Chief Reputation Officer: Why the C-level requires a new, credible role, and how SMEs can proactively address reputation.

More often than not, the discussion about reputation in many companies only takes place when it’s too late and have found themselves in the midst of crisis. A Chief Reputation Officer (CRO) or a Reputation Officer can help change that and is responsible for actively dealing with various reputational risks to proactively prevent damage to the company’s reputation before it happens. Many may question if this role is worthwhile to be filled. The numbers speak for themselves as the World Economic Forum (WEF) study points out, a company’s good reputation accounts for more than 25 percent of its brand value. Now that is some significant value not to mention a compelling reason to take reputation seriously.

Cooperation is key in mastering the complex and far reaching challenges in managing reputation. One critical step is involving as many different corporate divisions and their representatives as possible from the start. While many have been painfully affected by COVID-19, there is a silver lining. This crisis has demonstrated in an impressive way just how reputation management can be achieved in a hurry when a situation demands it: Within an extraordinarily short period of time, companies have successfully formed so-called crisis teams, appointing key organizational players from throughout the entire enterprise. By leveraging these teams as a means to jointly arrive at optimal solutions, companies are learning more about themselves and how they can better manage their image across a diverse set of stakeholders. Our experience with this virus has made the seemingly impossible possible, shifting decision-making from top down to the bottom up and resulting in flatter organizational decision making. We should capitalize on this newfound awareness and key takeaways. We recommend post-crisis such bodies be transformed into permanent “councils” and continue to deal with the various needs and requirements internal and external to the company in the best possible way. 

Chief Reputation Officer – sparring partner with a conscience 

An efficient alternative to this is the establishment of the role of the Chief Reputation Officer (CRO), also known as the Reputation Officer. While a relatively new concept, the CRO is becoming an increasingly influential role whose importance is continuously growing. The CRO’s role is to advise management with respect to potential reputational risks and opportunities across both internal and external stakeholders. The CRO keeps an eye on everything that’s happening around and within the company; she or he analyses, anticipates and acts in an interdisciplinary manner to positively shape the company’s reputation and avert what could bring it harm. 

You may wonder if this role should held by the CEO by default, and while in theory, this is possible and probably intended; it is enormously difficult for the CEO to centrally capture, monitor and proactively manage all corporate risks in practice.  It quickly becomes clear that, in terms of reputation, the CEO also needs a sparring partner with C-level competencies. A forward-thinking leader with a conscience that works across all areas of the company. After all, given the plethora of reputation crises in recent years, it’s apparent that the issue of reputation must be established at C-level or should be further developed as a clear guideline from the Board of Directors. Only in this way can the intangible assets, which include reputation and with-it employer brand, be systematically and expertly managed. 

The 10 top goals of the role Chief Reputation Officer

1. Primarily, the CRO spearheads the development and implementation of an integrated communications policy that   is actively embedded in the company’s global business strategy.

2. Supports the organization in gaining a deeper understanding of the market, stakeholders and to provide knowledge and management tools to translate this understanding into differentiating, attractive perceptions and reinforcing behaviors.

3. Enables the organization to build and maintain strong relationships with key stakeholders at all levels of society.

4. Helps to create a global strategic direction through vision, mission, brand values and positioning of the organization as a starting point for internal and external alignment within the organization.

5. Clearly, creating a strong corporate brand is therefore also one of the CRO’s top objectives.

6. Evaluates the organization in creating and improving a sustainable reputation.

7. Naturally, the CRO is responsible for identifying reputational risks and actively mitigates them effectively. She or he actively advises on all decisions that could have an impact on reputation.

8. The CRO prepares top executives and management throughout the organization for intensive, persuasive communication with employees and other stakeholders when appropriate.

9. In addition, a CRO is expected to advise and support the CEO in building and maintaining his or her personal reputation.

10. Finally, the CRO develops an integrated management dashboard to track and measure corporate communications, brand, reputation and performance of intangible assets and foster accountability and value creation for business and financial performance.

The profile of a Chief Reputation Officer: Who is suitable?

What’s really important here in our opinion is skill set and personality traits. Existing position holders such as Corporate Communication Officer, Risk, Compliance and Corporate Social Responsibility Managers, Marketing Managers or Chief Human Resources are often well-suited for this new role and are often more easily developed into CROs. This is because they often already have broad corporate know-how, experience and cross-functional training in related disciplines. This provides them a broader perspective when carrying out the tasks necessary. With the necessary support and repositioning, these managers are given the strategically unique opportunity to assume this new, highly responsible role and to develop professionally and personally within the organization.

The company benefits immediately from the efficiency of this central sparring partner, who by virtue of their access and perspective is well informed organizational awareness and ideally also with respect to technical developments. As a self-starter, the CRO drives several initiatives simultaneously in a rapidly changing environment. With an eye for the essentials, the CRO ensures that the strategic perspective is balanced with practical contributions in the context of the overall organization. Pragmatism is king.

Communication, marketing, stakeholder relations, risk management, public affairs, corporate affairs and employer branding are all familiar to the CRO. As an inspiring and innovative storyteller, she or he inspires managers with new ideas and fresh perspectives and easily synthesizes them to connect them together. The CRO is a relationship person and an effective influencer, enjoying a high level of credibility and trust across functions and hierarchies.

CRO as a role model in SMEs

A CRO or Reputation Officer does not necessarily have to mean a separate or even additional position. Rather, this task can be implemented and filled in an SME on a rotation principle: Qualified jobholders take over the role for a certain period of time – for example, one year – and then pass the baton on. The rotation principle has significant advantages for SMEs.

6 Advantages of alternating reputation responsibility in the role model

1. Several functions take turns assuming responsibility for the topic of reputation and thus a positive corporate reputation from different perspectives can actively be shaped.

2. The role model allows a person to focus on the overall reputation of the company.

3. By rotating the role model holder, fresh perspectives regarding the company’s reputation open up again and again.

4. The temporary assumption also allows the role owner to set new impulses and follow his/her own development.

5. The role model prevents the respective role holders from being overly restricted and criticized, as other managers alternate in wearing the on “the hat” (checks & balances).

6. Lastly, the alternating role model approach is an extremely effective personnel development instrument for the respective role holders and can be used in the context of talent promotion at management levels.

CRO and employer brand

We believe it’s time to a hard look at the profile of the Chief Reputation Officer or the Reputation Manager, a person who possess interdisciplinary knowledge and solid people building and networking skills. A CRO is an opportunity for organizations to use the recent mandatory transformations (i.e. COVID-19) to actively and positively shape and maintain their own reputation and strengthen employer brand.

It takes a lifetime to build trust and an instance to lose it. So, it’s no wonder that the role of the CRO as Reputation Officer is particularly worth considering with regard to the employer brand. Whatever one may subsume under the “R for reputation”: the fact is that C-level representatives, Board Members, or owners of Swiss SMEs cannot afford a bad reputation or a tarnished employer brand. The aim must therefore be to ensure that reputation is not only looked after in the event of imminent damage to reputation, but that reputation is actively, consciously and consistently cultivated and used for greater corporate value.

Invest in your reputation and get a handle with the role model of the Reputation Officer in your company – we are happy to support you in working out this important role description and organizational positioning as well as in evaluating potential internal or external candidates for the role. 

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