01/15/2013 03:10 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2013

Assess and Focus on Building Your Reputation

If you are in marketing, sales or hold a leadership position in an enterprise, you spend your entire day helping create positive perceptions for your company and your clients. You help build and manage brands, communicate value, and monitor social media to see how people are experiencing your client online. But how much attention do you pay to your own reputation? Have you looked at how people perceive you, beyond setting up a "Google Alert" every time you are mentioned on the web? And what you are doing to enhance your personal reputation?

We live and work in a hyper-competitive global economy. You know this because you live it daily. And in the years ahead, we can expect every sector of the economy to grow. That means even more smart, savvy individuals will joining you in your sector, intensifying competition for future projects, clients and positions. The time to start paying attention to your personal reputation is now.

In any industry, personal reputation increasingly matters. As technology and instantaneous communication permeate the global business world, potential companies and clients have many options from which to choose. More and more often, hiring decisions are turning on subjective judgments about character and values. And research has shown that companies and clients don't just hire enterprises. They hire the individuals who work for companies. They hire you.

Volatility also plays a role. Companies, customers or clients want as much certainty as possible, as they don't have resources to pay for mistakes. To close the deal and get the order, the customer has to have confidence that you personally can deliver. And the only way to develop such confidence is to learn about your prior performance, as conveyed through your reputation.

Recently, a close friend asked me over lunch what I thought of a professional who someone wanted to "poach" from a competitor and offer a more senior position. I knew this professional, but not extremely well. But I was aware of her reputation. Although she never knew it, the decision to hire her was finalized in that moment, solely on the basis of my subjective perception of her character.

Reputation is tough to define. We know it when we see it. Words like honesty, integrity, thoughtful, successful, and character come to mind. I believe reputation is the culmination of what you have done in your life, demonstrating that you know how to deliver meaningful value and results to those who interact with you.

Great reputations don't just happen. They result from deliberate actions. Here are five ideas for building on work you may have already done on to build a great reputation for yourself:

1. Google your name regularly

Sounds obvious -- but how many people actually do it? We all should. A September 2012 Harris Interactive study for BrandYourself found that 86 percent of adults use a search engine to look up information about another individual. Forty-two percent searched an individual's name before doing business with them; 45 percent found something that resulted in the person using the search engine to decide not do business with the individual. If you find unflattering comments or articles, in particular, you will need a strategy to remove the citations or have them get lost in the vast world web.

2. During the coming year, repeatedly ask your inner circle of 'confidants' to honesty describe you reputation

Our reputation is not stagnant. It ebbs and flows with our performance, challenges we face, and even our internal and extremely visibility. To track shifts, we need to hear the truth about our reputation from people we respect on a regular basis. Getting external feedback is especially important, since often view ourselves as different than we really are. Our best confidants come from our profession. Choose colleagues who themselves have great reputations. Be sure they hold positions equivalent or more senior to yours. Keep the group small but not too small -- five or six people, both men and women. And be sure to have the conversation in a non-threatening location.

3. Determine centers of influence revolving around your social media

Unfortunately, there are no universally accepted tools to measure reputation online. Still, it's worth monitoring over time those individuals you connect with. The old adage, "you are judged by the company you keep" applies in the digital world. We are way beyond the experimental phase where you would accept or confirm everyone who asks to be your "friend"; we now must be selective and discrete. Build an audience of people who will have a positive effect on your reputation or who you want to emulate. Avoid carelessly building your list of contacts.

4. Commit to three specific actions to build your reputation

We are all busy going the extra mile to drive value for our customers or clients. We work late. We miss important family events. But we need to proactively and deliberately build our reputations. Whether it's three or ten, choose specific actions you will take that focus on making your reputation better and stronger. Use your PR skills to draw attention to your efforts: produce a "white paper" on a timely industry issue; appear in the media with valuable tips for struggling companies or individuals; write a column helping a nonprofit gain support or visibility. Three actions are easily doable in a year.

5. Ask someone to hold you accountable

Business is about results. So is building a great reputation. Share with a colleague or friend your reputation plan for 2013. Ask them to hold you accountable to your actions; it could be someone from your 'inner circle' who already knows what you are trying to achieve. The person will probably be delighted to help you (and it might help them focus on building their reputation as well). Positive reminders and assessments of activities gives those asking for accountability an extra dose of "can do" encouragement, even after a long day of public relations efforts for others.

6. Don't ask a member of your immediate family to assess or build your reputation

Family members can't be objective. They know you too well and often have specific goals for you that differ radically from your dreams. Accepting or hearing unsolicited advice could confuse or adversely affect your perception of yourself and your reputation. My late mother who loved me very much never could understand why I wanted to advocate before the U.S. Congress. She put 'lobbyists' right behind used car dealers (and slightly above politicians). So with her, I purposely stayed away from conversations about my work and the reputation I was building. Bottom line: Keep the family out of determining what your reputation is or can become.

Use 2013 to build a great reputation. It will give you an edge in the marketplace and in life.