Two birds talking. (Image: Thinkstock) When the little birds are talking… what are they saying about you? (Image: Thinkstock)

A recent alert grabbed my attention. It made the bold statement that the most important issue facing businesses today is managing their reputation. This wasn’t about splashing on a bright, new coat of PR paint, issuing self-serving press releases, or scheduling TV ads featuring “happy and grateful” employees.

(Related: 9 Habits That Cause Us Unnecessary Trouble)

More than ever, today’s consumers align their dollars with businesses that share their values and concerns. It may be somewhat ironic that it took the COVID-19 pandemic to get our attention focused on where we’re spending our money. In the past months, companies have responded with new bursts of transparency. They want us to know what they care about, the good they are doing, and the causes they are supporting. They may also have come to realize there’s no place to hide and it’s in their best interest to take a stand.

But we shouldn’t stop there. Every employed person who wants to keep their job, is looking for a job, or wants to move up should be equally concerned with the care and cultivation of their reputation. Watch out! Someone is out to replace you. Or, the boss is scrutinizing the team to decide who adds value and who doesn’t. Reputation makes a difference.

To take a closer look at the implications of reputation management, here are three questions that apply equally to both businesses and individuals:

1. Do we value top performance?

We say we do. So do our marketing messages. Everyone says they’re onboard, but where’s the evidence? Are we assuming that front-line workers behave with customers how we say they do? How rare is it that we encounter people with the ability, training, and desire to put themselves in someone else’s shoes? How often do they give out information that’s inaccurate?

What happens with frontline workers is a reflection of what occurs throughout companies. We say, “Customers First.” But do our actions tell the same story?

Unfortunately, nonprofits, who depend on volunteers to help deliver services to those with the greatest need, have similar stories. Many volunteers, who are good people, lack the necessary training to help those they’re asked to serve. How might their clients feel? Just more of what they’ve come to expect.

2. Why are we in business?

When asked this question, “To make money” is the instant response. That may seem to be a popular answer, but not for everyone. For a growing number of workers, there’s more to it, particularly many members of GenZ, those born between the late 90s and 2012. They want to feel they’re making a difference and they’re looking for a place that’s welcoming and they can be committed, not just do a job.

If done correctly, corporate vision statements possess relatable value. For example, the Starbucks vision is to establish the company “as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.” The Walt Disney Company’s corporate vision is “to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.” It’s aspirational, with a pull that attracts both talent and viewers.

Companies and individuals that have the courage (read: guts) to boldly and unequivocally express publicly their vision let it be known that they are committed to caring for their reputation. It’s actually a daring a step, so make no mistake about it. They are saying, “Judge us by our performance. Measure us by our own words.”

3. How do we respond when something goes wrong?

The answer to this question depends on whether or not you take reputation management seriously or if you believe you can get away with twisting the truth to fit your whims. Once again, it pertains to both companies and individuals alike.

Often, our behavior reflects what we try to get by with. A political leader urges his constituents to stay home for Thanksgiving, then gets on a flight to be with family. Another, who also seems to have seen himself as an exception to his own public appeal, invites his mother for the holiday dinner. Both apologized — but only after getting caught.

We’re all aware that things don’t always go as planned. The unexpected happens. Then, why do we ignore dealing with this possibility in advance, so we are prepared before a project, product or event derails? Why is it so difficult to face up to the possibility of negative outcomes?

The task of reputation management isn’t figuring out the spin to put on an issue after something goes wrong. It’s looking ahead, anticipating consequences, and making the right decision. And, by the way, there’s nothing better than the truth, the sanitizer that kills 99.99% of blowback.

The famed author William Faulkner’s personal life often seemed to be at odds with his brilliant fiction, which he seemed to grasp. In a new book, Michael Gorra, writes, Faulkner “seemed to know how much his personal reputation might damage the reputation of his work.” It applies to all of us.

— Connect with ThinkAdvisor Life/Health on Facebook and Twitter.


John GrahamJohn Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. He is the creator of “Magnet Marketing” and publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.”