Reflecting on my 10+ years in sales and 8+ years at Quantcast, my greatest asset is unquestionably the reputation I have built internally and externally. Yes, I have slowly built up sales skills, professional competencies, and a leadership tool belt, but a strong reputation carries with it a unique value that is impossible to replicate any other way.
When we refer to someone having a great reputation, what does that mean, specifically? We might all have an understanding of what it looks like when we see it, but let’s go a bit deeper. The most important aspects that stick out in my mind:
You act in the best interests of your colleagues, customers, and organizationYour actions align with your wordsYou are a source of good judgmentYour colleagues and customers inherently trust your actions and words
Sound like someone you know? Yourself? Or an aspirational profile you are looking to emulate? Besides many of the positive traits listed above, there are practical benefits that come with your positive professional reputation.
Personal and organizational recruitingAs an individual, you will be recruited not just for your skills and competencies, and it can give you the edge in interviews in the form of strong personal references. Your personal reputation also means folks might be more excited to work with you and join your team or company.Coalition-buildingInternally, when you exhibit the above qualities, it is easier to gather support for projects and help build internal allies to see the work through.Trust A trusting partnership is key at all levels. When you consistently demonstrate that your actions align to your words, it forms an inherent level of trust with those above and below you as well as your clients. A strong voiceWhen those around you trust your intentions and you have demonstrated your motivations time and again, your voice carries more weight both with clients and colleagues. Expertise is always welcomed, but when someone trusts your why, that comes with true engagement.
Here are some ways to think about building your reputation from day one. A key thing to keep in mind is that reputation-building is not a game of strategy. While I outline some tips and examples below, if you treat relationship-building as a quid pro quo or something to be won, chances are you will just come off as manipulative. With that in mind:
1. Go the extra… inch.
I know, I know… isn’t it “mile”? It is, but in the professional space where our time is precious and asks are coming from all sides, I like to think about going the extra inch.
Inches can be a helpful framework for those focused on establishing boundaries and learning to say no to too many asks. What are some examples of an “inch”?
You share something you have already done with the rest of your team or your peers. In this case, you are not creating extra work for yourself and are instead using that extra inch to help others learn from your example.You take the time to make an introduction to a colleague knowledgeable in an area, when someone poses a question to you. Instead of digging up the answer and delivering the content yourself (the mile), you are creating a strong connection with little effort (the inch).You acknowledge receipt and help to provide visibility on an ask. Ever sent an email to a group and received empty air back? How helpful is it when someone chimes in expressing the same question/need and helps bump this back to the top of everyones’ list? The inch! Externally, what is the small way you can show a client or partner your appreciation? A quick note can go a long way. Particularly if you take care to incorporate something you know about them outside of the office or an event in their life. These little messages may seem small to you but often impactfully land on the other side.
2. Take the little asks and make them a bit bigger.
I explored this concept in a previous post around internal career development. It’s similar to the extra inch, but this one might be a foot or a yard.
Helping out a colleague in need, and being a reliable source of support, can be an excellent way to build goodwill directly. Do this with multiple colleagues often enough, and their direct support (along with their indirect spreading of your helpfulness) forms a foundation for how you are perceived at your company…which sounds great, but there is only one of you, and you have other jobs to do than to address each request coming your way.
My solution has been to find bite-sized ways to contribute that may take a bit more time than your extra inches but don’t also detract from the job you were hired for. Examples:
Marketing sends an email to a broad group in sales asking for feedback on a piece of collateral. Response rates on group emails like that are LOW. Like lottery-winning-chances low. So any response is going to go a long way, but the approach matters. Long drawn out general feedback on multiple aspects of the material might be valuable, but it’s also going to take you forever and you will probably bury the most important point. Instead, look for one or two specific, actionable feedback items you can provide. Those will typically be a low time commitment but immensely valuable to your partners. Before you know it, they will be coming to you with specific questions earlier in the process! You’re in a group meeting. A colleague brings up a challenge or a project they are working on, but the conversation doesn’t really go anywhere and there are no clear steps. In some cases, that action item might just come from you! Do you have a thought starter or example of work from your end that might be helpful? Fire away! At worst you missed the mark a bit (and the effort is noted) but at best your small investment of time and demonstration of looking out for your teammates goes a long way in building that relationship!
