The nexus of the growth in the ways that you can share information about yourself and the number of opinions that can be developed about you is exploding. While you are working your life away in Dubuque, Iowa, a colleague from another city is reading a blog you wrote. While you are snoring away in Jakarta, India, someone in another time zone is taking a peek at your Facebook page. While you’re stuck in another late night meeting in Paris, France, wondering, “What am I doing here?” a recruiter is starting his day by reading your LinkedIn profile.
Unless you are Superman or Superwoman, you cannot be everywhere at once. In your absence, at some point during the day, someone is thinking and speaking about you. Perhaps you finished a presentation and a few of your colleagues stayed behind to chat about next steps. In the midst of that conversation, comments about you surfaced. Perhaps a group of senior executives is discussing candidates to fill a key vacancy in the organization and you are one of those candidates. Perhaps you are on your way to get a cup of coffee and you hear colleagues speaking about you in a conference room. This “echo” of you that exists in the thoughts and words of your colleagues is your reputation.
You may be wondering, “Can I choose my reputation or is my reputation chosen for me by others?” More on that soon.
Imagine a situation where you are attempting to be a “work-in-progress” in an environment that is always changing. It’s like learning to play golf in the midst of a hurricane. Learning to play golf is hard, even on a beautiful day. Surviving a hurricane is hard, even with tremendous preparation. Mesh golf lessons (always being in “beta”) and a hurricane (your fast-changing environment) together and chaos will reign.
At the same time, the proliferation of professional transparency is creating new ways for individuals to develop an opinion about you. You can now share information about yourself in endless ways (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging), most of which do not even require you to be physically present. Individuals that you have never met, and may never meet, can find information about you faster than the time it took you to read this sentence.
Additionally, the nexus of the growth in the ways that you can share information about yourself and the number of opinions that can be developed about you is exploding. More about that to come!
While the importance of a good reputation is not new, the environment in which you are working to build a good reputation is. Twenty years ago, your reputation as a business professional was confined to the experiences of individuals with whom you interacted within your organization or shared experiences with at industry meetings. The relationships with your colleagues were as stable as your work environment – these were the same folks you had been working with or had known for years. Perhaps your reputation expanded outside of your cloistered circle of colleagues when you spoke at national industry events or published an article or research paper. Beyond that, few individuals knew who you were, let alone had an opinion about your reputation.
Today, chaos and change rule the day. The frequency and pace of change defines the “new normal” in corporations around the globe. Your ability to build strong relationships over time is becoming harder. The individuals with whom you worked yesterday are gone today. Lines of responsibility are blurring. The number of new people with whom you come in contact both physically and virtually is growing weekly.
At the same time, you are changing faster than ever. In their book, The Start-Up of You, authors Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha suggest that you need to always be in “beta” mode in order to survive and succeed in today’s fast-paced and frenetic corporate environments. They encourage you to “think of yourself as a work-in-progress” and “invest in yourself every single day.” These never-ending and fast-paced changes define the professional environments you find yourself in today. However, always being in “beta” creates its own set of challenges. Recurring ways in which you change in the midst of fast-changing environments can create risk to your reputation.
I am working with a client who does not like the relationship she has with her boss. Not having a great relationship with your boss is a very common experience and this is important because the most important relationship you have in your workplace is with your boss.
In many ways, your work experience is like a poker hand. In a poker game, you randomly get a hand of cards, whether you like them or not. In the work environment, you get a work experience, whether you like it or not. Similar to a poker hand, you have three options to change your work environment:
- Fold. Make a decision that this is not the place for you and you cannot make your work experience any better. Fold and move on.
- Bluff. Make a decision that you want to stay, yet you are going to use valuable energy to make your work environment appear to be better than it is.
- Act. Make a decision that you want to stay and you need to take action to improve your work environment.
Some of you will decide to fold. You believe that your work environment cannot get better and you prefer to put your energy in a new workplace. Some of you are bluffers. I don’t like this strategy as you are avoiding the inevitable. It may feel good short-term, yet bluffing takes too much energy and bluffing will fail long-term. When I work with clients, we work on taking action. We identify conversations you can have and next steps you might take in order to improve your work environment. This is tough, yet, if you want to take action to improve your work environment, it is worth the effort.
Changing your work environment for the better is a great way to add value to your organization. Not only is your work experience better, it is better for many others.