The Small Things Can Boost Reputation
Recently read an article in a Wharton newsletter that I receive regularly. The article underscored how reputations are often created by the smallest gestures. The examples given reminded me of The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s oped a few months ago about how everyone’s behavior today provides an open window into someone’s true character. The newsletter mentioned a book by Stephen Harrison, now chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, titled The Manager’s Book of Decencies. Sounds like a good book to read for someone who wants to get ahead and build a good reputation.
In short, common decencies make the man or woman. Two good examples are cited in the newsletter. One is from former Dial CEO Herb Baum who used to have “Hot Dogs with Herb” at facilities to give those on the shop floor a chance to ask questions of the CEO. The other example was from current CEO Doug Conant at Campbell Soup who writes handwritten thank you notes every day to people he meets in the regular course of business (internal and external). From a personal point of view, I once met Baum who arrived at a meeting after flying into New York in an economy seat. No private jet for this humble CEO. And I have mentioned in a previous posting the personal handwritten thank you note I once received from Conant. Who can forget that? I saved the note. Both these personal encounters still stand out to me among the many CEOs I have met and boosted their reputations in my eyes.
The newsletter also mentioned what can be learned from company reception centers. I often think that if you wanted to learn about a CEO or top officers, all you need to do is sit in their company HQ reception center for one day. How receptionists are greeted can tell a great deal about CEOs and the type of culture they are trying to instill? Do the top guys breeze by without a word? Do they even know that the receptionist has children? Do they stop for one moment and ask how things are? Or are they too busy and too important?
When I started at Weber Shandwick and had some time off between jobs (“garden leave”), I received a basket of gardening tools, plant seeds and other goodies from my new boss Andy Polansky. I was very impressed and also startled since it was terribly thoughtful. A very decent gesture on his part that spoke volumes about the organization I was about to join.
CEOs and officers who are mindful of the smallest gestures are good role models for all employees, regardless of level. As I said in the title, reputations can be strengthened by the smallest decencies.