Companies have always had employees and customers. Why do they have more influence now?” Why do I need to think about reputation more than before? There are actually several forces driving this change.
The first driver is the shift in the control of the means of production. In the industrial era, a company’s profits were driven by what it owned. Workers had to come to the employer to get access to the means of production. It gave companies a greater level of control over its workers. With the rise of the knowledge economy, however, the knowledge held by employees and, indeed, external stakeholders have become an important part of a corporation’s “means of production.” The knowledge factory relies on the unique contribution of human and relationship capital elements. This shift in the balance of power means that companies have to pay more attention to the interests and priorities of their stakeholders as “partners” in the success of the knowledge factory.
The second driver of the increased focus on reputation is the acceleration of communications. If you didn’t understand this before, you certainly do now given the events of wikileaks, Tunisia, and Egypt. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are just the latest developments in a society that had already developed 24-hour news. It is easier than ever before for anyone to get a message out. Sometimes all it takes is a blog post or a YouTube video by one disgruntled customer to go viral and threaten your reputation in an instant.
The third driver is an increased interest in sustainability and corporate social responsibility.Sustainability is an umbrella term for a number of related trends including corporate social responsibility and triple bottom line. CFO magazine defines sustainability as “the practice of publicizing a company’s environmental and social risks, responsibilities and opportunities…it can be thought of as an environmental-impact statement for the entire corporation, with ‘environment’ defined not only in terms of natural resources and climatological effects but also the economic and social impacts of labor practices, charitable endeavors and governance structures.”
The fourth and final driver is the lack of transparency of intangibles. There is a shocking lack of information available to internal and external stakeholders about the knowledge side of business. So when news does get out about a problem or a failure, then the reaction is swift and often very negative. If your stakeholders don’t understand how your business works and don’t receive periodic information beyond just the financials, then bad news is a warning to get out. The less your stakeholders understand about your business and the less you share about non-financial aspects of it, the more vulnerable you are to severe reactions to bad financial news.
You need to consider all four drivers as you think about managing your reputation. But we ask you to pay special attention to the last driver—intangibles reporting. You have a lot of control over your reputation—if you are getting the kind and quality of information to your stakeholders. And very few companies have developed good reporting on intangibles. That means that the 80% of corporate value that is driven by intangibles is invisible. Stakeholders can only guess at it unless you give them the information they need. This is really the goal of Intangible Capital.
Helping you see, leverage and communicate about your intangibles. Because it will help you perform better AND because it will help you get the reputation you deserve. That is what Smarter Companies Do.