Guest contributor: Jo Detavernier, SCMP, APR – Owner of Detavernier Strategic Communication

Issue management has always been a neglected management discipline and companies have often paid dearly for neglecting to look after their reputational issues.

While issues might be less urgent than crises, an ill managed issue can escalate into a full blown crisis necessitating the deployment of resources that would never have been necessary if the issue had not been allowed to escalate in the first place.

Let’s illustrate this with a very simple example. Let’s say a grocery chain is accused by a pressure group of rather seeing food go to waste than donating drinks and food that are close to expiration date to local food banks. This is an “issue” proper because the company is not behaving in a way that is congruent with the expectations of at least one stakeholder group. A grocery chain that undertakes nothing to address this issue (which does not necessarily mean accommodating for the pressure group’s demands – see later), risks finding itself on the defensive when the story is brought into the media and a reputational crisis ensues.

Let’s take a look at how companies can build a solid issue management program:

  1. Issue identification

In this step, a mapping is conducted of all issues that surround a company.

  1. Prioritization

Not all issues are created equal. Only issues that can cause reputational damage should be monitored and acted upon. To get back to the example of the grocery store: the issue at hand (food waste) can cause reputational damage because this is a topic that a sizable portion of its stakeholders will care about. If the company would have picked a new logo that most people find an eyesore, then that might be strictly speaking an issue as well (the company did not produce a visual identity on a par with what stakeholders would have wanted), but it goes without saying that such issue has no bearing on the reputation of the company.

  1. Monitoring

Conversations on the issues that matter to the reputation of the company will in this stage be monitored, wherever those conversations are happening.

  1. Strategizing

When an issue has been found important enough to be monitored, a management decision has to be made on what strategy needs to be pursued in regards to that issue. In essence, this is a choice on the degree to which the company will be willing to accommodate the demands of the stakeholders that rally behind the issue.

  1. Action

Here, the organization will for every important issue executive on the (accommodating or non-accomodating) strategies it has set forth regarding that issue.

  1. Measurement

Continuous measurement of the key metrics pertaining to reputation management helps companies evaluate their level of success in managing its key issues.

While issue management is critical for large companies in every single industry, issue management programs proper are much too often considered a luxury that organizations can go without. The price of not paying attention to lingering issues can be steep however. Issue management programs that contain the six building blocks laid out above, will arm companies with a methodology that will help them manage issues effectively and efficiently.