Several years ago during one of my seminars, a participant commented that her store manager had sent her to find ways to help grow the business. Apparently, for several years the business had been in decline.
After finishing the seminar segment on customer service, she exclaimed, “I’m going home and will begin looking for a new job!” Elaborating, she clarified, “When I came to this training I thought I was the problem. My boss implied I needed to do a better job selling and closing customers – that’s why he sent me. But I now realize it’s not me.
“We have a poor reputation in our small community about taking care of our customers and their problems. When a customer has a problem with a floor or installation, my boss looks for ways to ignore it or blame the customer for it, even when it’s clearly our responsibility to make it right.” She further added, “I need to find a new job because we are on the road to business failure.”
Whether we are talking about a business or an individual, a good reputation is an important ingredient of success. A reputation for integrity and honesty is desirable for its own sake, but it also will reap opportunities. And who doesn’t need opportunities? Whether you believe in karma or not, lucky people position or set themselves up for luck.
As I was considering the topic of this column, I was reading the autobiography of Larry H. Miller, Driven. Larry was the owner of the NBA Utah Jazz basketball team. You might say he was a lucky man. He really did go from rags to riches, from nothing to billions.
He was a man without a college education, but with a fierce drive to succeed. However, that drive never sabotaged his reputation for integrity and honesty. He had opportunities thrown at his feet because as one person said, “We asked around, and you were at the top of the list…Larry, you have a reputation for doing what you say you will do.”
Reputation can be considered a component of our identities as defined by others. It has become the more powerful equivalent of a scarlet letter sewn into one’s clothes. It is more powerful because it may not even be perceived by the individual to whom it sticks, and consequently it is out of the individual’s power to control and manipulate directly.
Reputation is the result of what we do, what we say, and what other people say about us. I know there are many people who could care less about what others think of them. And frankly, I think its okay for us to live life our own way; we should not live our lives to please others. However, if the actions we choose hurt, deceive or take advantage of others, the opportunities available to us will be fewer and the reputation we create for ourselves will eventually catch up with us.
Even in business, many savvy companies are starting to realize that a good name can be their most important asset. Indeed, a company’s reputation for being able to deliver growth, attract top talent, and avoid ethical mishaps can account for much of the 30-70% gap between the book value of most companies and their market capitalizations. Reputation is a big reason Johnson & Johnson trades at a much higher price-earnings ratio than Pfizer. Remember how they handled the Tylenol recall? Think of the reputation BP (British Petroleum) is developing by their handling of the oil disaster in the Gulf.
In many ways a reputation can become a legacy. I have contemplated this often, and lately, even more with the passing of my good friend and industry giant, Sonna Calandrino. Many wonderful things have been said in her honor. She had a great reputation for delivering value and caring about the flooring industry. Her reputation was the product of her actions.
Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Do you think some of our past Presidents would do things differently, if they could do it over?
I do believe a reputation can consciously be determined by making personal and company commitments to actions that create a desired reputation. As Socrates once said, “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”
In fact, you can decide right now, be it for yourself or your company, that you will keep your promises or that you will do what you say. You can decide right now that you will not tolerate discourtesy, disrespect, or dishonesty towards others in your company or your life. Your reputation can be whatever you want it to be, unless it is already too late.
Be careful what you commit to. “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do,” said Henry Ford. Your reputation will precede you. The measure of a person and his or her character is the ability to keep a personal promise or commitment.
I’m reminded of my friend, Mike, an Air National Guard pilot. He flew a fighter plane during the Gulf War. Randomly, he was often tested for alcohol and drugs. One positive test can destroy a career. During one of the random tests, his blood tested positive for drugs or alcohol. He said his career was on the line. But his commanding officer stood up for him and said, “It’s Mike. No way, this is an invalid test. He doesn’t even smoke. We know him. We know his reputation. It’s impossible.” Everyone that knew him knew it was a false positive test. The results were thrown out. Now, that’s a reputation.
The fact is, having a worthy reputation pays. It pays dividends in opportunities, profit, luck, and like my friend, the benefit of the doubt. You must live and act the reputation you desire for both your company and yourself. As author Ernest Bramah noted, “A reputation for a thousand years may depend upon the conduct of a single moment.”