Your reputation is what people say about you behind your back, and sometimes to your face. It’s what people think, do, feel and say when they come into contact with you, your name or your brand. And it’s probably your greatest commercial asset. Yet, few individuals or companies even give much thought to what their reputation is and how they earned it.
If you think your reputation doesn’t matter, open the newspapers and check out the stories. Many of them feature broken relationships, misplaced trust, unkept promises, failed commitments, lack of loyalty and fragile personalities. They all come down to one word – reputation.
The reputation of government, the banking system, the football system, the Olympic system, judicial system, the education system, the financial system, the taxation system…all are at an all-time low.
Corporate companies get news headlines mostly for the wrong reasons. Big brands that care more for their profits than their customers make everyday news. Scandal after scandal affect our confidence in what we’ve traditionally held dear. Call centres, airlines, banks and big energy companies stoop to new lows in customer satisfaction surveys.
It’s not just the big brands and huge commercial ecosystems like government that have let us down. Our heroes do the same. Retail icon Sir Philip Green sees his reputation in tatters after virtually bankrupting British Home Stores before selling it on. Choose any of your favourite celebrity or icon – they’re generally all flawed, unbalanced or out of touch in one way or another. Pick any number of politicians, who we voted into office and now seem more interested in their own career than our welfare.
Reputation and bottomline
Do these people or companies care that their reputation is suffering? Does a poor reputation actually affect the bottom line? If you look at Ryanair’s profits, you’d say not. The airline carrier flew 101million passengers in 2015, up from 86m the year before. And that’s despite a shocking record of customer service and complaints.
Then again, you look at Volkswagen and Toyota and the PR hits they’ve taken in the last few years, and you’ll see that sales are down considerably. The lesson is what when it comes to critical factors, such as safety and reliability, the markets show no mercy. For more superficial factors, such as service and pricing, the reputational hit is less severe.
Nevertheless, companies and many of the above mentioned systems might still suffer longer term problems if they don’t get their house in order. Difficulties in attracting things like sponsorship, investment, high quality staff and even bank credit can certainly impact the bottom line.
Corporate reputations are becoming more and more entwined with personal reputations. Your personal reputation is your personal share price on the stock market of life. It shows what confidence people have in you, and whether they’ll invest time, money or effort in supporting your cause.
Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, who lead from the front, are so heavily attached to their empire that their personal share price affects the corporate one. CEOs who front their organisations quickly realise that their words and deeds play out publicly in ways that can make or break public confidence. For confirmation of that, ask former jewelry mogul Gerald Ratner, Martin Winterkorn, former CEO of Volkswagen and Tony Hayward, former chief executive of BP.
Your reputation is very much in your control. There are many ways to protect it, build it and nurture it in today’s world. Almost anyone can become a thought leader, propagate a breakthrough idea or show standout expertise in a particular area.
Social capital, career capital, relationship capital, human capital – they can all be built with the right networking, profiling and positioning. This is called reputation management, and in today’s online, mobile and digital world, it has never been easier. The problem is that it’s also never been noisier. Attention is currency. Everyone is shouting in an attempt to stand out and be heard. You’re fighting for exposure, airtime and influence with your rivals and competitors.
As a business person, here are five practical steps to develop a standout reputation for what you do.
- Find Your Start Point. What are you known for right now? What traits or actions do people think of when your name is mentioned? See what you’ve got to work with or against. There’s only one way to find out – ask them!
- Decide Your Goal. What do you want to be famous for? Who do you want to be known by? Ultimately, what do you want people to say, think, do and feel when they come into contact with you or your name? Once you articulate your intent, you can begin to build your desired reputation.
- Play to Your Strengths. What makes you worth knowing? What makes you valuable to others? What do you find easy that others find difficult? It’s likely that you’ll make your name in the areas where you’re most ‘in flow’. It could be your skills, your knowledge, your connections, your track record, your ideas, your influence or even your likeability. Rather than start from the back of the queue in a new area or discipline, focus on what you’re already good at if you want to make the biggest impact.
- Spread the Word. It’s no good being the world’s best kept secret. To build a formidable reputation, you need to be talked about and thought about. That means raising your profile to get on the radars of the right people. The strategy for survival is visibility, both online using social media and face to face in corridors and business events. Sharing your ideas, opinions and insights is vital to your fame, fortune and career prospects.
5. Build Your Network. Put simply, your network is who you know, and your reputation is who knows you. When you build the first, you build the second. Knowing and being known are the critical success factors for a standout reputation, so make connections whenever and however you can. Sophisticated workers cultivate a ‘Personal Board of Advisors’ – an inner circle of advocates, mentors, sponsors, advisors and allies that promote them better than they promote themselves.
In the world of finance where reputation is a valuable currency, learn the lessons from the big corporates, the celebrities and the short-sighted business leaders. Safeguard and build your reputation today, because you’re going to need it tomorrow!
Rob Brown,author of Build Your Reputation – Grow Your Personal Brand for Career and Business Success(Wiley, 29 July 2016), is the Founder and CEO of the Networking Coaching Academy, which helps people build connections and reputations for greater influence and career opportunities. His Networking Giants Radio Show features experts from all over the world discussing collaborative and connected workforces, referrals, business networking, communicating, influence, trust, likeability, personal branding and reputation building. He lives in Nottingham, UK, the home of Robin Hood, with his wife Amanda and two daughters Georgia and Madison. He has a black belt in kickboxing, loves chocolate and fitness boot camps, enjoys chess and backgammon, and plays four musical instruments moderately well.