Is your image secure? In the latest in her series on branding, Debbie Smith offers a guide to reputation management

Have you ever wondered what comes to mind for your boss, your customers or your colleagues when your name is mentioned? Everyone has a personal brand. Your personal brand is your reputation.

Reputation is generally wrapped around character, what a person is known for. The reputation you have could be real, perceived, indistinct or inaccurate. It may be a help or a hindrance to the success of your career and your organisation.

Reputation is the most important asset for any organisation or individual and yet it is an asset that is often left to fend for itself. Reputation, like brand, can hinge on the weakest link - how an organisation or individual handles a crisis or deals with a mistake is perceived as absolutely vital.

A positive reputation has a "halo effect" bringing greater trust, loyalty and a sense of honour to those associated with the organisation or the person. Within an organisation like the healthcare market it can also lead to a greater propensity to forgive mistakes or shortfalls.

Reputation management is not just public relations, market research or advertising campaigns, although these can be vital parts of the armoury. It is how you deal with the root cause of any problem. It is how you offer solutions, set processes in motion and monitor the progress you make.

Within reputation management many experts refer to four main levels of reputation status:

Excellent When an organisation or person has reached a pinnacle and obtained the highest recognition, placing their reputation beyond reproach. They deliver their promises, and are true to their personal brand and core values. They are trustworthy, have clear communication skills, anticipate and manage risk, and relate well with peers, colleagues and stakeholders. They communicate effectively, learn from others and have a consistent clear vision and plan. They are world class.

Good Organisations and individuals in this category have achieved most of what is in the excellent category but fall short in one or two areas. The area to improve is usually communication.

Bad People and organisations in this category tend to continually break people's trust in them - for example, in today's global economy, the banking and financial worlds.

Ugly This is the lowest measure of reputation. It always happens as a result of a high level of deception. It ruins the organisation or the individuals (or both) that have been involved or surrounded by it.

Know yourself

To be recognised as the professional you want to be you must create, build and sustain the best possible name for yourself. This will be your most powerful tool in your brand management.

Your own reputation is ruled by three main things: all you say, all you do and all of what other people say about you. Whether employed or self-employed, consider these areas for building your reputation:

  • identify the state of your reputation;

  • identify all the issues that affect your reputation;

  • be consistent in what you stand for;

  • stop any activity or contact that does not add value to your reputation;

  • show that you care;

  • manage and influence your network;

  • know your competition.

To demonstrate the power of managing the things that influence your reputation consider this case study (names have been changed).

John was a senior manager in the health service. He was well respected in his organisation, known for strong self-confidence, a sense of humour, a strategic mindset and a 12-year track record of business and service delivery success. For the past few years, John had been irritated by Lynn, a peer who reported to the same director. Lynn had grown increasingly brazen in her gibes at John, particularly when he was not present.

An opportunity for promotion came up. John knew he stood a good chance if he applied for the role. Colleagues encouraged John to apply but advised him that he had to deal with Lynn. John's other concern was that he felt he was not being taken seriously, as he always had a reputation for being the "joker".

I discussed four options with John for dealing with Lynn:

  • Do nothing: if John did nothing, he might find Lynn's efforts to sour his reputation affected his chances of success at his interview. He could also be perceived as weak for not addressing the issues with Lynn.

  • Be direct: John could simply tell Lynn to back off, or face the consequences of a more intense battle where he worked to neutralise or remove her from the field.

  • Find support: John had a strong personal brand and a fairly broad base of allegiance. He could work with his colleagues to create a circle of resistance around Lynn. He could also rally enough support from other main players to force her to back down.

  • Go elsewhere: John could leave - perhaps confrontation is "not his thing". In doing so, however, he would lend support to Lynn's claims and potentially enhance her stature while detracting from his own.

To go elsewhere was not an option for John. He had worked too hard to allow Lynn to push him out and he felt ready for the promotion. He decided to take her on directly, to tell her he was not going to let it go on any more and insist she stop it.

Affirmative action

Before their one to one discussion, and in a public forum, Lynn threw out a criticism of his performance. John took her on. Lynn embarrassed herself because she could not back up her claim. A colleague correctly read the situation and took her down another peg.

By the time they had their one to one, Lynn had a sense of what it would be like if she kept up her behaviour. She was clearly feeling less arrogant and more vulnerable.

John learned that public forums were the most efficient and effective way to control Lynn's negative behaviour. With his new focus and self-belief he won the promotion. He also found out his perception of his reputation - not being taken seriously - had no substance.

The feedback from his interview was that his fun, friendly, approachable nature, coupled with his ability not to be conflict-averse, were big factors in why he was promoted. As for Lynn, she is no longer with the organisation.

Addressing your personal brand can make a substantial difference to your future and your career. Reputation management is a major part of the personal brand process. Join the reputation revolution now and make that difference.

The next article in the series will appear on 18 December.