CxOs, Can You Survive (And Thrive) In The Reputation Economy?


As a leader, you know how to evaluate the health of a business – whether it’s your own or a target for acquisition.  It’s a fairly standard checklist we all understand – from assessing outstanding debt to evaluating the strength of the management team.

But do you know how to assess yourself as a senior executive leader?  And are you adept at the strategies that will strengthen your reputation and increase your value, whether it’s to your current organization or for future opportunities?

Call it management by reputation.  Companies are getting bigger – in size and influence.  At the same time, the power of social media platforms is accelerating, turning everyone into a publisher, and forcing businesses to pay attention in ways they were never required to before.  We’re in an era where an errant tweet can take over news cycles and tank stock prices, an age when one picture without context can derail a projected leadership path, a time when an off-color remark or ill-considered joke is enough for a brutally swift dismissal.  Conversely, a CEO or COO with a distinctive personality and point of view can be hugely beneficial : think the brash warmth of Richard Branson or the cool but approachable intelligence of Sheryl Sandberg.

This peculiar confluence of factors means that CEOs and other C-suite executives are increasingly called upon to demonstrate not only leadership, but personality, interest and accountability – to customers, employees, investors, and the public alike.  The result is a powerful new breed of super executives – strong individual characters, who manage their companies as much through their own personal reputations, as through their skills and expertise.

In this new Reputation Economy – where who you are matters more than even the traditional markers of power – the onus is on you to deliver that cocktail of clout.

Make Smart Use Of Data

Leadership is the first and most fundamental of characteristics you’ll need to maintain to strengthen your reputation – whether you’re comfortable in the position you have or eyeing the possibility of ascension. Smart business strategy and operational know-how are always going to be core to your reputational currency.  You’ll be judged on your ability to make sound decisions and there’s nothing so central to driving those than data.

Fortunately, we now live in a time where information is flowing at an astonishing rate: in 2014, the amount of data in the world totaled up to 2.1 zettabytes.  And data storage – as you likely already know – is very nearly without cost, so you can continue amassing and keeping information ad infinitum.

But it’s really the company that knows how to use Big Analysis to create accurate predictive capability that will be ahead of the curve.  Imagine if, as the CEO of an airline company, you were able to properly identify current and future customers who would be both loyal and lucrative, all through an automated scoring algorithm that parsed the data and correctly determined the members of this elite group.  Perhaps you’re the CMO of a leading grocery store brand and you could confer specialized benefits automatically to customers as they walked into your stores – further cementing their loyalty – all thanks to your scoring algorithm.

That’s the power of Big Analysis – and it’s where your legacy begins.

Get Better At Hiring – Quickly

It’s terribly cliché to say that intelligent leaders surround themselves with good people.  Yet it’s still very much true.  When it comes to hiring, take a leaf from the National Football League.  During draft season, NFL teams use data on past performance to evaluate and predict a player’s potential and fit.  In this way, the teams can use the most lucrative sign-on bonuses to secure the true standouts and reward other recruits using amounts more appropriate to their predicted playing power.

Such predictive analysis isn’t reserved for multimillion-dollar football franchises.  If you’re wise, you’ll underscore your leadership acumen by implementing similar hiring practices that effectively identify, lure and retain those candidates most likely to excel from among thousands of applicants.  If you use data to accurately score applicants, you can reserve resources to secure the talent that will make the best impact on your business – before they’re snatched up by the competition.  You’ll both look and be brilliant as a result.

Carefully Curate Your Public Brand

In the Reputation Economy, no one is immune from the machine – those computers scoring and evaluating each of us based on endless sources of data, from social media profiles to online purchases.  For you, the pressure is even greater.  The keen eye of public opinion means you must help shape a proactive narrative about you, using the machine’s own tools against it.

How do you beat the machine?

Feed it with the information you want it to know – always truthful but also neutral or positive in tone.  Tangible achievements are low-hanging fruit because, unsurprisingly, computers like numbers.  Think increasing sales by a certain percentage, decreasing employee turnover, survey feedback that shows your (stellar) approval rating as a leader.  Be proactive with your social accounts – sticking carefully to the kind of posts that enhance your reputation (like achievements or new projects) versus those that can detract (something political, for instance).

Endorse key connections for skills on LinkedIn – an almost surefire way to receive endorsements in return.  Tweet sincere kudos to colleagues who have done an exemplary job.  Make sure you have and update a personal website that will help you rank highly in Google search results.  Share press hits.  Write industry-relevant posts on LinkedIn.

Get Disruptive

Sometimes CEOs are faced with cleaning up a gigantic mess – think Hyundai in the early 90s, then a frequent punch line for its cheaply made cars that fell apart quickly.  The automaker made a gutsy move: it tripled its own warranty and more than doubled that of its closest competitor.  No one else had ever done something quite like that.  Suddenly Hyundai wasn’t in the news for fraying seats or declining sales – and people were talking about the warranty that sounded too good to be true.

The lesson for you?  Disrupt the conversation.  A big, bold move that changes the tenor and substance of the discussion can pay huge dividends for your business – and for you as a leader.  As a bonus, the resulting coverage will often push down the negative news that dominated search results before.

Ready Yourself For The Worst

Whether real or manufactured, crises are a fact of corporate life. Steering your company through them using calm judgment and levelheaded assessment is crucial to your reputation as a leader.  Like most things, it’s quite straightforward in the abstract – but extraordinarily difficult in practice.

Consider though the type of situation you’re dealing with.  Are you experiencing a manufactured crisis, as Shell did in 2012, when Greenpeace created a tone-deaf, offensive and utterly fake ad campaign and attributed it to the oil and gas giant?  Greenpeace then manufactured an all-too-believable response from Shell’s legal department – and, of course, jumping into the fray by threatening bloggers on the dangers of disseminating defamatory material is a guarantee for several rounds of international news coverage.

Is your crisis real in nature, like when Progressive Insurance made it hard for a family who lost their daughter to recover uninsured motorist coverage?

The company made a major misstep by falling back on rational argument – “We followed the law” – as a cold counterpoint to an emotionally charged and sympathy-inducing family.  Remember that every story has a hero, villain and victim – and in some cases, the facts simply won’t matter in the court of public opinion.

Build and strengthen your reputational currency now – even if you initially adopt just a few of the simple steps above.  It’s a reasonably light investment in yourself that – in the Reputation Economy – will likely be the best you’ve ever made.