Reputational Odds & Ends

July 31, 2011

Reputational Odds & Ends

  A few comments on things that caught my eye while I took some time off this past week.
1. Today’s New York Times has an opinion piece by well-known pollster Stanley Greenberg on the state of affairs in Washington DC. As he is describing the problem with Democrats, he says, “They can recite their good plans as a mantra and raise their voices as if they had not been heard, but voters will not listen to them if government is disreputable.”  The same goes for corporate reputation. If a company is considered disreputable by consumers, its voters so to speak, no one will listen to them, recommend them or buy their products. Disreputable can be a killer app.

2. Discouraging to see that the world’s top 10 best-selling business books, as noted on Amazon over the past three months, are all authored by men with the exception of Suze Orman. Makes me worry more about the reputation of female business book authors and worry less about the reputation of male business book authors. As an author of two business books on reputation, I found this factoid disturbing although not surprising.  When I looked at the best sellers on business and investing for the past month in the US alone, New York Times’ business writer Gretchen Morgenson’s book Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon was among the top 10 with the other 9 authors not surprisingly being men. So maybe it’s the 10% rule for female business writers. I guess we’ll take what we can get.

3. Data deluge. An article on data overload made me wince since I think about it a lot, especially all the information I try to process every day (even on vacation) with regard to “reputation.”  I keep asking myself how a company can build its reputation when there is so much data and everyone feels overwhelmed by all the additional work they’ve taken on as the recession slowly creeps along? What can a company do to set itself apart and convey to stakeholders that there is something new to be heard? How long does it take for reputations to turn over, to go from bad to good, good to great and great to the best? These are questions that I am keeping on my list of topics to explore. If you have an inkling, let me know. I do know one or two things — what you say about your corporate reputation must be simple, memorable, transmissable and distinctive. And I guess I could add relevant. And maybe “social.”

4. If you have not read The Checklist Manifesto written by Atul Gawande, it is worth reading. (I realize he is a male business book author!) I am now a bigger believer in Checklists than I was before. One of the best take-aways was the importance of  preventing communications failures when dealing with complexity. In fact, it is so important that it has to be added to the critical steps of a checklist. In recent months, I have learned more about how hospitals operate and the importance of introducing oneself. At first, I thought this “Hello, I am ___”) was a curious thing because in business, we hand over business cards and explain what we do all the time. But in extremely complex, life-altering situations such as flying a plane, operating on a patient or building a building that stays up,  it makes a tremendous difference to establish communications by introducing oneself by name and title and acknowledging the other members of the team. As Gawande says, it is important to “ensure stupid stuff isn’t missed (antibiotics, allergies, the wrong patient) and a few communications checks to ensure people work as a team to recognize the many other potential traps and subtleties.” Since so much of business today is built on specialties and not just general know-how, business reputations can come down to something as simple as communications and introductions and getting everyone on the same page. Definitely worth my time.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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