Mitigating reputational risk – who takes the fall?

Managing when the spotlight is on

We live in a world of expectations; actions are taken as a consequence of the result, somebody is made a scape goat, somebody has to be made an example of, somebody has to be blamed, and or somebody has to be seen to take the punishment. Why? Finding a person to apportion blame and punishment to will not change the result, but it will satisfy the expectations of others!

Regardless of where we work, what we do, the majority of us work within a hierarchy; we know our seniority, our role and ultimately what we are responsible for. We have a structured reporting line, performance appraisals, reviews, development opportunities, promotions and in some cases immediate sacking’s.

The corporate world operates in what some may describe as a fair and democratic way giving structured feedback, developing knowledge and skills to eradicate previous mistakes and shortfalls.  The expectation is that in some way the manager will manage the reportee and help them to improve and deliver as expected next time.

Only after extensive measures have been put in place and warnings given, do employers seldom get to the point for the need to “sack” somebody due to poor performance or just one single mistake, and never because a team or person has met expectations but not exceeded them.

However, this is not the case in all industries.  There was fury and disbelief after Leicester Manager, Claudio Ranieri, was dismissed just 9 months after leading his team to win the English Football Premier League Title. The facts say that half way through the current season the team is performing badly and is under threat of being relegated to the second tier of English football.  The board of directors made what some may say as a reckless decision to sack the manger, allegedly after consulting with senior players

Two very significant points for consideration:

  1. Under what other circumstances would you sack an employee for performing at the expected level, particularly if last year’s performance exceeded expectations?
  2. If your team had the power to sack you, would they? And on what grounds?

After 83 years Price Waterhouse Coopers  relationship with the Academy Oscars is “under review” following the widely publicised Oscars mishap. Brian Cullinan and Matha Ruiz, will “not be employed to do the job again” – all because the envelopes got mixed up, the wrong one was handed out and read out. Embarrassment, yes, regrets, yes, apologies, yes, but nobody died!

Thinking about this in a corporate environment, would these extreme actions / punishments be put in place? Or would the process be examined and additional checking methods be put in place? Some people will agree, some people will disagree in the actions and punishments enforced. What is important is that we as managers are not only responsible but also accountable for our behaviours being ethical and not based on social pressure or pressure imposed upon us by the expectations of others.

Written by Julia Wilkinson & Paul Heath, Principal Consultants