Reputation Recovery Plans

June 19, 2006

Reputation Recovery Plans

It is worth reading The New York Times’ public editor’s progress report on the paper’s recovery of its integrity as the three year anniversary of fabricator Jayson Blair approaches in July. Public editor Byron Calame surveyed current Times members and spoke to others to query whether this kind of fraud could ever happen again. Consensus seems to be “maybe” although it would be a whole lot harder now. Like many companies recovering from crisis or damaged reputation, the NYTimes has made some right moves:

*Hired an internal and external task force to investigate what happened and where they went wrong
*Hired a Standards editor to check all anonyomous sourcing…similar to a Risk or Compliance Officer that many companies have hired
*Hiring of a public editor for readers to complain to when facts are just plain wrong (can you imagine if all companies had someone to write to or complain to who really listened?)
*Developed a database of errors to highlight staffers who abuse the written word (many companies also begin the benchmarking process during this period)

All of these are steps are notable and necessary. However the most important change at The New York Times came when leadership changed hands. As the public editor notes, new executive editor Bill Keller is accessible, open to criticism and does not play favorites.

When you review the literature on companies that recover reputation, changing the culture is always the agenda and the only agenda. For most CEOs, culture-change is the hardest part of the restoration process and the one they feel most ill-equipped to manage. When you read Fannie Mae’s CEO Daniel Mudd’s remarks about its $11 billion scandal and the changes it has made over the past two years, culture is at the center of its transformation. As Mudd remarked to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs: “I have heard your comments today, and I have heard many more in private. The days of arrogant, defiant, ‘my way’ Fannie Mae had to end. We have begun to build a Fannie Mae that listens better, welcomes accountability, works with our regulators and with Congress, and serves the maket by putting our mission to serve housing first.”

Recovery starts and ends with company culture. The New York Times Blair fiasco would never have happened if its culture was in working order.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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