Probably much more than you think and a new survey, which revealed that only one in four people believe that business leaders will tell the truth, should give even the most apparently popular of Chief Executives considerable pause for thought.
Trust in business leaders has hit its lowest ever score in the annual IPSOS MORI Trust in Professions survey, for the Royal College of Physicians, since the yearly index began in 1983. The proportion who said they thought business leaders told the truth fell to 25%, a miserable fourth from bottom among 16 different professions about whom opinions were sought in the survey. Only politicians, journalists and Government ministers fared worse.
The bailout of the banks and the recession are being blamed as the major contributing factor to this lack of trust. But it’s all too easy to view reputation as something only large corporate giants, like the banks, have to worry about. In truth, reputation is an issue that should be uppermost in the minds of everyone from the smallest of SMEs to the most high profile of statesmen and women.
Trust is the foundation stone of a positive professional reputation. It inspires confidence from amongst customers, employees and stakeholders and underpins opportunities for growth. Equally, the reverse is also true. A poor reputation will make you absolutely the last person anyone wants to do a deal with, work for, or recommend.
There are countless examples in the media of professional reputations waxing and waning. But perhaps the finest example of a reputation in freefall remains Gerald Ratner, who threw away his job and wiped billions of pounds off the turnover of his company overnight after calling his products ‘crap’ during a speech to the Institute of Directors. In a recent interview he confessed that, some nineteen years later, he still feels haunted by the mistake that cost him his hard-won reputation.
In the day-to-day battle of growing a business it can be tough to find the time and resources to focus on an issue like brand and reputation. But failure to do so can be catastrophic. Your reputation will affect your revenue whether you like it or not.
Could you be one of the business leaders 75% of people – including members of your own company – do not trust?
If you don’t know for certain, then it’s important to your business to find out.
The good news is, ultimately, that the health of your reputation is in your hands. Whilst you might get hit by incidents or events that knock you and your brand in the short term, if your strategy is right, you respond well and you make those events the exception rather than the rule, on balance people will put their faith in you.
But what if you’ve never really thought about your reputation before? Or worse, maybe you only know how much your reputation is worth to your bottom line because, like Gerald Ratner, the bottom has just fallen out of your business following something that you’ve said or done?
In my view, all leaders – no matter how large or small their organisation – should have a clear strategy to ensure that their reputation is positive and actively supports the future growth potential of their company.
I believe that the key to a great reputation is to understand how you come across to your key stakeholders; to learn how to listen and respond to feedback, to have a proactive strategy for your personal brand and to consistently, over time, lead with the behaviour you want people to recognise and put their trust in you for.
As respected US business investor, businessman, and philanthropist 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.”
Perhaps it’s time to find out what your stakeholders really think about you?