David KnottNew software from consultant Dames & Moore, London, is designed to pre-empt public relations debacles such as Exxon Valdez and Brent spar.
Outrage is a reputation risk-management program intended to help companies identify and quantify the potential for public resentment if their operations go wrong.
The program is based on 12 principles identified by reputation and risk management guru Peter Sandman, a partner with Dames & Moore in promoting Outrage.
Sandman defines risk as a combination of hazard and outrage, with hazard covering the technical aspects of problems, such as industrial expansion or greenhouse gas emissions, and outrage covering "the perception factor, the probable stakeholder reaction to corporate plans and actions."
PrinciplesSandman's principles are based on human nature; for instance, people are likely to be easily outraged, if a company has forced a situation on them.
Similarly, people will accept natural disasters but not industrial disasters; they will feel greater outrage over a problem if they are dealing with the unknown; and they instinctively do not trust industry.
One principle Sandman calls the "responsive process vs. unresponsive process," and he advises that companies must respond to outrage, even if the news is bad.
"People can take bad news, and they respond to it far more positively than they do to uncertainty, unanswered questions, and shifty responses," said Sandman.
"Apologizing is an important response that can take the wind out of outrage, because society cannot help but have some forgiveness for the repentant. Exxon's response to the Valdez oil spill-its inability to apologize effectively-did untold damage, and the company has paid a heavy price."
The Outrage program encapsulates these principles in 227 multiple-choice questions. They isolate potential problem areas by viewing a company's business through the eyes of stakeholders and opponents.
Each answer is allotted a score, and the user's company is assessed according to the total: More than 600 out of a possible 800, and the company has a potential crisis just waiting to happen.
Engage, not enrageThe software is useless if the purchaser does not have the imagination to identify potential opponents to its operations.
Charles Perry, senior consultant at Dames & Moore, said: "That's why we are involved as consultants. We can bring companies' heads out of the sand so they can identify their stakeholders."
Stakeholders are groups or individuals affected by a company's actions, and include not only employees and shareholders, but also local communities and environmental groups. Brent spar taught Royal Dutch/Shell to cherish its stakeholders (OGJ, Feb. 9, 1998, p. 31).
Dames & Moore lists BP Amoco plc and Shell among its clients.
"This package," said Perry, "is designed to enable companies to avoid issues rather than become bogged down in crisis management. Sandman's approach is to engage, not enrage, stakeholders."
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