Matching Actions and Rhetoric

Rolls Royce is but the latest in a long line of successful and previously well-regarded British businesses to come under scrutiny for corrupt behaviour in far away places. GSK in China, HSBC in Switzerland and now Rolls Royce in Brazil have all suffered, rightly, from criticism that their international arms operated behind the “out of sight out of mind” cloak required to guarantee success in markets in which corrupt practice has been prevalent. What could once have been cozily dismissed as empowered local managers acting with local market sensitivity is now out of the question – in an age of hyper-connection misdemeanours “travel” and amplify in negative effect, especially on reputation.

Shares in Rolls Royce fell hard this week following allegations that kick-backs were paid to secure work from the Brazilian oil group Petrobras. Rolls Royce moved quickly by going on record to say that they “do not tolerate improper business conduct of any sort” and “will take all necessary action to ensure compliance.” Rolls Royce say they have seen no evidence to corroborate the press reports that brought this to light nor have they received any official complaints form the Brazilian government. But it is “out there”, has wiped many millions off the balance sheet and dents the reputation of a great brand.

The antidote to these reputation risks has to be a company culture, vocally led from the top, of radical and activist transparency, with supporting governance mechanisms to match. Done well these provide grist for the communications mill, an opportunity to let the world know something about the integrity of the company, its leadership, its willingness to be bold and brave, and determination to match rhetoric with actions. The most effective form of Corporate Communication is that which provides a platform for the communication of positive human values – purpose, decency, and courage. These implicit messages matter a great deal more than a carefully crafted and technocratic press release.

Maddie Stone