Reputation Repair for the Church

vaticanBill Keller wrote this fascinating piece in The New York Times about how the Catholic Church could repair its reputation. As he points out, the Church operates just like a business with more than one million workers, one billion or more customers, more outlets than Starbucks, more real estate than Trump and a powerful lobbying arm. And like many companies today, it just lost its CEO and has the opportunity to reset its reputation and restore its luster now. Keller asked several consultants how they would go about advising the Church to repair its reputation as they name a new Pope and move forward. Here are their suggestions:

1. Find the right new pope. One with drive and charisma who is communications savvy. One who is more than a caretaker. A Pope who is dynamic as well as a road warrior with unending energy to persuade customers back into the fold.

2. Manage the culprits out. Out with those who have sullied the Church's reputation. Or as they say, "managing out" the ones responsible for the abuses of recent years.  This would include full disclosure behind how predatory priests were allowed to stay within the institution. And third, hire a highly-regarded compliance or ethics officer who would have full support from the top. Keller quotes Wharton's Michael Useem and his experiences helping to clean up the Tyco mess of years past.

3. Understand the past but look ahead towards the future.  One consultant suggested a big time summit or strategic review that would be responsible for developing a new and improved Church strategy, mission and values with a plan to execute accordingly.

4. Adopt a global/local point of view. The article describes one consultant's idea to let its 220,000 parishes make their own decisions attuned to local customs and preferences. "Rome could encourage the parishes to be laboratories of worship." Interesting idea. Beta labs full of women participating, gays welcomed, local music.

5. Go social. Bring the Church into the digital age...fast.  I did not realize this until Keller pointed it out but Pope Benedict tweeted as @Pontifex but only 35 times despite having 1.5 million followers. A social media strategy would go far in encouraging meet ups and spreading news and information to the committed. I have just the right document for him too....our research on social CEOs. Perhaps the Church could get some lessons from President Obama's social media machine.

6. Get PR support. Interesting since that's the business I am in. Keller rightfully states: "Its stock response to criticism from without or dissent from within has been to been to drop into a defensive crouch, stonewall or go negative. That can come across as bullying and arrogant -- in other words, not very Christian." Media training and message development would definitely be high on the list here.

What would I add to this list..

7. Build a solid crisis plan that raises red flags when early warning signs show up and design rapid response mechanisms. Figure out how to stop the leaks and understand how it happened in the first place so it does not happen again.

8. Measure the Church's reputation now when it is at its most challenged so that the Church could mark progress as a new Pope begins and reform makes it to the agenda in the year(s) ahead.

9. Commit to a strategic internal communiations plan that engages its customers and followers. Get everyone on the same page. Start by going on a listening tour and asking what needs to change and what can stay the same. Feed back that information and describe how the Church will tackle its greatest problems and improve on its strengths.

10. Build a reputation advisory council that can help restore the Church's reputation for the long-term. This is serious business.

Manufacturing Reputation Moving Up

I am in Florida now about to speak on a panel about Corporate America and how it can restore its reputation. The panel is being convened at the annual summit of National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).  Getting ready to talk about reputation and how we can repair America's reputation for good business.  A few things are on my mind right now as I was preparing for my remarks. First, has anyone noticed that all the candidates for president this year are always speaking in front of large machinery at manufacturing sites? The manufacturing industry definitely has the wind at its back and should capitalize on this momentum of favorability (and free publicity from the candidates).  Also, in a Harris Interactive survey this year, when Americans were asked about the reputation of corporate America, understandably the numbers were not great. Only about one quarter had a positive perception (with only 2% saying very good, UGH) and barely 10% saying it had improved since 2011. What I found particularly interesting was that when Americans were asked which industries would be part of the solution to the problem of a poor corporate America reputation....they answered that the technology, manufacturing and retail industries were most likely to help improve perceptions. Least likely places to expect help were the governmental and the financial sectors, not surprising. Anyhow, thought I would share these reputation findings as I figure out how to talk about combating the reputation of corporate greed that seems to follow us around these days.

Losing One's Way

  If you read Jim Collins’ new book, How the Mighty Fall, one of the stages of decline is “hubris born of success.” In fact, this is stage one. He says that the once admired lose sight of their vulnerabilities because they are insulated by their successes. “Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the underlying factors that created success in the first place.”  However, if caught early enough, decline can be dampened. Therefore it was with great interest that I read comments in the WSJ from Yoshimi Inaba,  the new head of North America Toyota.  As most people know, Toyota is suffering in the U.S. market, its largest (U.S. sales fell 38% in the first six months of this year).  The WSJ said that Mr. Inaba said that “…elements of complacency and arrogance infiltrated the company.”  It takes a unique company to admit to mistakes such as these. How many companies worldwide would make these admissions? Mr. Inaba who just arrived to run the NA operation intends to listen carefully to its customers, dealers and market to restore Toyota’s reputation. Sounds like the right start.