Tag Archives: reputation management

reputation management

Social media a danger zone for HR professionals

Career coaches are constantly exhorting candidates to take care of their cyber foot print, especially at entry-level. All recruiters and headhunters usually check out applicants online before meeting them. Line managers have been warned to pay attention when liking and sharing inappropriate content on LinkedIn. Many are unaware it all goes out to an individual’s whole network and can potentially damage their personal brand. Direct reports say that it looks creepy!  But social media is now becoming an unforseen danger zone for HR Managers. They too have to be mindful of their social media activity.  Social media posting is now part of the daily routine for those working in the function, but it can have a downside.  Any ill-considered content could be not just be damaging to their reputations, but can also be used in legal action.

Social media activity reflects our belief systems 

There is a new discussion around posting and tweeting  on issues which are important to us personally. They reflect our views, values, our belief systems. But to counter that, they are they also an indication of deeply embedded biases and attitudes. The question is whether they are going to follow us into the workplace and impact our decision-making.  Or are they  a form of authentic expression separate from our professional lives? Adding a disclaimer may be enough for any organisation, but what about a legal process?

Clearly I could never get a job in UKIP or any European Fascist Party. Needless to say I don’t lose sleep over that. Or I might, if there is a populist takeover and all dissenters are rounded up. That has happened before.

Shifting culture

We are seeing increasing cultural and political shifts, with strong feelings and rhetoric on all sides.  Is it possible to separate what we see posted in the public domain, from the person’s ability to do an unbiased, neutral and professional job? The lines are actually very blurred.

Here are two stories that have been shared with me only this week. The names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Aliyha is a research chemist with an international company based near Birmingham, U.K. She has received what she experiences as unconstructive and even obstructive communication from her HR Manager, Alison, regarding her career progression. Aliyha is seeing her peers’ careers developing at a different (i.e. more advantageous) pace.  Last week she discovered quite accidentally that Alison has been very energetically re-tweeting Katie Hopkins over a long period.

I checked out the account and the profile is the usual benign HR blurb: “HR Management, CIPD, mother and wife etc.” She also endorses Katie Hopkins and her opinions somewhat enthusiastically  – at least once a day.  Depending on your point of view, Hopkins will be a “controversial columnist” or a provocative hate generating commentator. She has caused outrage and legal action associated with her comments on immigration, overweight people and even children’s names, as well as personal vindictive attacks resulting in libel suits.  Aliyha asked

“I have no reason to believe that my performance is lower than that of my colleagues. My annual appraisals have always been excellent.  I have never had any problems at all until Alison became my HR Manager.  Is it because I am the daughter of immigrants, a bit on the chubby side and have an Arabic name  – could this be what is coming into play now?”

The answer is we will never know for sure, but there is no doubt that if Aliyha’s complaint becomes a case, her lawyer confirmed he intends to reference Alison’s online and social media activity and support of a racist, as an indicator or her inherent bias and prejudice.


At the other end of the scale Michael is a Trump voter. An HR Director in a security company in San Diego,  he believed his social media activity was minimal. However, he  has openly supported Trump on his Facebook page and posted pro-Trump comments on LinkedIn. Since the November election he has been surprised danger zone for HR professionalsto encounter negative undercurrents from colleagues, who now question his commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce for the company.

He has been called a racist and misogynist. His peers and team have told him that even if these are not his personal views, it is clear that he tacitly approves the stance of  President Trump. Michael feels that he has unfairly lost the trust of colleagues and employees and he is the victim of bias and prejudice.

I asked Annabel Kaye, Managing Director Irenicon a UK-based employment law specialist if there is a case.  She agrees social media is a danger zone for HR.

HR Managers should be and always are careful of their online posts. It is entirely possible that Twitter support of Katie Hopkins for example could indicate unconscious racial bias if not active racial prejudice. Whilst it is not definitive proof either way, certainly in the UK it would allow the ‘inference’ to be drawn that any decisions made by the HR person who made those tweets might be influenced by bias and thus put their employer at increased risk of losing a discrimination case.

For this reason most HR people who tweet use things like  “my opinions only – nothing to do with my employer”   on their bio as disclaimers.

But as discrimination cases are often about what people think (consciously or unconsciously) this would still be evidence as to their state of mind. Of course in the UK individuals who make discriminatory decisions are potentially liable as well as the organisation. So all in all, not a good plan to publicly support racists, sexists, or other discriminatory tweeters or characters if you don’t want this coming to an employment tribunal near you.

Of course, this is not definitive proof of discrimination or bias, but it is another item that is going to be used in tribunal.

