Reputation management for HR professionals

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A positive reputation is not just a ‘nice to have’ for HR professionals – it’s an essential requirement for effective leadership. 

You may not be in control of your reputation, but it impacts you in every conversation, every day. It might seem unfair and unreasonable, but it’s true.

People form opinions about you quickly – whether they know you well or hardly at all – based on their values and preconceptions as well as their observations.

Their bias comes into play and your labels direct and influence these judgments. Objectivity might come into it, but often not.

Reputations result from real facts, biased information and ‘fake’ news, all mixed up with how you might be trying to present yourself.

Reputation management is a tricky phenomenon, particularly in HR when there are usually a number of prejudices at play before you, as an individual, even enter the room.

Changing perceptions of HR

When you introduce yourself as ‘HR’, have you noticed the reaction? It’s likely there are not many ‘wows’ among them. You can get used to a damp reception, but it is easy to then forget how important this is to you. Your ability to lead is directly dependant on your reputation.

Expose yourself to a significant and new experience that will tell people you are different at the same time as allowing your personal expansion.

People want to follow someone who impresses them, someone they respect with integrity, someone who delivers what they promise, and who can be counted on – not someone whose contribution they question. A positive reputation is not just a ‘nice to have’, it is essential for effective leadership.

The first step in looking at your reputation and your personal brand is to be clear on your career goals and intentions.

The second is to understand others’ views right now. Take a good look and listen. Ask people. Check your 360-degree feedback. Do a survey or an interview.

Key questions you might ask could include:

  • What am I known for?
  • What can people count on me for?
  • What am I respected for?
  • What do people trust me to do?

And, if you are brave, you can also ask:

  • How do I disappoint people?
  • What would you rather I did?
  • How do you want me to be different?

Shifting your reputation

The most important elements of your reputation will be hard for anyone to voice, so this requires deep listening on your part. You might need to find a buddy who can see and hear your reputation better than you and can be trusted to relay it constructively.

As we’ve learned from the world of consumer brands, it’s hard to change people’s minds when they are already made up.

Once you have heard the important views you may need support and/or coaching to be clear on whether these will enable the achievement of your career goals and ambitions.

If you are due to retire soon it may not matter, but if you are keen for promotion, then it may be critical. You next need a plan in line with a vision of how you want to be known.

Steering a course for the future

There are six actions you can then take to shift your reputation:

  1. Take on a new initiative/project that will allow you to grow and demonstrate the attributes you want people to know about.
  2. Expose yourself to a significant and new experience that will tell people you are different at the same time as allowing your personal expansion.
  3. Have totally new conversations – say new things to new people. Voice your commitments, assert your opinions and make proposals. Talk in line with the vision of your reputation.
  4. Change your appearance so you literally look different – invest in a new professional outfit. Your image should be in keeping with your ideal reputation.
  5. Share with key people how you are going to change. This takes courage, but your relationships will shift and you will discover whom your supporters are.
  6. Take on a different and new intention. This is a magical action. Dropping the desire to be popular and aiming instead to ‘make a positive impact’ will change everything about you.

As we’ve learned from the world of consumer brands, it’s hard to change people’s minds when they are already made up, so determination and imagination may be required when it comes to changing perceptions of your personal brand.

Taking care of one of the points listed above may be sufficient, but you may need to take all these actions. Even then, you may decide you would be better off finding a fresh environment and to start again.

The critical thing to remember is that although your reputation is formed by others’ views, it is truly yours.

Want more leadership skills analysis and advice? Read It’s not personal, just business - reflections on the CIPD's Essential Interpersonal Skills Course

About Elva Ainsworth

Elva Ainsworth image

Elva Ainsworth was born into a family of people-watchers and has cultivated a real love of people pattern spotting. This combination led her to a career in HR after a psychology degree at Bristol University. In HR she enjoyed implementing the brand new psychometrics, as well as designing culture change and personal development tools.

In 1994 she focused on her love of psychometrics by joining SHL, the leading business psychologists, where she managed the 360° feedback and management development practice in both the UK and in the USA.  Her vision of creating a highly transformational 360 tool lead to her starting Talent Innovations in 2000.  TI is now a leading provider of 360, delivering to prestigious clients in 26 languages.

Elva has published two books, “360 Degree Feedback: A Transformational Approach” and "Reboot Your Reputation: 11 Ways to Change Their Minds", available on Amazon.

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