When introduced to an executive years ago, I said, “Your reputation precedes you.” He gave me a big grin and hearty “thank you” as he puffed out his chest – thus fulfilling his reputation for pomposity. I didn't say it was a good reputation.
For any organization, your reputation precedes you with any important stakeholder. That's always been the case. But, what has changed today is that the perceptions of your many different stakeholders more easily morph together to form your overall reputation. In this world of social media, citizen journalism, and “wiki-transparency,” we no longer have the luxury of compartmentalizing our constituencies and communicating to each in a vacuum.
Recent news coverage of the 13th annual Harris Poll Reputation Quotient has rightly focused on the many aspects, both internal and external, that impact a company's reputation. (Disclosure: Gibbs & Soell represents Harris Interactive in publicizing the survey results).
The Harris methodology is quite comprehensive, factoring in 20 attributes grouped into six dimensions: products and services, financial performance, workplace environment, social responsibility, vision and leadership, and emotional appeal.
Measuring perceptions of your key stakeholders is a great way to monitor your reputation over time. Then, managing your business with a comprehensive, holistic approach will help to align the needs of stakeholder audiences with your business and communications strategies.
While reputation will naturally ebb and flow for many companies, it's no coincidence that the most admired, year-after-year, also tend to be well managed. They minimize risk, foster growth and innovation, maximize financial returns, and engage and inspire employees. They foster strong relationships with stakeholders and earn the trust and respect of advocates who will defend them through inevitable bumps in the road.
It's also no coincidence that ten of the 12 companies in recent history that have fallen below the critical 50-point line in the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient are out of business or in receivership. Your reputation will precede you. And managing it well requires more than a corporate image campaign.
Jeff Altheide is EVP at Gibbs & Soell.