By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
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,
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
Just ask Martha Stewart, Dan Rather, Kobe Bryant,
or Michael Jackson. They've learned more recently
about reputation than they ever wanted to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.