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View from the Street: The marathon of trust: building and sustaining reputations throughout the year

AI-generated image showing people running in one half of the image, and an office with people working at computers in the other half of the image.

Anna Dickens

Anna Dickens

Associate partner

Hands up if you went to the gym last month. Keep them up if it was lycra-clad chaos.

The annual January gym rush is so entrenched it has launched how-to-cope articles, t-shirts and memes. I now navigate the influx of unfamiliar faces with an eye roll and a quiet confidence that most will soon disappear.

This week – hovering and waiting for the next free crosstrainer – I was struck by the mash of good intentions of the January reset and its similarity to how some leaders manage the reputations of their organisations.

Indulgent eating and drinking in December (or any time) can derail your company and spark a reputational crisis. Then there’s a sudden urgency to fix things. This initial burst of energy is driven by a desire for immediate results, an intense burst of PR activity and stakeholder engagement, and a resolve to maintain this new way of working.

This holds for a while, but over time the pressure from shareholders, pay linked to short-term rewards and seemingly more immediate priorities, result in a reversion to the old way of doing things.

It’s much easier to maintain a reputation over time than to get into shape when you’ve let yourself go. This ebb and flow of commitment typically doesn’t move the dial long-term on engagement or profit.

Good reputation management involves engaging consistently and authentically. This is how you build trust – both in your leadership and the mission of your company. Put simply, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

There’s never a bad time to get fit, but it is difficult when you’re emerging from firefighting mode. The ideal time to become more proactive with your reputation management is well before the crisis hits. When will the crisis hit? Who knows? But maybe go check that your risk register is up to date.

The January fitness surge also teaches us about setting realistic goals and expectations. In exercise, setting unachievable goals or searching for quick fixes can lead to disappointment and a decline in motivation.

Consistency means continuously monitoring and engaging with stakeholders, maintaining a positive presence in the media, and actively managing online reviews and social media interactions.

A lot of your engagement should be listening. Listen to what others are saying about you, but also to their motivations and what they want to achieve. Use these conversations to inform your messages and deploy them through a consistent drumbeat of proactive and reactive communication.

If you’ve already fallen off the reputational equivalent of the New Year’s resolution wagon, pick yourself back up and give yourself a realistic plan you can scale up as you go.