A Reputation Resolution for 2015 – Lessons from Warren Buffett

By John Keilthy

Having wined and dined over the Christmas period, the tradition is to start the New Year with a list of well-intended resolutions. For most of us, we would have been better served had we started off the Christmas period on this basis. That might have resulted in us having a clearer head, a narrower waist line and a bigger bank balance! The making of resolutions at the beginning of the year dates back to Roman times when people made promises to the gods in return for good favours.

So for centuries, people have been using this time of the year to set out their aspirations for the year ahead.

This year we were struck by where renowned investor, Warren Buffett, placed his emphasis in a New Year message to the 80-plus managers of the businesses owned by Berkshire Hathaway spread around the world.  Mr Buffett reminded his managers that their priority was to “zealously guard Berkshire’s reputation.” He repeated his much-quoted mantra: “We can afford to lose money, even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation, even a shred of reputation.”

So how did Mr Buffett expect his leadership team to know if they are doing the right thing when it comes to protecting the reputation of their businesses?

Once again, he has some salient words of wisdom for his trusted lieutenants.  “Measure everything against not only what is legal but also what we would be happy to have written about us on the front page of a national newspaper in an article written by an unfriendly but intelligent reporter!” Sounds like good advice to us.

However, the problem with New Year’s resolutions, as we all probably know to our cost, is that the success rate is pretty poor. The Washington Post recently referenced that 50% of those that make New Year’s resolutions say they succeed – but only for about six months! The really surprising  statistic, perhaps,  is that over two thirds of people were unable to stick to their commitments for more than a week! Sound familiar? Bad as that might be in terms of staying away from chocolate or missing a gym session, it’s not a tenable situation when it comes to a reputation resolution.

The secret to success in building and sustaining a robust reputation is consistency and sustainability. The same applies to keeping New Year’s resolutions. What often undermines peoples efforts is that either their resolutions are too challenging or too vague. It has also been found that when people share their resolution with others, they have a better chance of succeeding. So keeping your resolutions to yourself makes them more difficult to realise.

On that basis, when it comes to your reputation resolution for 2015, here’s what we recommend:

  • Be clear about what you want your reputation to be – every organisation’s reputation is different
  • Share your reputation vision with your key stakeholders – tell then what you stand for, your values, beliefs, what they can expect from you
  • Establish clear measures of success so you know that you are doing the right things

And finally, don’t leave it to January every year to hold yourself accountable – there are eleven other months in which to measure your success!

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