Tracking & Learning from Reputational Risk Incidents

What is the point in not learning from incidents and ‘mistakes’?

Anthony Robbins writes in one book that the word mistakes should be reframed as learning experiences. He states that experiences can either be positive or negative. This an important distinction.

Not all reputation related risk incidents are necessarily negative. Maybe in the short -term, but often through speedy response and adequate communication a negative incident can be quickly circumvented.

Three years ago I was the keynote speaker at a conference In Maputo, Mozambique; organised by the National Society of Journalists.

I left via plane late Sunday evening from OR Tambo airport, Johannesburg, South Africa. Upon my safe arrival in Maputo, I heard the usual news. You here, but your luggage is in limbo, maybe on the way to Egypt.

The weather was very hot & humid, and of course I had no clean clothes . Apparently this was an usual occurrence, BUT what changed it was the actions of one of the NSJ employees. This young guy went back 5 times to the airport until he tracked down my luggage. His action and tenacity changed a negative experience around and I have been using the example ever since.

To me this is a good story, and many times these are the internal stories we should record so that we can use it in communication & marketing materials to build reputation.

However it is vital that every incident be recorded – positive or negative, is analysed and changed into a learning experience.

Thus to make it easy for you, I have drafted a couple of guidelines and questions that you should ask as you write a report on the incident.

Why write up a report?

j0422803Reason: ‘Soft Incident, Tangible Impacts’.

Ever heard that statement? Even worse. A CEO saying that a reputational risk incident is just a storm in a teacup and will soon go away.

Well, sometimes it does. But most times a small reputation incident impacts and can cause real reputational risk damage.

From a learning perspective it is vital for organizations to learn from mistakes (learning experiences) and incidents. I mean what is the purpose of history, other than teaching us the value of a learning experience?

What went wrong?

One of the frustrating (or is it challenging?) aspects of being a manager is that, from time to time, you are faced with a problem or situation where it is impossible to have a "happy ending", or successful outcome.

These situations typically involve other persons … a subordinate, a customer, a stakeholder representative, or perhaps a fellow member of management (peer or boss, within or between departments).

So, think back over the past month or so and recall a specific situation at work that "went wrong from a reputational perspective" for you.

Review the incident in your mind. Then describe it beginning with the questions below giving enough detail so that a person hearing it for the first time can visualise the nature and scope of what you faced.

The "case history" that you are writing as you complete this exercise will contribute to the relevance of your mitigation strategy.

To help you structure your "case", I suggest that you answer these questions in the order listed. As you do so, put a number in front of the parts of your story to "key" them to our questions.

  • What was the problem or incident?
  • What factor(s) caused or contributed to the situation? Background (What were the circumstances or events leading up to the incident?):
    When did this incident occur?
  • Could the incident have been avoided? How?
  • What remedies should be applied to lessen damage to perceptions, relationships etc.?

When you write up the incident, think of tangible and intangible impacts. For instance, what is the cost of the incident – in true cost, not actual expenditure.

Compiling this report will give you lots of information that can be used for strategic change efforts and learning for the future. Sharing it with senior management and Risk Management in the company is useful, as long as it does not become a witch hunt exercise.

It is vital to dissect reputational risk incidents, so that future damage can be avoided and actual impact be minimised.

The question that you should ask is: “What did we learn from this incident?’

P.S If you would like to learn more about these types of techniques and others like Reputation Root Cause Analysis, you might like to attend my next Reputation Risk Management Masterclass in Johannesburg, South Africa.


What: Reputation Risk Management MasterClass
a 2 – day event that unpacks Reputation Risk, Reputational Incident management and response. It combines latest thinking about Reputation Risk and best practices in Crisis Management & Crisis Communication.
When: Monday, March 7, 2011 8:30 AM to Tuesday, March 8, 2011 3:30 PM
Where: Hotel Apollo

Ferndale, Randburg
Johannesburg,   South Africa