respond to my answer about what I did as “oh, you do image or impression management.” That used to make me irritable because reputation is so much deeper than image and they were missing the point obviously. I think of image as fleeting, temporary and shallow whereas reputation mobilizes people to support a good company by investing in them, recommending them, believing in them and listening to them. But for this study, I am confident that image was a catch-all for reputation, trust and admiration, all of which Cohen references. I also found it interesting that “transparency” was third in the list of drivers of reputational impact which speaks to the importance of telling it like it is, not saying “no comment,” and being timely and relevant in company communications. Fascinating to me was that “ethics” or “good ethical conduct” did not appear on the list since ethical behavior has been so important in valuing companies of late. Perhaps ethical behavior falls into some of the other drivers and that information was not mentioned in the release.
The second industry they analyzed is retail. Using somewhat different criteria for reputational impact, Cohen found that the leading ones here were overall satisfaction, quality of goods and services, price/value, trust and problem resolution. They also looked at sustainability efforts, convenience and variety. Cohen used social media in this analysis which makes sense considering that social media can go a long way in resolving issues and refining products. When it comes to retail, the quality of products and services nearly always goes first. Makes sense.
I met Pam Cohen years ago when she was at the Ernst & Young Center for Innovation. Some of the research that I did back then on CEO reputation was fed into her analysis which was featured in Forbes. Glad to see that she is still working the reputation angle because her research is top-notch.
One study comes from Echo Research and Reputation Dividend. They found that corporate reputations contribute to a total of $3.2 TRILLION to market cap in the S&P 500. Big number.
Reputation Institute released a new global survey report among corporate reputation officers (CROs), Navigating the Reputation Economy. The respondents are those senior officers who identify themselves as the senior-most person responsible for “setting their company’s corporate reputation, marketing, corporate communications/public affairs and business strategy.” One of their most important findings mirrors what we learned in our study on the company behind the brand. RI found that 80% of CROs say people’s willingness to recommend their company as a place to work or as an investment is driven by the perceptions of the company overall. Same for direct purchases — 38% say that purchase decisions are driven by the company behind the product or brand rather than what is actually for sale.
What is most particularly illuminating about the RI study is their depiction of where companies fall on the reputation management continumm. They describe a five-phase journey that companies go through from phase 1 (exploring reputation) to phase 5 (integrating reputation into business planning and company strategy). Phases 2 (customization of measurement and management) and 3 (business planning integration) come before phase 4 (cross functional implementation and accountability). Not surprisingly, only 13% of companies fall into the Advanced Phase among the 318 companies in the study. Most companies fall into phases 2 and 3 (69%). Eighteen percent fall into the phase 1 exploration phase. My experience agrees with this assessment. Most companies are in the phase 2 and 3 phase. Few really fall into the most advanced stage.
The distinctions between Early Phase and Advanced Phase companies could not be clearer, according to RI’s results . Advance Phase companies are 2-3 times more likely to:
1. Understand reputation across stakeholders and markets
2. Understand specific business impact of reputation
3. Have an internal council or steering committee to champion action
4. Have senior executives accountable for corporate reputation KPIs
5. Have reputation integrated into long-term enterprise vision, goals, and priorities
The favorite communications channels for reputation management are the company website, the annual report, stakeholder events and CSR reports. Advanced phase companies are more intense in their usage of nearly all the channels. However, as we have seen in elsewhere and in fact our own research, social media is the one channel where early phase and advanced phase companies are nearly the same. My sense is that this is because social media is still fairly new and experimental in the eyes of CROs and everyone is using it in the same way without being sure about what works and what does not work. All they know is that they have to do it!
Am stealing shamelessly here because I found this so interesting. The survey is from the Luxury Institute and this is their press release. Traditional media is still an important source to wealthier consumers when it comes to learning about CSR efforts by companies but watch out, social media platforms are gaining. However, according to this survey, even the wealthiest are being careful about costs, no matter how ethical a company is.
“In a new survey by the independent and objective New York-based Luxury Institute, “Corporate Social Responsibility: The Wealthy Consumer’s Viewpoint,” U.S. consumers earning at least $150,000 per year define socially responsible corporate behavior, rate companies and divulge importance of socially responsible practices in shaping purchase decisions. Responses were compared to those from the same survey in 2007.
Most (82%) wealthy Americans define social responsibility by a company behaving ethically with employees, customers and suppliers. Environmental behavior and philanthropic actions are both named by respondents as an essential component of CSR (58%).
