A reputation is like trust, it grows over years but can be ruined in seconds. “A reputation takes time to build, and losing it can cause damage to future career success,” writes Bruzzese. “Anyone with a damaged reputation for any reason needs to take steps immediately to restore it with others,” she writes, quoting Terry R. Bacon, author of The Elements of Power.
The problem is, although there are signs, you may not always know when your reputation has taken a hit. People won’t necessarily tell you, so you have to notice. “Most people in your company or on your team won’t speak out if you do something wrong, you can bet your reputation will begin to suffer.”
So what do you do if your reputation is in question?
Do Not Wait to Act
“Damage to a reputation is like a rock thrown in the water. The ripples just keep going. So the quicker you can stop those ripples, the better. The longer you give people to levy judgment against you, the worse it will be.”
When you hear of damage done, address the problem quickly. Once the damage sets in and it can become fact in people’s minds. Wait long enough to get your anger or other strong emotions in check. They make it impossible to think and talk about the issue professionally, which is what you need to do. It doesn’t matter if what was said is true or not. It doesn’t matter if the people criticizing you did it to your face or behind your back. It doesn’t matter if the slight was caused by ignorance and inexperience, jealousy or misunderstandings. You must address it.
If your reputation has taken a hit, do not ignore it. If you suddenly go silent and try to sneak by, people will assume you’re guilty. Proactively build up a network and work on your reputation when there is no crisis. When an issue hits, launch your own PR campaign. Find allies who will stick up for you even when you aren’t there. Seek advice from people you trust who have a stellar reputation in the company or someone who has a lot of power. I’ve seen how one word from the right person can immediately silence all criticism.
No one is immune from reputation attacks and all of us make mistakes. Take responsibility for mistakes and see what you can improve and learn. Whatever you do, don’t deny it if you’re guilty. Own up to and redress the problem.
Protect Yourself from Bullies
Just like in the halls of high school, there are bullies in the break and board room. No amount of apologizing or actions will make a bully back down because they like to attack the weaknesses they see in others. You must stand up to them. I know someone who was recently fired from his job because of one person. Instead of directly addressing the problems, he decided to work harder and put in longer hours. He stayed under the radar.
My opinion is he should’ve done the opposite -- rallied support and made his accomplishments known. Instead, he got fired and no one knows why, so they speculate, and his reputation suffers.
Signs you Suffer from a Bad Reputation
Even if no one tells you your reputation isn’t very strong, there are signs. Bacon says the telltale signs are being left out (of key decisions or meetings you should be a part of), and not getting recognized for your work. It’s your job to make sure your good work is seen and to protect and grow your good reputation.
After learning they were being sued for not having enough beef content in their taco meat, they went on the offensive. They didn’t wait until the court date. They took it as an opportunity to tell their customers the truth (and get some great publicity because now they’re in the press for the way they responded).
The Corn Syrup Industry
The corn syrup industry waited too long after being attacked to respond. It might be late, but there’s nothing like truth. They claim your body can’t tell the difference between the corn syrup and cane sugar, which has helped reverse some of the hits to their reputation and pocketbook.
If you address the issue but repeat it or don’t resolve it, your bad reputation is solidified. BP addressed their problems publicly and immediately, yet they kept having issues, so their bad reputation (like the oil that gushed into the ocean) just sunk in deeper. No amount of money spent on ads or goodwill can overcome their bad reputation now. Cleanup will take years.
Cooks Source is a cooking magazine that plagiarized a blogger’s post in a column. What would I have done when caught? Issue a private policy and then pay the blogger for their work. Reach out to that blogger and others to be paid contributors to the magazine. It was too late by the time they tried to right many wrongs. The company went out of business.
Protecting your reputation is a critical job skill, whether you’re a customer service agent or a CEO. What ways have you learned to protect and develop your reputation?