Spotting Signs of Impending Trouble


Danger SlipThe recent agreement reached between the Construction Industry and the Competition Commission for collusive tendering got me thinking. (15 construction companies had agreed to pay fines totalling R1.46 billion for collusive tendering).

What are the signs of impending and unavoidable doom in our businesses and why do we not see, sense them or hear about them? Surely there are signs or hints that there are trouble on the horizon?

Why do we not pick up on patterns of wrong decision-making in committees?

In the book the Alchemist Paul Coelho writes about the importance of omens – prophetic signs or significance. Omens are an indication or sense of what is to come; often the writing on the wall. The allusion is to the Book of Daniel in the Bible, in which a hand mysteriously appeared and wrote a message on Balshazzar’s palace wall foretelling his destruction and the loss of his kingdom.

In business, the signs come in many shapes and definitions.

Incidents. Issues. Near Misses. Rumours. Internal chatter. Suggestions. Complaints. Patterns. CCMA cases. Grievances. Internal Audit reports.

All Signs and Omens. What more do you need to act before there is whistleblowing or a Wikileaks?

A friend of mine once said: “ Watch out for the sleeping crocodiles in your business. Catch it before it gets you”

Ultimately these omens are all signs of possible reputation risk, if we define reputation risk as anything that might potentially damage the good name and reputation of an organisation. Signs that there might be an unwanted event or unwanted publicity around the corner.

To prevent potential damage to an organisation’s most valuable asset – it’s reputation, it is important to realise that the above signs are clear indicators of a need to create better and more robust internal communication feedback systems, better discussion and listening tools and instruments and corporate culture interventions.

Also read my post on You better be Awake: Searching for Vulnerabilities. In this post, I make the point that “To close the gap or feedback loop I would certainly urge Reputation managers to establish close links with the Risk Department, Internal Auditors and Compliance Officers in the organisation. Often these are the individuals that uncover areas what I would call smouldering crises – any serious business problem which is not generally known within or without the organisation, which may generate negative news coverage and reputational damage if or when it goes “public” and could result in fines, penalties or unbudgeted expenses, loss of business and destruction of relationships.

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