Posted by: Katherine Raleigh
Programme Manager on Wed 26 Oct

Welcome to the latest in a new series of brief interviews with guest experts from KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Programmes, providing a window into the experts’ latest ideas and new advice for executives.

Jeanne Meinholt, Senior Researcher at KnowledgeBrief (KB), discussed how a bad reputation can foster a stronger corporate culture with Dr. Thomas Roulet (TR), King’s College London, after our Innovation Day in October.

KB: What’s the key business challenge that organisations need to address, that your research tackles?

TR: I look at how organisations and individuals within organisations endure public hostility, a bad reputation or stigma. We already know that the reputational risk needs to be financially accounted for, but we don’t know the positive impact a bad reputation can have. I explore the mechanisms through which those negative social evaluations can yield positive outcomes. For organisations that face disapproval, I explore how they can build a strong organisational culture that makes them resilient. I also look at signalling effects between audiences: when one audience hates you, it might trigger another audience to find you particularly attractive (or the other way around!) - that’s what I call the power of being divisive. Trump is a good example of a divisive individual - the more extreme stances he takes, the more it will polarise the audience.

KB: What advice would you give to executives, based on your findings?

TR: One of my key practical suggestion is not to forget internal communication. Organisations need to explain to their employees the ins-and-out of their strategic decisions and practices. The employees can be the best defenders of their organisation in case of public hostility, but on the condition that they are convinced that they and their organisation are in the right.

The second advice I give to executives is to engage in a careful analysis of who are the key audiences for their organisation and how those audiences affect each other. This analysis will be very helpful to build a stronger reputational strategy and communication plan.

KB: How does your latest research approach this? What do the results indicate?

TR: My latest research looks at how organisational members can hold a coherent set of beliefs and values which helps them shield themselves against external criticism. This is especially true in industries with strong mindsets such as professional service firms and it makes those very industries attractive to applicants. I also look at the effect of organisational disapproval on job satisfaction and show the key moderating effect of the credit given to the disapproval by employees: more generally, when individuals discount the external criticism faced by an organisation, then they will be more likely to identify with this organisation.

KB: What did you learn or take away from meeting with the executives in the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Programmes?

TR: We had great discussions with the participants. We had a number of people working on the communication of public sector organisations. They offered perspectives on how social media can make them a target for things they are not even responsible for! One participant also mentioned an example of how his organisation had faced disapproval over a specific question, and this question was brought to the management by some employees. Those employees were then told about the organisation’s rationale and took the initiative to defend the organisation themselves on social media.

With thanks to Dr. Thomas Roulet, Senior Lecturer in Management, King’s College London.

Next month, KnowledgeBrief will be talking to Dr. Matthew Mount, Leeds University Business School, about new crowdsourcing tools to leverage the wisdom of crowds for innovation. For more information, please visit the Innovation Day page.

Part of a new series of brief interviews with expert guests from our Innovation Programmes, we cover insights from the latest research and key advice for executives to stay ahead in management and innovation.

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