I hate the phrase, “Maintain your reputation.”
The word “maintain” is simply too passive. It downplays the importance of reputation, which is one word that can change everything. Reputation is not something that needs “maintaining.” It must be nurtured, enlivened, groomed. It’s something that needs constant work.
You are your reputation
Everything you do, every piece of work you turn in, every interaction you have ties directly to what people think about you.
If you think that what others think doesn’t matter, well, you’re not wrong (and yes, it’s a nice piece of advice to tell your children), but you might not do so well getting what you want, both personally and professionally.
A reputation nightmare
Last year, I had the unfortunate experience of terminating someone on my team. It’s something I had hoped, as a business owner, I would never have to experience.
Of course, in the back of my mind I knew it would happen sooner or later, and in hindsight, I’m glad it happened sooner.
The conflict started when I found some small formatting mistakes and inconsistencies on a project we were working on. When I asked her about them, she made excuses: The instructions weren’t clear, the tool malfunctioned, she had too much other work.
OK, no worries. Just do better next time.
In my experience, you are only as good as the people around you, so I wanted to give her another chance to prove that she could do a good job.
Things escalated from there.
As any PR person knows, tracking time for clients is crucial. It’s how we price out our services and measure performance. I started finding some weird numbers in our time tracking tool (we use Freshbooks
). Although she was coming into the office earlier than I was and leaving later, her hours did not reflect the time she spent on projects.
I quickly started to realize she wasn’t working on my company’s projects; she was building her own business on my
time. As someone who always gives the benefit of the doubt, I was crushed. She had been lying about the work she was doing, throwing out constant excuses, and missing deadlines.
One client told me they didn’t think we were a good fit during this time. I had defended my employee after looking at the evidence, much as Gini Dietrich has done in the past
, only to find out later this client had valid reasons for concern, reasons I was unaware of.
I was heartbroken. Then I was angry. This person clearly didn’t understand the value of her own reputation; worse, her actions had started to affect mine.
Own your reputation
Reputation management is not unlike crisis management in PR. It’s all about putting your best foot forward and not letting mistakes damage how your audience sees you.
In my case, I believe I nipped the situation before it got out of control. But she did have some likeable qualities that kept her working with me longer than she should have, and I think about her trajectory often.
Did she realize what she was doing to her reputation?
Does she know we run in some of the same circles and that I’ll never be able to give her a positive recommendation
Although I really hate the term “personal brand,” in some cases you really do have to think of yourself as a company in order to make rational decisions.
Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to own up to them. Whether you’ve made one mistake or a hundred mistakes, your reputation doesn’t have to go into to the toilet as a result.
Walk the talk
Say you’re sorry
. Offer solutions. Take measures to ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice. These simple steps can go a long way in boosting your reputation, especially because you never really know whom you might be dealing with.
If you were managing a brand, or better yet one of your client’s brands, how would you handle a sticky situation?
Walk the talk. Practice what you preach. I don’t care which mantra you like, but find one and stick to it.
That’s what I realized I was most upset about: My employee never took responsibility for her actions, and therefore she wasn’t taking responsibility for her own reputation or the reputation of the company, either.
Not being able to get a recommendation from someone you worked with for almost a year isn’t good. That I’m writing about it today means it matters.
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Every person you meet and every connection you make is an opportunity for you to grow. Don’t believe you are above reputation building; no one is. It’s something you’ll have to work on for the rest of your life, and you have a choice. Which reputation will you strive for?
Jess Ostroff is the founder and director of calm of Don't Panic Management, a virtual assistant agency. A version of this story originally appeared on Spin Sucks.