I suppose this is a bit like sausage being made but at 30 some thousand feet on another too-soon business trip had a little time to think about my presentation coming up for the PRSA International Conference in October. My topic is “Reputation Resilience.” I wanted to take a look at why some companies seem to come through crises pretty well and others seemed to be destroyed by them. This topic was prompted by two things. One is the marketing positioning I helped develop for my employer which focuses on organization and community resilience. The other was reading the book “The Unthinkable” by Amanda Ripley.
Resilience, as I recently wrote in some advertising copy, is all about strength. In fact, it seems it is about ultimate strength. Anyone can survive and look good in good times. It takes a survivor to come through the bad times looking good. And the worst the bad times, the greater the test, the higher the risk, and the more honor so to speak in surviving. As I thought about that, in this year of mega-corporate crises as NYT and Washington Post like to comment on, it is very relevant to talk about and think about corporate resilience and reputation resilience.
The thing that really struck me about Ripley’s book is the personal aspects of survival. Of course, that is what her book is all about–why some people survive disasters and some don’t, whether it is just pure luck or not. Her thesis is it is not always just luck. Some people survive because of who they are, how they react, how they think about things, how they prepare, and ultimately what their personality and character are all about. Some people freeze, become paralyzed. Some people freak out and go running off in all directions at once. Some seem quiet, calm, other-worldly. I remember a friend telling me about his time in the Navy and the ship’s captain. When things were happening that he didn’t think were being taken seriously he would scream and yell and get everyone focused. But when a real emergency hit, he was the center of calm and rationality. A true leader it sounds.
If people are more resilient based on character, personality and values, what about a company or an organization? We used to talk a lot about corporate culture, but is the culture one that will help an organization endure the worst that life can throw at it, or will a much-vaunted culture that thrives when things are groovy serve to help defeat a company or organization when things really hit the fan?
I’m reading Peter Firestein’s excellent book on Crisis of Character and I will write more about that soon when I finish it, but I think it has a lot to say about corporate resilience and reputation resilience. It seems he would agree that there is a link between character and resilience, and certainly would agree that there is a link between the values and character of the leaders and the culture they create. One of the biggest challenges leadership in any organization faces is how to inculcate the core values they hold as critical to the organization’s future throughout an organization that may be global and have employees in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
But, if resilience is the ultimate measure of an organization’s strength and organizational character will have a lot to do with surviving when things get tough, the task of building a culture based on the right values is of the highest importance.
More on this topic as I wrestle through some of these issues. And your thoughts on this much appreciated.