Career & Success

Class Takeaways — Reputation Management

Five lessons in five minutes: Lecturer Allison Kluger shares tips on successfully managing your professional reputation.

May 18, 2023

| by Kelsey Doyle

Your reputation has a bigger impact than you may realize.

In her class, Reputation Management: Strategies for Successful Communicators, lecturer Allison Kluger teaches how your reputation can be a signal of how you lead; something you create even before you meet someone; and how it’s never set in stone, but fluid.

This quick video outlines five key takeaways from her Stanford GSB class.

Full Transcript

Allison Kluger: Hi, I’m Allison Kluger, and I’m a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. I teach a course called Reputation Management: Strategies for Successful Communicators, and I’m going to share the top five tips from this course that I teach.

I believe that your reputation is like an echo. It proceeds you into a room, and it’s what remains behind after you leave. Imagine that someone talks about you before you show up. “Wait till you meet Allison. She’s an expert at reputation, and she has amazing tips. You’re going to love her.” Well, then the audience is going to be predisposed to like me and appreciate me even before I get to the room. And then what is said after I leave the room is equally as important. Things like, “Wow, she really did a great job,” or “I loved how funny she was,” or “Those tips are excellent. I’ve got to introduce her to somebody.” That’s how your reputation can get you new business opportunities and new contacts. It’s not just your primary audience that you’re affecting with your reputation, it’s your secondary and your tertiary audience is. It’s how someone talks about you, and then it gets passed on and passed on. And that is why your reputation can really help you if it’s a good one to start with.

If you or your company is experiencing a negative reputation issue, I recommend that you follow Daniel Diermeier’s Trust Radar, which is out of his book Reputation Rules. This framework is excellent for reputation recovery. This radar has four axes, and at the top of it is empathy, and what this means is at the first step is that you show empathy for whoever feels that they were harmed or hurt by this reputation issue. And you take full accountability, and you show that you’re very sorry for the hurt that was caused.

To the right of the radar is transparency. And this means you can’t say, “No comment.” It means you have to give context to why what happened happened, and also take accountability, but explain what was involved. On the bottom of the radar is expertise, and this means that you are going to put whoever is the most appropriate person and the most senior person to fix this. And finally, on the left side of the axes is commitment. And this means you’re committed to making sure everything gets fixed the way it should, and providing a timetable so people know what the expectations are. If you can hit all these four axes of the Trust Radar, then you can repair a reputation.

If you have a bad reputation, there is a way to change it. And what I always say is behave your way out of it. And what I love about that is you’re never stuck in a reputation. Reputation is fluid. So take for example, if maybe you’re chronically late and everybody thinks it’s funny and quirky at the beginning, but after a while, it starts to get annoying, and then people think you’re being very disrespectful and it becomes this fixed bias against you. You can’t just say, “You know what? I’m going to start showing up early.” No one will believe you. You have no credibility.

So what I suggest is you show up 10 minutes early for every meeting. So the first meeting, you’re going to show up 10 minutes early, and people are going to be like, “What are you doing here? You’re early.” And you’ll say, “I know. I’m going to be early from now on.” And they’re going to roll their eyes and say, “Sure.” Then you’re going to come to the next meeting 10 minutes early, and they’re going to say, “Oh, still doing that early thing, huh?” And you’re going to say, “Yep, I’m going to be early every time.” But you’ll see, by the time you get to the fourth or fifth meeting that you’ve shown up early, all of a sudden that bad reputation is going to fade and this new behavior is going to become your norm. And that is how you can change your reputation by behaving your way out of it.

My favorite reputation mantra is it’s not what happens, it’s how you choose to deal with it. Because let’s face it, things happen in life. There’re difficulties. There’re challenges. But it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you choose to deal with it that really sets your reputation apart. You can make something a moment of disaster or a moment of triumph.

Let’s take the Tylenol scandal of 1982 as an example. Someone got into some Tylenol bottles in Chicago, and people were poisoned by cyanide and died. It was a terrible, terrible scandal. But what Tylenol did was really amazing. They took complete accountability. They never tried to point the blame at a random killer. They said, “This is our medicine, and we are going to take everything off the shelves, we’re going to give you your money back, and we’re going to do better.” And what they did is they actually created tamper-proof lids for all of their medicines from that point on, turning this moment of disaster into a moment of impact. And as a result in all their future products, they would actually put a little catchphrase that said “By the makers of Tylenol” because everybody knew that Tylenol had a reputation for commitment, caring, and safety.

When you are a leader at work, you are a role model to everybody else, and your reputation is a signal of how you are going to lead. And imagine that someone has bad behavior and you’re the leader, and maybe it is actually your boss or it’s somebody who is an employee, but they’re confronting you, they’re challenging you, they’re yelling at you, they’re blaming you. What I suggest is instead of rising to their anger, you sit back, you take a breath, and you show compassion and empathy, and patience. They are looking for a fight. And so when you don’t rise to the occasion and meet your antagonist where he or she wants you, basically take the wind out of their sails.

And then if you show compassion and say, “Hey, you look really upset. What’s going on?” or “Wow, something’s bothering you. How can I help you?” you just change the whole dynamic. But the important thing to remember is don’t let someone else’s bad behavior affect the kind of leader you are. Their behavior should not define you. Stay in control and be the best version of yourself, and you will have a very strong leadership reputation.

I have two teenage boys, and believe it or not, they are so proud of me. However, if I say something that they don’t like or they pretend they don’t want to hear, they’ll say, “Well, you didn’t communicate that very well. And that’s a shame because you’re a communication expert.” Double-edged sword, I say.

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