Almost half (45%) of wealthy consumers say they seek out brands with high ethical standards, but only 39% of these shoppers would be willing to pay a premium. That’s down from 56% who would pay a premium in 2007. Apple, BMW, Coach, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Whole Foods are frequently cited as highly ethical standouts.
Twenty-seven percent of wealthy consumers learn about companies’ socially responsible behavior via Facebook or Twitter. That’s up from 8% who received their information from social media in 2007. Reading news articles is the most popular (52%) way to learn of CSR efforts, down from 64% five years ago.
“Even wealthy consumers have de-emphasized social responsibility as this economy focuses everyone on price/value and away from social issues,” says Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza. “Nevertheless, we see that luxury and premium brands that are socially responsible do better even during recessions because doing well by doing good is a universal and timeless concept.”
Respondents reported average income of $307,000 and average net worth of $3.1 million.
Just came across some research from ReputationInc that holds some very interesting information. Here are the main facts they discovered by examining the curriculums of the leading Executive MBA programs identified by the Financial Times. They were looking to see how reputation was incorporated into the course work.
• 1 in 5 leading EMBA programs teach none of the 10 core reputation disciplines
• Just one of the 50 leading EMBAs has ‘Reputation’ as a core module
• Communications & relationship building skills are taught in less than 20% of programs
• Government & policy relations is covered by fewer than 1 in 5 EMBA program
• Governance and ethics is the most popular reputation discipline being taught to business leaders today (no surprise there)
ReputationInc cites McKinsey research that found that one-half of global CEOs say managing external affairs is one of their top-three priorities. Yet one fifth of the world’s top 50 global Executive MBA programs do not offer any training in the core disciplines of reputation management. They report that the missing disciplines include CSR, stakeholder engagement, government relations, communications, and reputation management strategy.
More worrying still, just two of the top 50 business schools surveyed offer a dedicated reputation
module and 80% offer no training on either public affairs or external communications – the two core “hands-on” skills executives need to build reputation. “The results reveal a frightening gap between the reputation skills business leaders must possess in 2012 and the cursory attention they get in the traditional executive MBA.”
The programs with the highest ranked scores for including reputation are Henley Business School, Essec/Mannheim, and the University of Texas at Austin: McCombs.
I wholeheartedly agree with this statement: “On this evidence, companies and shareholders should be concerned that Executive MBA programmes risk creating ineffective business leaders who leave academia without the skills to actively manage the precious asset of corporate reputation,” said John Mahony, CEO, ReputationInc. “Reputation management skills are vital for today’s CEO who sets the tone and mood for a corporation and must lead from the front in communicating the purpose of the brand and its value to society. Many managers are not born ready to meet this challenge and will benefit from coaching and confidence building in reputation, something today’s Executive MBA courses fail to adequately provide.”
Just read an article in The Economist (which I love) that questions the business of reputation management. The columnist attended a recent meeting in London held by the Reputation Institute (RI) on their new RepTrak results for British companies.
The writer rightfully acknowledges that we are living in a “reputation economy” where institutions and individuals literally trade on the currency of reputation and this type of exchange makes “intuitive sense” in a society where Facebook is worth more than many Fortune 100 companies. Reputation Economy is the term used by RI and its professionals, led by Charles Fombrun, and continue to provide valuable, far-reaching insights to companies around the world. The writer, however, raises several interesting objections to the effectiveness of the reputation management industry as it stands today.
First, he/she (have no clue) objects to the idea that many different factors as disparate as product quality and corporate citizenship are all rolled up into one understanding of what reputation means. That may be true, but I am not sure why that is bad in such a complex and fragmented world where every individual becomes an interest group. For us reputologists (I just made that up), the factors contributing to corporate reputation vary depending on the company’s history, industry and situation they are facing. For example, in the financial industry, unlike say the automotive industry, it is often difficult to distinguish one company from another by focusing only on their products and services. Their reputations are far more likely to be built on sheer trust in the perceived integrity of their leadership and governance.
The columnist’s second objection to reputation management today is the assumption that companies with positive reputations will find it easier to attract customers and withstand crises. As evidence of the supposed weakness of this assumption, the columnist cites many companies with strong bottom lines despite terrible reputations: e.g., tobacco companies (harmful product), Ryanair (poor service) and Daily Mail (mean spirit). Yes, there are always companies that will make gobs of money despite wrong-doing and poor service. Nevertheless, these companies have and will continue to have a hard time attracting and retaining the best talent. But in this online world where advocates and fans matter more than ever, it will be harder to keep that bottom line as stable as it once was.
