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The truth will out: integrity and reputation management

01 Dec 2020

By Kristina, Gifted MD

One summer, during my former career as a child, I was given a very important task – or to be immodest a mission very similar in stature to guarding the Crown Jewels.

I was asked to look after the school’s giant African land snail. I know! It was a proud moment.

Herman, the obvious name for a gigantic mollusc, was a big deal around the corridors of the science block I can tell you. Vicki Royal cried when told her summer task was to not kill a sunflower seed rather than the snail. Karma, dear reader, for her stealing my prized hair scrunchie after netball practice.

Herman might have lacked the cuddle-factor, but you could just tell he had a heart of gold, notwithstanding the ability to demolish an iceberg lettuce faster than the school rat (Timmy, less cool than Herman) could gnaw through an electric cable. RIP Timmy.

Halcyon days

The snail, his little tank (of the residential variety, not a miniature Panzer) and I had a lovely time over the holidays and he became part of the family. The cat was smitten. The canary in awe. Ordinary snails vacated the garden in a jealous rage.

Obviously with great power comes great responsibility and for me that required guts, determination and dedication to clean Herman’s tank once a week, replenishing his little snaily boudoir with fresh compost and a cheeky bit of gravel.

My dad was mega proud of my mature commitment to nature, nurture and receptacle-based tidying. So much so, he gave me one whole English pound each week to procure the required compost from Mrs Salmon’s garden centre. I felt flush with happiness, adoration and financial means.

Up the garden (centre) path

Mrs Salmon was, to village-based economic prosperity, what Herman was to Year 7 science lessons – admired if ever-so-slightly repugnant. Salmon’s garden centre, corner shop, taxi service and cricket club empire was clearly yielding results in 1993, because one week Mrs S. gave me the compost for FREE.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not advocating what happened next.

The corner shop was next to the garden centre. On a corner, no less! And the corner shop had sweets. Lots of sweets. And well, you can probably guess…

“The sweets were free dad, honest,” I say, dishonestly.

“Mrs Salmon just wanted to thank me for looking after the snail and stuff.”

This aroused suspicion. However, golf was on the telly – an excellent cause of parental distraction.

The demise

Later, the inevitable happened. Contrary to the common belief a round of golf lasts for at least three months, dad had other things to do within hours. Like recollecting potential falsehoods relating to your dreadful, duplicitous child when bumping into Lincolnshire’s female answer to Alan Sugar.

Busted. Grounded. Adulation evaporated.

So, here’s my point (there’s always one in there somewhere).

Compare and contrast:

Scenario a) Child misuses funds intended for compost-based chivalry to procure a covert sugar rush, denies this was ever the case to swerve immediate repercussion and prays family forget what was promised in order to maintain a reputation for curating mildly-exotic biology projects.

Scenario b) Team uses time allocated for community work to go to the pub, denies this was ever the case to swerve immediate repercussion and prays stakeholders forget what was pledged in order to maintain a reputation for helping good causes.

Scenario c) Company diverts money intended for system maintenance to pay an unanticipated supplier charge resulting in a major IT failure, denies all responsibility to swerve immediate repercussion and hopes customers forget what was committed to in order to maintain values-based adulation.

Top tips:

a) People aren’t daft and, thanks to The Dark Lord Google, don’t usually forget.

b) Short-term gain often capitulates to long-term loss; reputational or financial.

c) We all make mistakes. Dealing with them in a credible, resonant way matters.

Lessons learned the hard way

At Gifted, we define this as the Self-to-Scale model. Most people want to be seen in a particular way by those we care about and we aim to act in a manner that strengthens this perception. This is the same premise when applied to an SME or a multinational.

The question is whether desire mirrors actual behaviour or, put simply, if you practice what you preach.

For instance, I could tell everyone I’m world-renowned for my navigational prowess, but that would be a massive lie. I’ve got form for getting lost within small buildings, even smaller woodland areas and exceptionally well-signposted suburban haunts. And there is evidence! Damn you, Internet and various social networks.

It doesn’t matter if you’re representing you or a thousand-strong business; words are judged against past and current actions. Online footprints inevitably lead to scrutiny and juxtaposition of what has gone before, particularly by the media.

Businesses often forget this while communicating, or not communicating as the case may be, in the midst of an issue or crisis. Messaging is often non-committal and focused on short-term reverence rather than managing expectation, accepting the absolutes and finding a voice that is clear, honest and empathetic.

Did I mention the snail died?

I forgot to open the tank air slats during a weekend away and poor Herman overheated.

It was my fault and I fessed up. Vicki Royal was devastated. But she knew I loved that snail – and we celebrated the good times.

Thank you, dear Herman, for a valuable life lesson.