Separate personal and professional

So what does this mean for HR and our social media activity and how it relates to personal branding and reputation management?  Should HR or even all professionals go back to the old school way of keeping our views on sex, religion and politics separate to our professional personas?  At what point do they decide that social media can be a danger zone for HR managers? And  then what happens if what we tweet is out of alignment with the values of our organization even with a disclaimer?

So where do you stand in the danger zone for HR professionals?




How to rebuild a damaged professional reputation

Fixing a damaged reputation

Fixing a damaged reputation

Why technology has made making a fresh start more difficult once we have damaged a professional reputation.

Reputation has been a topic covered by many thought leaders and philosophers from  Shakespeare, to Socrates and more recently Warren Buffet who says  ” It  takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think  about that, you’ll do things differently.”

A  professional  gossip and rumour mill can have a very negative impact on our careers. It can take years to build up a solid reputation, but only a few ill-considered water cooler remarks,  an imprecise email  or an unguarded conversation to undo it all.  Modern technology means that information on everyone can be transferred, stored and retrieved within a heart beat and remain on the collective hard drive indefinitely. A spat with a co-worker, a sarcastic comment or confused instructions can go viral at a horrific pace.

Commentary on our patterns of behaviour and perceptions of our style, values and attitudes can follow us around from one work place to another. Today, with the degrees of separation reduced to only four, we have fewer opportunities than ever to make a completely fresh start.

Difficult personality

Luke is a strategic consultant in a tightly knit sector specialising in crisis management. He has  just been rejected for a position for which he was ideally qualified. Unofficial feedback from a friend in the target department was there was “no way  Luke X  would ever be hired into this organisation.”  Dead bodies and hell freezing over were cited to give an indication of probability. It seems over years Luke has developed a reputation for being uncooperative, a poor team player and generally difficult to work with.

Luke is feeling harshly treated and rails firmly against the comments. Although upset he remains dispassionate, measured and resigned. “Some years ago I had a boss who was a bully and not only did I stand up to him, I filed a complaint.  Just because I defend myself  against this type of behaviour which is rampant and accepted in my sector, it is being held against me. Now my current boss is saying the same thing and won’t give me a chance.” 

Many careers are stalled by issues linked to “personality clash” and “poor cultural fit.” Having our names mentioned in the same sentence as either of those phrases, especially in more than one organisation, can be tantamount to a career death sentence.

Worried about your professional reputation? Check out the individual coaching programmes

Luke or anyone in a similar situation has a number of options.

  • Establish the root of the negative perception. Luke can’t undo what has happened in the distant past, but he can talk to his current boss and colleagues to ask for specific examples of these criticisms. If these comments have ever been referenced in an official performance review, though harsh to hear in some ways, they are easier to address than corridor gossip.  If the review is considered biased there is usually an appeal system via H.R. or an opportunity to counter comment. Reputations are closely linked to smoke and fires. Rumours are  more likely to be believed than otherwise.
  • Trusted feedback: talk to a neutral friend or mentor who can give some less hurtful  and constructive insights  on communication methods or style and behaviours that can be damaging. We all do and say things that are perceived differently than the way we intended,  especially anything sent by email. Someone’s idea of defence is another’s idea of bringing out the big guns.
  • Introspection: find out what you can do and then are prepared to do to change  the dynamic. When you know where the problem could lie, step back and make a conscious effort to behave differently when the situation recurs.
  • Apologise and make amends:  Is there an underlying pattern to the comments you should be aware of? How much do you have to compromise to retrieve your position?   Perhaps you need to apologise, make amends or talk to one or a number of parties involved to correct the situation. Sorry is a powerful word.
  • Rebuilding the relationships:  gradually work on a different approach to colleagues, reports and bosses. Find a mentor or an advocate, someone who will highlight your strong points as well as your weaknesses. These people will be useful contacts to provide future references.
  • Move on:  maybe the compromises are too great or the possibility to rebuild your reputation is too slim in your current organisation. Perhaps a time will come to initiate a conversation with your boss “I don’t  think this is working.” Be prepared psychologically to hear a painful response.
  • Learn from your mistakes:  The most important thing is to analyse setbacks and make a concerted effort to address them. Even the most successful people have overcome hurdles. If  these comments have dogged you in a number of places and are starting to impact your career,  unless you recognise that change is required, you will simply be taking the problem with you if you just move on. You will continue to pollute your professional relationships and damage your reputation even further.

In the words of Henry Ford “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”   Even in a post Facebook era that advice still stands.