What’s Your Reputation?
Building a Reputation Consistent With Your Career Goals
"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." – Henry Ford
When it comes to reputation, actions speak louder than words. What you DO means much more than what you say about yourself or your work.
Reputation is also fickle. It can take years to build a good reputation and only seconds to destroy it. This makes personal reputation management a hot topic these days.
Organizations have long recognized the importance of how they are viewed in the marketplace, and have practiced reputation management for years. But individuals are now also realizing that their career prospects, and their ability to secure interesting and challenging work assignments, hinge on their personal reputation. You can achieve real and quantifiable returns by building and maintaining a good reputation with your employer, co-workers, clients and others in your personal and professional network.
Your reputation is what you're known for. Reputation is about what others believe to be true about your character, personality, skills, competencies and values. People develop an opinion of these things based on what they have experienced.
When you leave a positive impression, you open up many doors of opportunity. A poor reputation, despite great credentials, is enough to close doors and alienate others.
Elements of Reputation
Since reputation is so critical to your success, you need to be aware of the four main elements that form your professional reputation:
Personal characteristics: these are things like your temperament, attitude, dependability and trustworthiness. These tend to be the things people associate first with reputation. You are entirely in control of these aspects of your reputation.
You can't cheat, lie or gossip and expect to have a good reputation. Likewise, arriving for work late, taking credit for other people's ideas, handing in sloppy assignments and crossing company lines are all surefire ways to solidify a poor reputation. And poor reputations are very hard to mend.
It's important to note that there is no one "right" reputation. Different professions have different expectations. You would probably respect an accountant known for his analytical skills and be delighted by a photographer known for his quirkiness. A quirky accountant and an analytical photographer might not elicit the same high regard.
One of the most common characteristics of people with good reputations is trustworthiness. This means saying what you mean and doing what you say. Being true to your word, not overcommitting yourself, and staying on top of your work are traits that are highly regarded in all professions.
The remaining three elements contribute to the building of your reputation are less obvious, yet no less important.
- Professional development: this refers to the extent to which you devote time to gaining and expanding your knowledge, enhancing work skills and keeping current with new developments. Credibility has a great deal to do with reputation. You build credibility by making a name for yourself, by being well informed and smart, and by being the person people go to for answers.
A related issue is personal branding. Although reputation and personal branding are inextricably linked, they are different concepts. Your personal brand is a deliberate statement about the value you bring to your employer or your clients. You create this brand by defining your values, developing a strong skill set and determining where you want your professional activities to head. Your brand is how you differentiate yourself and stand out among your peers.
Keeping your reputation consistent with your brand is very important. Understanding how your actions and decisions affect your reputation is part of the process of creating your personal brand. Developing a great reputation is an essential part of building a strong and positive brand image.
- Your activities outside work: you may not be aware that the hobbies, interests and other activities that you pursue in your spare time form part of your reputation. If you are involved in high-risk sports, your professional reputation will include "risk-taker" as well. Many people will assume that what you do in your spare time is a reliable reflection of who you really are.
The organization you work for and the people you spend time with: your friends, associates, family members and other people you spend time with shape your reputation. If you work for a company with a poor reputation, your personal reputation suffers. People will assume no one of quality would continue to work for a company that garners little respect or trust.
Likewise, the company you keep influences your reputation. If you choose to associate with unsavory characters, your character will be perceived as similar to that of your friends. Perception is reality and impacts heavily on your reputation.
Building the Reputation You Want
Now that you know what goes into reputation, you can better build your own reputation and preserve it. Start by gaining a clear understanding of what people think of you right now.
Evaluate your reputation from your own perspective. Use a personal SWOT analysis as the basis for this. What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to each of the four elements of reputation? Use the following questions to guide your thinking:
- What characteristics describe my work habits? (dependable, trustworthy, creative, late, cuts corners, gossips)
- How up-to-date are my professional skills? Are they "fresh", or am I a dinosaur? Do people come to me for answers, or do I go to them?
- What do my extracurricular activities say about me?
- What are the reputations of my friends and my company? Are they consistent with my reputation?
Determine your true reputation.
- Ask for a frank assessment from your boss, co-workers, clients, past business associates and anyone who has dealt with you professionally. You are essentially asking for a 360° evaluation of your reputation.
- Probe to understand which behaviors cause them to feel the way they do about you.
- Ask them what percentage of their assessment is based on what they have experienced directly, versus what they have heard about you and your reputation. Remember, your reputation permeates everything and often precedes you and your recent behavior.
Compare the differences between the assessments from Steps Two and Three and analyze the reasons for the differences.
- What trends do you notice?
- If your assessment is way off, why is that?
- Do you have different reputations with different groups of people? Why?
- What positive elements do you have in common throughout?
- What negative elements come up consistently?
Develop your desired reputation profile.
- Ask yourself what you want to be known for.
- Make sure trustworthiness and reliability are on the list.
- Step back and consider whether your chosen reputation profile fits with your career goals.
- Use your current reputation as a starting point, and then try to benchmark the characteristics of people in your profession who enjoy good reputations.
Create a plan for developing and maintaining your desired reputation.
- Identify what you need to do to develop or change your reputation.
- Set yourself a series of goals That will move you towards the reputation you want.
- Work hard to fix the negative elements of your reputation sooner rather than later.
The time to worry about your reputation is before you have one. Shape your reputation by deciding who and what you are and keep that vision of yourself in mind as you move through life. Your reputation and your career goals should be congruent with each other. Look at your values and your desires to determine the reputation you need to be successful in your profession or industry.
Surviving and thriving in business is about marketing yourself and your abilities. Your reputation is a large factor in your overall image. You have to manage and control it to make sure people are not getting the wrong, or a poor, impression of you. If your reputation is suffering a bit, it's never too late. The time is now to decide for yourself how you want to be thought of, and make it happen.