Oooooh - That Smell! Reputation in the Workplace By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
March 2005

In this issue...
  • Update on research efforts for our new book
  • Oooooh - That Smell! Reputation in the Workplace
  • Hear it straight from the cow's - er - horse's mouth
  • Dinged Up Paperbacks Available at Big Savings

  • Update on research efforts for our new book

    Thanks to those who have volunteered to help with the research effort on our new book. The work is currently underway. If you'd like to learn about your organization volunteering to participate in this effort, Please click here

    Oooooh - That Smell! Reputation in the Workplace

    By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette

    If a genie suddenly flumed out of that Starbucks cup on your Herman Miller desk and granted you one wish (who gets three wishes these days?), and you chose to wish for a new company to work for (one you've never worked for before), which company would you name? And put that Fortune magazine down.

    Since in our little game you have no previous firsthand experience with the company you'd pick, chances are your choice would be governed by one overriding factor, comprising a host of distinct attributes. That factor: reputation.

    Reputation. Think of it as a corporate "aroma", following a company around and making an unmistakable impression on all who encounter it. Sometimes the aroma is as inviting as the Cinnabon smell emanating from the last airport terminal you passed through. Sometimes it's more like the jet fumes you ingested moments later.

    Some corporate reputations have remained positively stable over a long period of time - companies like Starbucks, Germany's Hexal AG, General Electric, Johnson and Johnson, and Southwest Airlines. The value they've racked up, owing to their reputations, is immeasurable.

    Recognizing this, relative reputation newcomers like India's Birla Sun Life Insurance, America's JetBlue Airways, Dell, and the Admiral Group in the U.K., have sprung on the scene. If they show staying power (reputation, by definition, develops over time), they too will see the value of their reputations on the asset side of the balance sheet. Dell, in fact, just got the nod from Fortune as the "Most Admired" company in the US.

    With the power both to attract and repel, reputation is something that no one - and no employer - can take for granted. It must be managed and maintained. It can change, over time, for the better, or more quickly for the worse. That's just the way things are. And your reputation as an employer, as a manager, as a colleague, matters. A lot.

    Just as employers develop reputations, so do people.

    Just ask Martha Stewart, Dan Rather, Kobe Bryant, or Michael Jackson. They've learned more recently about reputation than they ever wanted to know.

    So have companies like Wal-Mart, AIG, Winn-Dixie, and just about any US network airline you'd care to name. And it doesn't seem to matter if one's reputation is "deserved" or not. Reputation is reputation.

    Whether you like Martha or not (we're not big fans), you have to admire the way she stepped up to the plate, took her medicine, and emerged from what she called "the place I was staying", smelling like a freshly cut rose garnished with baby's breath and displayed in an art deco single-stem vase swaddled at the base in organic muslin.

    Dan Rather, on the other hand, hauled anchor and sailed into the sunset last week, with arguably fewer admirers after a thirty-year career than the Founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (or as one pundit misspoke, "Martha Stewart Living On The Media".)

    In the same way that your company's reputation as a place to work makes all the difference in the talent game, so does your personal reputation as a manager.

    How well you preserve, protect, and groom your reputation, not by surface or artificial manipulations, but by deeds and habits that bear out your values, will determine a lot about the quality, commitment, and performance of your followers.

    In researching our new book, we recently had a series of discussions with employees from the manufacturing, services, banking, retail, and foodservice sectors, about this notion of personal reputation. We asked them to imagine that they had been offered a choice among three attractive positions, as a promotion, and that the only distinguishing factor among the choices was the reputation of the manager they would be reporting to. We asked what elements of a manager's reputation would drive their decision.

    Here's a synopsis of what they said, in no particular order of importance.

    Employee Development: Does the manager have a reputation for helping others discover their unique capabilities and aspirations, and then illuminating the path that will take them there? Or, are they primarily interested in their own advancement?

    Responding to mistakes: How understanding is the manager when somebody goofs? Are mistakes generally treated as learning experiences, or does the manager use humiliation and guilt in berating the employee for the foul-up? How well does the boss discern between honest mistakes and errors of the heart? And, at the other end of the equation, have they demonstrated a penchant for separating slower moving, mistake-prone turkeys from the flock?

    Emotional control: How well does the manager handle his or her own emotions? Are the words "professional", "stable", and "mature" (regardless of chronological age) generally associated with this manager? Or does the boss throw tantrums (or other things), sulk, or go to his room and slam the door? Does she say things she later needs to apologize for (an apology that frequently fails to be heard)?

    Micromanagement: Is this manager known for keeping his thumb on every aspect of what people do? Or is he associated with collaboration, autonomy, and trust. According to those who talked to us, this is a big one, especially in this so-called age of empowerment.

    Compassion: What's the manager's "compassion index"? How is he likely to respond when an employee faces an unusually tough situation? Does she always go by the book, or does she write her own chapters that seek to maximize the outcomes for both the individual and the company? Several people, in different groups said they always want to know if the manager acts like a "real person", or just an extension of the corporation.

    Status and position: We were struck by the number of people we talked to who mentioned this. In unanimous proportion, people said they were sick of managers who acted as though they were somehow "better", just because they appeared closer to the top of the org chart.

    So, what's it smell like around your workplace? And more to the point, in your own department, or your own team? Take a big whiff, and if you don't like the aroma, take strides to freshen the air - for the long term - with some new leadership behaviors. It's even better than a spray of highly respected S.C. Johnson and Sons' Glade Aerosol.

    Hear it straight from the cow's - er - horse's mouth

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    Dinged Up Paperbacks Available at Big Savings

    You know how it is when you've been on the road for a while. The same goes for our paperback version of Contented Cows. After a few trips back and forth from one convention to another, or back from the distributor, they start to show just a few signs of travel fatigue. Same great book inside, but maybe with a corner or two turned up. While they've never actually been used, we can't really sell them as new. Our loss is your gain. These books are available, while supplies last, at our Contented Cows Online Store, for only 8 bucks (US). To order, click here.

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