The Three Components to Building Professional Reputation
Is your professional reputation something you can build or accidental and mostly out of your control? A key pillar of career development is reputation management. I thought I would try and de-construct professional reputation as a way of shedding light onto something we’re all aware of but don’t necessarily try and intentionally influence.
Who Comes to Mind in Your Field?
Think of your thing: that is, the profession, spot on the corporate ladder, consulting niche that you operate in, or whatever it is that you get paid to do and that you’re making a name for. Now, can you think of someone in your same niche who has a gold star reputation? Who immediately comes to mind when you think of people doing your thing. Let’s deconstruct professional reputation.
What does professional reputation mean?
Professional reputation means being held in high esteem. Being well regarded, respected by the people in a position to know and have an opinion about you. And as a result, being the go-to person for that solution. Which translates into being in demand.
Why does this person come to mind?
It’s worth thinking about for a second. Is the person you thought of at the top of the reputation ladder because of some external, objective index? Did you put them there based on your interpretation or are you echoing the word on the street? Is it because this person’s name comes up the most, or because they have the biggest following, or because their work is out there and resonates? It could be any number of factors. The point is, the source of reputation is multi-faceted.
What are the components of professional reputation?
That gets us into the three dimensions of professional reputation. The first dimension of your reputation is quality.
Professional Reputation requires Quality
I see three different facets to the quality part of reputation.
The perceived quality of your work as measured by some factor of success (profitable, innovative, impactful, etc.). To some extent, it’s a function of what you do. If your thing involves technical know how (skill, knowledge), or building things (evidenced by awesome products), or selling (sales results and happy customers), or running businesses (balance sheets, healthy organization, stock price, exits), the measurements are different.
Professionalism & Character
Your character and professionalism, as perceived by others, includes:
How you’ve treated people
How you’ve conducted “business”
Who and what you’ve associated your career with
Professional Track record
The final aspect of quality in a professional reputation is a professional track record. The quality and success of your career moves. Your “resume” quality. There’s an assumption that a path of increasing seniority, or high profile assignments, prestigious roles means something. Or in some world, longevity. Someone can be perceived to have a strong professional reputation without necessarily having all three of these. Perhaps you can think of someone who is the epitome of professionalism and unimpeachable character. They may not be the very best technically at what they do, but their consistent focus on being professional and taking care of people has earned them a stellar reputation. If the first element of a strong professional reputation is quality, the second is reach.
Professional Reputation Requires Reach
I’ve worked with many fine professionals over the years who had the quality part of their reputation nailed down. Alas, only a few local colleagues knew about them. If the only people who know about your good work are in the same office, then you’re missing a key part of a vibrant professional reputation. Reach is the degree of being known in your market / industry ecosystem. When asked, your name comes to mind. By the right people. People who are in a position to do something about it. Now, it’s true that some people have an advantage here in that their work involves them interacting externally - with customers, vendors, partners, professional service firms, at conferences, etc. There are ways to combat this of course. Through intentional development of a network. By building an audience. Through charitable work. By ensuring you play a role at conferences. The third component to a strong professional reputation is being referable.
Professional Reputation Requires being Referable
What causes us to refer? First, there’s knowledge about you. As defined by reach. Second, there’s trust involved. Third, there needs to be some liking, a desire to help out both parties. And fourth, there’s the degree to which your work is referable. The meme has to have some energy to be highly referable. Some people’s niches are more shareable than others. (Which circles back to being strategic about getting to know the influencers in your space.)
How much should you care about managing your reputation?
While we have different motivators and are at different stages of our career, I argue that we all need to care. You can develop a decent professional reputation somewhat accidentally. But it does take some work to truly make your reputation a cornerstone of your professional offering. And that’s where the benefits accrue:
Being top of mind as a go-to person
Receiving invitations to write / speak / represent, which solidifies your reputation
Access to people and conversations that can dramatically shift your circumstances
A flow of professional opportunities
All of which adds up to greater control over your professional journey. Summing up, focus first on quality, as defined by the success and impact measurements in your profession, your professionalism and character, and your track record. Second, don’t rely on merit alone. Focus on reach and be strategic about getting in front of the right people in your domain. Third, focus on enhancing your refer-ability by building trust and liking and ensuring people know exactly what you do and who you do it for. While a vibrant professional reputation is a long-game, it’s in your reach.
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