What’s the outlook for reputation management as a business and management discipline? Will it grow in acceptance and practice? Or will it fade, joining other sound concepts that, for various reasons, were unable to sustain support? My point of view might surprise some of you.
It’s hard to believe that 16 years have passed since Charles Fombrun’s Reputation was first published. This landmark book launched the discipline, sparking extensive research, generating substantial buzz and spawning several consulting practices centered on the value of corporate reputations and the benefits of managing them.
I was stoked about reputation management from the start. And given a chance to put it into practice, I saw that it had the power to transform a business and an industry that had chronically fallen short of their potential due to lingering reputation issues.
In spite of that favorable experience, my sense today is that reputation management may have reached its peak as a business and management discipline. It may even be in decline. Why?
First, business is notoriously fickle and short-term. Consultants, academics and practitioners fall in and out of love with concepts every few years. These concepts may not disappear altogether, but they do seem to fall off an attention cliff. Right now, innovation is in. Before that, it was value. Before that, corporate social responsibility. Remember brand? Execution? Human capital? Total quality management?
In a world where business and management concepts wax and wane, reputation management has some inherent barriers to broad adoption. It takes years to change most perceptions and behaviors – and CEOs under the gun to get results this quarter have little patience for long-term initiatives.
It hasn’t helped that some who jumped on the reputation management bandwagon have co-opted and clouded understanding of the concept. PR people regularly use reputation management as a synonym for corporate communications or executive visibility. Web folks speak about online reputations, as if they existed in isolation.
The reality is this: for most businesses, reputation management isn’t a “must have” – it’s a “nice to have.” Especially when another big shiny thing comes along.
So I’m sorry to say that reputation management may be losing momentum. For all its potential to change organizations and create value, I’m afraid the concept is in decline.
I hope I’m wrong.