Four years ago, I wrote a column on why senior executives need to be mindful about the things they say and do outside the workplace from a reputational harm standpoint. Given the “cancel culture” era we are now in, the need for senior executives to practice mindfulness is more critical than ever before.
Whether an employee’s misconduct happens through words or personal actions, both shareholders and the public are increasingly taking notice. According to new research conducted by U.K.-based public relations agency Transmission Private, 83 percent of 2,000 public respondents to a survey said they would seek to express their anger with a senior executive publicly, such as on social media, if they objected to that executive’s behavior in some way.
“We have found that reputational attacks are increasingly taking a highly personal dimension,” said Luke Thompson, partner at Transmission Private.
The plurality of respondents (34 percent) said they would seek to impose financial harm by boycotting a company’s products, while 32 percent said they would send an email to the company’s leadership. Ranking third, 29 percent said they would launch a damaging reputation campaign against that executive, while an equal amount said they would send an email complaint to the company.
The survey also found another 10 and 11 percent, respectively, said they would turn to the media or social media to air their grievances. “Companies and executives must be especially judicious when it comes to managing their reputations amongst younger people,” who are “much more likely to turn their personal grievances into a highly politicized, highly public social media campaign,” Thompson said.
The results of the report speak to the reputational risk senior executives face not only when making difficult and often controversial business decisions, but also how they act in their personal lives, outside of work, when they engage in immoral or questionable conduct.
The lessons here are many, as are the practical steps chief ethics and compliance officers can take to mitigate the risks posed by an executive’s bad behavior. Consider the following:
Acknowledge the issue. “Company leaders need to spend just as much time talking about their personal reputations as they do about their corporate brands,” Thompson said. “Senior company leaders are at significant risk of personalized attacks and need to take judicious, careful, and reasonable action to keep these risks under control.”
Monitor executive behavior. “Companies should monitor all their senior executives’ names on social media and elsewhere to spot reputation risks before they become full-blown crises,” advised Jordan Greenaway, managing director at Transmission Private. “It is not enough to monitor mentions of the company’s name alone. You will be missing half of the picture.”
Gather training material. As I mentioned in my previous column, prudent ethics and compliance officers should consider maintaining a file of media clippings of all the unfortunate ways employees have placed themselves in a bad spot for unethical behavior. Real-life scenarios—especially when reenacted through face-to-face or online training—are a valuable (and free) resource to use as educational material for employees and serve as simple reminders as to why it is so important to act mindfully, rather than reactionary, in any situation.