But the greatest objection to the reputation industry, according to the columnist, is and I quote… “its central conceit: that the way to deal with potential threats to your reputation is to work harder at managing your reputation.” He/she continues with… “The opposite is more likely: the best strategy may be to think less about managing your reputation and concentrate more on producing the best products and services you can.” Here I agree at least in part with the columnist’s thinking. The best way to build reputation is to “have a customer” as Peter Drucker always said. Without customers, there is no business to have a reputation worth building. The reputation industry, however, does not urge industries to ignore producing the best products and services in favor of managing reputation. To the contrary, building the best products and services is part and parcel of a good reputation. Also, however, today’s society is much more complicated and often it behooves a corporation to do more than just having great products and services. Apple, for example, may have the best products but if it does not give a damn about how it treats employees or contributes to society, it will face problems that if allowed to accumulate may well threaten its bottom line. We see that now with regard to questions about their handling of factories in China.
I think that the columnist should rename the article to Why companies should worry MORE about their reputations or else.
There’s no avoiding the bad odds of maintaining a coveted top shelf reputation spot in one’s industry. Each year Weber Shandwick measures the rate at which companies lose their #1 most admired position in their respective industries on the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies survey. We call this the “stumble rate.” Between 2011 and 2012, 49% of the world’s largest companies experienced a stumble, up from last year’s 43% but exactly the same as 2010’s rate. With 1-in-2 companies losing their enviable industry position during the past year, the stumble rate highlights just how difficult a good name is to keep. Looking at this finding another way, #2’s have good odds of becoming #1’s in their industry. Either way, reputational equilibrium is hard to keep. Companies have to continually manage their reputations and watch out for vulnerabilities. Perhaps companies should apply “stress tests” in the same way they are applied in medicine — determining how the organization’s core equity responds to external stress or crisis in a controlled environment. Very much like scenario planning.
2012 Reputation Stumble Rate from
Fortune‘s Most Admired Companies Survey
The industries that have the same #1 this year as last year are: Aerospace & Defense, Beverages, Computers, Consumer Food Products, Delivery, Electric & Gas Utilities, Electronics, Entertainment, Food Services, Health Care: Insurance & Managed Care, Health Care: Medical Facilities, Health Care: Pharmacy & Other Services, Home Equipment & Furnishings, Information Technology Services, Insurance – Property & Casualty, Internet Services & Retailing, Mining, Crude Oil Production, Network Communications, Pharmaceuticals, Securities, Semiconductors, Soaps & Cosmetics, Specialty Retailers: Apparel, Specialty Retailers: Diversified, Superregional Banks, Trucking, Transportation & Logistics, Wholesalers: Diversified, and Wholesalers: Office Equipment & Electronics.
Seven industries have had a new number one each year since 2009. The industries with the most churn are Airlines, Energy, Food & Drug Stores, Life & Health Insurance, Motor Vehicle Parts, Telecom and Tobacco. During the past three years, a total of 40 industries have seen at least one stumble, so with nearly 60 industries represented on the ranking each year (it varies year to year), few are immune to reputational stumbling.
We also looked at the rankings within each of the nine reputation drivers that survey respondents assess companies on to help understand why companies stumbled. Of the stumblers between 2011 and 2012, we learned that…
- One stumbler experienced a ding to just one of its drivers. Sometimes it just doesn’t take much when you have strong reputational competition.
- Two stumblers lost ranking across all nine drivers.
- The most pervasive loss of reputation was in the areas of Use of Corporate Assets and Social Responsibility. Nineteen stumblers’ rankings went down on these two drivers, followed closely by Management Quality with 18 stumblers losing rank on this driver.
- What may have degraded perceptions of these drivers? A 2011 media analysis of the largest drops suggest that survey takers may have been sensitive to management changes (e.g., one CEO step-down announcement considered by analysts to be too far in advance of his intended departure date and one long-term CEO retiring) and management of assets (e.g., property spin-offs and failed asset funding). As for social responsibility, no stumbler experienced particularly steep drops on this driver so nothing reported in the media popped as a clear reason for the dings. Perhaps CSR activities are once again being more closely scutinized by peer survey takers as CSR becomes expected behavior.
- The driver least damaged was Global Competitiveness with 12 stumblers losing position.