Reputation Management: How to rebuild your reputation after a setback.

Man sitting at desk pondering a difficult conversation with a senior executive

Tragedy, Comedy or History? Well, possibly all three if you witnessed the series of mistakes and awkward realisations that something had gone terribly wrong at the culmination of the Oscars a few weeks ago. With the world watching on, what unfolded at the film industry’s annual jamboree has quickly become ‘yesterday’s news’ for everyone save the unfortunate protagonists from one of the world’s leading professional services firms. Will they ever be allowed to escape from the series of unfortunate events that led to the wrong film announced as Best Picture? Time will tell.

Clearly these individuals have taken a blow to both their professional credibility and their personal reputations. Years of hard work, effort and natural ability that saw them rise to the top of their profession has, unfortunately, evaporated overnight

The higher you rise the harder you fall

However, they are certainly not alone. The past few years seen a number of very public examples of personal reputations and credibility being called into question: the scandal surrounding the collapse of BHS, the handling of the BP crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, Volkswagen’s emissions debacle and now the trouble surrounding the cycling world at Team Sky. In all cases, individuals linked to these events have had to answer questions surrounding their professional competence and personal judgement. Their ability to rebuild their reputations, or in some instances, their failure to do so, is in part linked to how they respond to the immediate fallout of their mistakes in the first place.

Whether as head of a global business or, more prosaically in the day-to-day activities that many of us undertake as part of our jobs, a damaged reputation can have a real impact on longer-term career success. After all, reputation is built around trust and is linked to personal behaviour, perception and values. No surprise then that it’s hard to win and easily lost. However, whilst the immediate furore surrounding a very public mistake can make the initial aftermath very challenging indeed, both individuals and organisations can do much to mitigate the fallout.

Respond don’t react

How individuals choose to react to these unforeseen events or setbacks in their professional careers is important. Human nature is such that temptation will be to defend our personal reputation first and foremost. However, incorrect handling of the issue will significantly affect future prospects. Conversely, a measured response will mitigate the problem and will have a direct impact on how soon redemption materialises. So take a short breath, assess the situation and think about the best response as opposed to being lulled into reacting.

Thick skinned

Rebuilding your reputation can be hard. So building up your personal resilience is important. You need to think about the long term objective and prepare yourself for the journey. But be careful, there is a fine line between being ‘thick skinned’ and being seen as someone that simply doesn’t care.

Own your mistake

Front up to the issue and, where appropriate, offer a sincere apology. Denying the issue, blaming others or downplaying the seriousness of the event will irreparably damage both yours and your organisation’s future credibility. Depending on your level of seniority this can be hard as it may mean taking responsibility for the decisions or actions of others. Ultimately however, people will respect you more if you own the mistake.

Assess the situation

Look to take immediate steps that will mitigate the issue. It’s likely that some repair work will need to be undertaken quickly and efficiently. From a personal perspective issuing a statement that encapsulates steps being taken to rectify the mistake or ensuring it doesn’t happen again can help to limit damage. Monitor the situation and focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. Be careful not to feed the situation by getting involved in public spats on social media for example, as this will only compound things.

Turn to your networks

Involve others in rebuilding a damaged reputation. Your leadership/peer group, executive coaches and mentors will hold a much broader view of you, your skills and your abilities. Use them to help position appropriate responses that will start immediately rebuilding your personal brand.

Personal learnings

One perceived mistake doesn’t need to shape the rest of your career. However, demonstrating that you have taken on board the learnings will help to improve your personal wellbeing and how others perceive you.

Rebuild trust

Rebuilding trust is important and it will take time. Be prepared to take a back seat for a while. Consider working on less high profile projects, where your skills and experience can be put to good use. This will help you regain the trust of others.

Be true to yourself.

You may decide to re-invent yourself. For some this works, however it is important that you stay true to yourself and your core values. Trying to be someone you’re not will only make rebuilding your reputation harder.

All of these points alongside your personal ambition, drive and willingness to address the issue will allow you to get on with your career and move forward, reputation not only intact, but enhanced.