Reading on Monday 13 February

One of the main takeaways from Duncan Green’s book How Change Happens is the importance of informal (soft) lines of power and networks in achieving any successful change.  This article in City Metric about the lessons for UK metro mayors from the US reinforces this message.  Too many of the arguments for and against mayoral systems focus on the hard power, formal, elements of the role but don’t look at the power of mayors to play a facilitative role.  Definitely worth considering.

The Centre for Corporate Reputation at Oxford University’s Said Business School produces some inspired research.  This recent report on “Rebuilding Trust in Business” is built around a useful framework of networks, narratives and norms as the building blocks of corporate reputation.

Unsurprisingly, the research shows that people are more forgiving of lapses in capability than they are of evidence of bad character.  This is intuitively sound.  If a business does something wrong as a result of incompetence but it is clear their intent was good (an apology is useful here but this shouldn’t be overused and needs to be accompanied with a plan for how to fix the issue) then they are more likely to be able to rebuild their trust than if the business knowingly did something wrong and misled the public.

Their recommendations fit the three elements of the framework.  

Build open networks to build bridges with the public (I wrote a piece a while ago called “Stakeholder engagement: why bother?” – this is really relevant here).

Challenge negative narratives by having the CEO and other senior staff engage more with the media.  Given how much of an organisation’s reputation seems tied to the reputation of its senior leadership this seems sound advice, if done well.

Lastly, the report calls on businesses to, in a sense, self-regulate by aligning their activities with societal norms.  Now, firstly I would say that this would require the organisation taking advice on what those norms are (they change and organisations can’t be seen to be “dragged to the table” – it isn’t a good look).  Secondly however, it is possible that companies who want to do this may be cautious in doing so for fear of being undercut by the competition and may, in line with Schelling, welcome government legislation to create a level playing field.  Does this mean then that responsible businesses should lobby government to regulate them more?

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