You have the power to build your image. Find out what you should or should not do.
I met with a CEO to discuss changing his company’s troubled reputation. I advised him to make some internal changes. He stopped me and said “No, no, no. I want to look better, not act better.” Basically, he wanted to play tennis without a racket. We went our separate ways.
Here’s why a company can’t pretend to be something it’s not. A reputation is made up of merit, achievement and reliability. You can’t wave a magic wand—and poof—you have a great reputation. Changes have to reflect reality, not wishes. And, they can’t be nebulous i.e. “I want to be a good corporate citizen.” What does that mean? For doing what? There has to be clear cut definition. Here are some questions to ask when building, enhancing or maintaining your reputation:
- Define how you want to be recognized. Be specific and realistic.
- Are you willing to make changes to reach your goal?
- What companies do you admire—and why?
- Do you have internal support?
Perception is built on a company’s behavior—good or bad. Diverse companies have cultivated strong, trusted reputations because they understand the needs of their audiences. No one size fits all: Wegmans, Berkshire Hathaway, Patagonia and Walt Disney Company are very different brands. Yet, they listen to customers, employees and other stakeholders. Paying attention provides important insight into how to satisfy and even give more than audiences expect. Trust is key. Reputation depends on top management. A CEO can’t rely on a company’s past. Think of Boeing. The company enjoyed a blue-ribbon, respected reputation for years; now it’s gone. Those at the top made life-threatening decisions—the very antitheist of what Boeing stood for. Boeing continued to sell its MAX 737 jet, knowing there were dangerous computer problems. Clearly, the focus was on revenue, not safety. The company has taken a financial dive. This is how decisions determine the bottom line.
The importance of reputation has been discussed for thousands of years. A good one has always been a necessity. We’ve always understood its power. Socrates advised ways to build it. Benjamin Franklin warned how quickly it could be ruined. There’s a saying “the eyes believe themselves; the ears believe other people.” Two whammies or two advantages? It depends on reputation.