Did the Vikings take their reputation more seriously than we do?

By Ben Valdimarsson

Cattle die
kindred die,
thyself too must die,
But a good reputation 
Never dies. 

Wondering if ReputationInc has started writing poetry about reputation? We haven’t. But if you do have a good limerick or poem about reputation feel free to send it across to us.

The piece above is actually about a thousand years old taken from Hávamál (sayings of the high one) a collection of old Norse poems from the Viking age, largely presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom.

I was reminded of it recently when I was yet again trying to explain to my father what it actually is that I do for a living and in doing so desperately trying to remember the Icelandic translation for the term Reputation. I’m pretty sure my father had completely switched off by the time I had it.

Notwithstanding my father’s lack of interest in the topic, others have thankfully started paying attention and business leaders are increasingly beginning to understand its power and importance.

In many ways it took the economic collapse of 2008, the resulting reputation fallout and the gradual recovery from this crisis to get people to realise the value of reputation for countries, companies and individuals.

Most agree that in today’s business world reputation is more important than ever.

What the above poem proves, however, is that reputation never went away and has always been important. Some people just seemed to spend a thousand years not taking it seriously.

The Vikings did. Sure a few of them raided a few monasteries back in the day, but you can’t keep all your stakeholders happy all the time. The fact is, anybody who wanted to be anybody in the Viking age worked extremely hard on their stakeholder engagement and to ensure they earned a good name for themselves.

The Vikings were meant to live by a clear set of values, which included truth, courage, discipline, hospitality, self-reliance and perseverance. Those not seen as delivering on these values were promptly dismissed and in many cases had their “licence to operate” removed (regulatory enforcement was a bit more extreme in those days). 

For any contemporary business not taking their reputation seriously and not currently operating under a clear set of principles, even the Viking values from a thousand years ago would be a good start. 

For those interested in taking it a step further and re-examining their reputation in 2015 here area a few things to consider:

• Clearly establish what your reputation ambition is and what you want your company, management and employees to be renowned for;

• Establish the gap between your desired reputation and your future ambition by conducting reputation research and evaluating how your most important stakeholders truly perceive you; 

• Use these insights to establish how you can maximise the reputation equity in the business and extract this value by developing a new reputation management strategy and aligning this with your business strategy;

• Work with your team and your people to review and co-create a clear vision, mission and values to underpin your reputation strategy;

• Look for expert support – I’m on the mobile over Christmas.

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