CCOs are increasingly challenged when it comes to building and maintaining strong reputations for their organizations, especially when some employees’ opinions or actions are in conflict with company values.
Recent examples include a Google employee whose 10-page memo attacked the internet giant’s gender diversity initiatives, the sexual discrimination and abuse allegations against senior Fox News executives, and a Yelp employee’s open letter to the CEO complaining she wasn’t paid enough to afford food, rent, and transport to work.
Sometimes, as in the case of sexually harassed former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, employees are whistleblowers who alert the world to cultures void of values and decency.
In the face of such challenges, CCOs must ensure their companies transparently illustrate values-based conduct that demonstrates the highest standards of legal and ethical behavior and impact.
Company websites and social media platforms are excellent tools to showcase positive company actions and impact on employees and customers.
Most companies assert codes of conduct spelling out acceptable and unacceptable employee behavior. Comms pros must make sure these policies are shared widely and often.
These policies need updating to cover do’s and don’ts of employees’ online lives, especially in regulating use of identifiable company accounts and products in potentially controversial online forums.
Regardless of where and how employees act or speak out, such policies must avoid actions that damage the company, make colleagues and customers uncomfortable, or advocate illegal, dangerous, or immoral behavior.
When crisis strikes, CCOs must closely collaborate across the C-suite, especially with the CEO and leaders from business operations, HR, and legal.
Comms pros need to participate in internal investigations to obtain facts for planning strategy and response, which might include a company apology and change of business practice, firing employees, or fighting false accusations.
More companies are encouraging two-way communication on important issues before they boil over. Many organizations have introduced confidential hotlines, as well.
There is no way to avoid isolated incidents of illegal or damaging employee behavior. However, comms pros have a valuable role to play in protecting a company’s reputation.
Renee Wilson former chief client officer at MSLGroup and PR Lions jury president, now president of the PR Council.