THINKPIECE: Everyone wants their company to be admired, but reputation matters most when the chips are down

A friend of mine called the other day to share the news that he had just been promoted. His new title included the word ’reputation.’ Half seriously, I asked him how long he thought he might have a job because, at any moment, his rather well-known company might suffer a reversal and be without a reputation to manage. He didn’t laugh.

A friend of mine called the other day to share the news that he had just been promoted. His new title included the word ’reputation.’ Half seriously, I asked him how long he thought he might have a job because, at any moment, his rather well-known company might suffer a reversal and be without a reputation to manage. He didn’t laugh.

A friend of mine called the other day to share the news that he had

just been promoted. His new title included the word ’reputation.’ Half

seriously, I asked him how long he thought he might have a job because,

at any moment, his rather well-known company might suffer a reversal and

be without a reputation to manage. He didn’t laugh.



During that conversation, I suggested that he consider changing his

title to VP for Admiration, because that seemed to be a job title far

more appropriate to his CEO’s expectations.



As an observer who is usually around for the downside before the upside,

what I’ve noticed is that by the time reputation shows up on the

management radar, it’s already lost. But there are some emerging

trends.



First, the concept of reputation is now being aggressively defined by

management consultants. Second, the effort to achieve meaningful

reputational measurement standards is useful as an exercise but may be

doomed by executive behaviors, employee response assessment approaches

and competition among consultants. Also, there is a corporate bias

toward admiration. It has peer acceptance. Recognizable management

metrics have been established.



Finally, fierce competition is developing to commodify reputation by

management consulting firms and PR agencies.



So, what’s to be done? It’s been my experience that management

consultants work more successfully on the upside. They have difficulty

when things crash suddenly or when confronted with non-operating issues

(those scenarios not taught in MBA programs).



PR, on the other hand, shines when things go in the ditch. Admiration

measures may well become the upside measure of corporate success.

Reputation interpretations and metrics will be used to reframe the

downside of a formerly admired or reputationally recovering company. It

will be some time, if ever, before we find out which is the more

important concept.



They could even co-exist. If it’s truly important, the CEO will

decide.



Do managers really care? Fortune magazine says that its annual ’Most

Admired’ list causes the most enthusiastic responses. Could the concept

of reputation generate a similar level of enthusiasm?



In the meantime, I’d slow the push to insert the word ’reputation’ into

your job title. It’s a bit like crisis management; a little goes a long

way. Often those who overemphasize crisis management earn the label of

Chicken Little from their bosses. Besides, if your job is defined by the

reputation of your employer, surely there is a needless career-defining

moment in your future, sooner rather than later.



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