Reputation Rules: A book review by Bob Morris

Reputation Rules: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset
Daniel Diermeier
AMACOM (2011)

Why a reputation strategy is imperative and how to formulate, execute, an then manage one

It is no coincidence that on Fortune magazine’s annual lists of companies that are most highly regarded and considered the best to work for, many of the same companies appear each year. Their reputations are well-deserved and have been hard-earned one human interaction at a time. Those employed by Ritz-Carlton, The Container Store, Nordstrom’s, Apple, Google, Southwest Airlines, and Procter & Gamble are expected to personify their company’s core values in both their attitude and behavior, especially during all of their interactions with customers, to be sure, but also with each other.

The companies on which Diermeier focuses offer compelling examples of how a company’s reputation, its “most valuable asset,” can be enriched and enhanced over several decades (e.g. Calgene, Prudential Insurance,) and then, in some instances, severely tarnished  (if not ruined) in a only a few days or even hours (e.g. Monsanto and Shell UK). Given the rapid and extensive emergence of social media in recent years, the need for a reputation management program is even greater now than ever before.

The program that Diermeier introduces in this book is based on his more than ten years of real-world experience with all manner of organizations as well as his analysis of the results of countless formal research studies. The core principles of the program he has formulated (and explained thoroughly in this book) serve as the foundation for the strategies he proposes. He cites dozens of mini-case studies of situations in which a reputation was at risk. He explains what worked, what didn’t, and why. For a time, probably the most highly-regarded company in the world, Enron’s moral and ethical deterioration at the C-level occurred over a period of several years and the damage to its reputation was irreparable. The prestigious reputation of other companies (e.g. Johnson & Johnson, Exxon, BP, Toyota) was damaged by specific developments and their reputation restoration depended almost entirely on how well each responded to the given crisis.

To sum up, Diermeyer provides about as much information, insights, and advice as most business leaders will need to establish or strengthen and then sustain (with continuous improvement) a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective program for reputation management for their organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Presumably he agrees with me that it would be a fool’s errand, however, to attempt to adopt all of his recommendations. It makes sense to conduct a rigorous self-audit to reveal what one’s organization’s greatest vulnerabilities are – insofar as reputation is concerned — in order to determine what must be done to prevent or respond to effectively to a crisis involving each.

As Daniel Diermeyer observes, “Reputation management is not a corporate function, but a capability. It requires the mindset integrated with the company’s strategy, guided b y its culture and values, and supported by carefully designed governance and intelligence processes. Developing this capability is as demanding as developing customer focus or the ability to execute.”

Some who read this review may agree with the importance of what is proposed but then point out, “We have so much going on already, we just can’t focus on reputation management right now.” In reply, I cite the Chinese aphorism that asserts the best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago. The next best time is now.


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