3. Find the big opportunities.
Okay, so maybe I’m not done with the units of measurement. Remember what I said about inches and miles and feet and yards? Well, sometimes going the extra mile is exactly what is needed!
Again, going the extra mile often means an investment of time and resources, so think about when you have the bandwidth and what it might mean if you can make the right impression. Here are a couple examples from my own time at Quantcast to illustrate the point:
Back in 2016, two years into my career at Quantcast as an Account Executive, we went through an intensive three-day sales training on a new methodology. Nearing the end of the program, I volunteered to deliver the new pitch materials in front of our global sales team and leadership. I was mildly terrified getting up on stage, but one strong pitch later and my perception internally was changed for the better. Fast forward three years to my first internal sales leadership summit as a director in 2019. Our global sales leadership was in New York to discuss the prior year’s successes and failures and to lay out our plans for the year ahead. If there was ever a time to think in miles instead of inches, this was it. My first real work as a sales director involved plenty of extra prep, but those first impressions go a long way!
In both cases, an inch or a yard probably didn’t fit the bill. Whether it is being a senior individual contributor or taking on a new leadership role, the bright lights of the big stages are perfect opportunities for you to put in the time to shine brightest.
4. Pay attention to the little things and understand how a reputation is built.
In many ways, your professional reputation is the sum of small decisions over a long time period. And it is important to recognize that the negative impacts carry relatively outsized weight.
It’s a bit like building a long chain of dominos. You might only get the chance to put up one or two dominoes in a given day, and small missteps can lead to part or the whole chain coming down around you!
I felt that particular sting early in my career before I joined Quantcast. In a discussion on how I was handling some of my daily workflow, I was dishonest with my manager answering a direct question and the behavior continued on my end. When it came to light, I felt the intense gravity of my actions and how it seemed to swallow up all of the goodwill I had built from my great work previously. That object lesson was an invaluable learning experience and illustrated what is at stake with my decision making.
Now, I don’t suggest walking around on pins and needles, triple-checking every decision you make as a result of that story. As long as you are acting with integrity and the right motivations, you won’t make the same mistake I did.
The most important thing to takeaway here is that consistency of your actions is the most important ingredient to how you are perceived. Anyone can be the exceptional coworker for a day or week. The ones who truly can be counted on and enjoy the strongest reputations are the ones who do it day in, day out, for years.
5. Increase your knowledge and share it willingly.
Know that person in your office who seems to always have the answers or a unique perspective in a particular area? Chances are they are contributing to their reputation positively every time they are engaged on the topic.
The cool thing here is that this competency builds on itself. The more you steep yourself in a particular area, the more engaged you become on the topic. The more engagement you generate with those around you, the more you build your unique views. And with unique views comes an increasing value that you bring to those around you.
It’s not about always having the answer or winning all the arguments. (That, indeed, would have the opposite effect!) People are drawn to those who can help enhance their knowledge in a subject and help them think through an issue in a new light, not someone who is always going to one-up the conversation to try and show how smart they are.
As an additional wrinkle, it’s important to understand when to be humble and to refer or include an even greater expert than yourself. Then you become an expert who also knows experts–someone everyone has a reason to connect with!
6. Learn to let go.
When considering your professional reputation, it is easy to think that universal appeal and 100% approval rating is a requirement. But just as personal friends come and go in your life (some who you don’t care to hang out with again), so do your professional acquaintances.
It’s impossible to make friends with everyone you cross paths with in the professional world, and meeting that bar would be exhausting anyways! As you build partnerships internally and externally, just know that it won’t happen with everyone. There will be individuals with whom you do not align or have a difficult working relationship.
And that’s okay! While you shouldn’t have an intent to burn bridges, you also should not waste the energy going out of your way to build something that isn’t there. As Dr. Seuss put it, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Ultimately, your reputation will be the sum of your impact on the people around you who are most invested in your work. By avoiding a transactional approach to relationships, showing those around you that you care, and putting intentional effort into those partners, your positive reputation will be well-earned in the end!
If you want to further challenge yourself to grow professionally within your organization, read my 6 Tips for Career Development. You can also check out my recent Hustle vs. Hustle Culture blog post. And if you’re interested in working at a company honored by Built In’s 2022 Best Places to Work Awards, we’re hiring!