“Everything in this Section could Kill You”

California health authorities were not amused when, in response to the E Coli lettuce panic a few years back, a large grocery chain posted this sign at the entrance to its produce section.  It does, however, serve as a fitting metaphor for the difficulty companies have in identifying and tracking reputation risk in a systematic manner.  It is especially hard for them to adjust to changes in public expectations that can leave them suddenly vulnerable.

In order to bring order to the seemingly infinite number of possible threats, we’ve devised a methodology we call “Issues Mapping.”  It involves subjecting a company’s entire value chain to a scrupulous evaluation that  maps all of its operational activities against four forces — Demographics, Technology, Economics and Culture.  Using this mapping process, a medical testing company can anticipate that in strong economic times, the education levels of its van drivers will drop.  Solution?  More safety training.  A US airline famous for its wise cracking flight attendants paid close attention to demographic shifts in its passenger base from white male Christian to gender and religious diversity.  Result?  Fewer lawsuits.

The mapping process thus provides a framework in which to examine new potential threats in unexpected areas.  Most companies quickly understood the security impact of improving cell phone cameras.  Few of them thought through the effect of this technology on workplace harassment.

Applied consistently and periodically refreshed, Issues Mapping can be a powerful tool to manage reputation risk and prevent crises before they occur.


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