Who is the keeper of reputation?

October 24, 2014

Who is the keeper of reputation?

I was asked to write an article in a special issue on reputation for Ethisphere.  Ethisphere is a global leader in defining and measuring ethic standards that enhance company reputation and the bottom line. They provide companies with data-driven insights into world-class business ethics and behavior. They do this through a variety of ways, including their magazine, their forums and alliances, and their renown ranking, The World’s Most Ethical Companies. This latter distinction is highly sought-after but hard to achieve because of Ethisphere’s rigorous measurement and in-depth criteria. Their list is always on the scorecard of rankings that companies ask us about. I know them also because I was luckily chosen in an early list as one of the 100 Most  Influential People in Business Ethics.

The reputation issue has contributions from several very well-known individuals. As they say, it’s all about the company you keep and this was quite an influential group. The question I was asked to write about was who owns corporate reputation? It sounded easy at first so I thought why not? Well, as I set out to write the article which I have linked here for you, I stopped dead in my tracks. Who is actually responsible today? It wasn’t as easy to answer as I first suspected and I thought at one point that maybe I could trade in my question for another.  I instead decided to force myself to answer this seemingly simple but complex question although I have to admit to being stumped at first.

I already knew that the CEO was the key guardian of reputation but I also knew that others had risen to play a role as well in this complex world. As I started writing about why the CEO was ultimately responsible for reputation, I began adding others. First came customers because I’ve never forgotten management guru Peter Drucker’s quote that the purpose of a business is to have a customer. Without a customer, there is no business to be had and no discussion to start about reputation. Customers play a critical role in making a company reputation what it is. Then I realized that employees had to be next on the list of reputation-ownership. How did I come to that realization? Basically because over the last year, I’ve spent so much time on employee engagement and activism from our research, I could not ignore their immense contribution to having a stake in reputation. And after even more thought, I knew I had to add Corporate Communications Officers (CCOs) because of the critical hand they play in advising leadership about emerging issues, how publics view the company and being on the front lines of reputation defense. So there I had it.  I guess I could have added investors to the list of parties responsible for owning reputation but not all companies are publicly-held and reputation is a long-term endeavor, not a short-term one which seems to be the game on Wall Street and elsewhere.

So there you have it, some background on the article and my trepidation on answering the question at first. Enjoy and let me know what you think. Also…

If you want to subscribe to Ethisphere Magazine, please visit the Ethisphere website and if you want to nominate your company to be considered for the 2015 World’s Most Ethical Companies designation, use this link. You could not go wrong.




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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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