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Reputation Management – Learn From Others’ Mistakes

There are two main ways to look like a prick.  The first is by the actions you take.   Case in point – GoDaddy CEO Bob Parson got a lot of flak, and lost a lot of customers, for his recent participation in an elephant hunt.

The other way to look like a prick is to take an action that may be completely reasonable, but do it in a way that appears to be wholly self-focused and without consideration to the impact on others.  Such an act was allegedly committed this past week by one Paul Schiff Berman, dean of the law school at Arizona State University.

Photo by Ryan Cassella, used with permission from WNPR

In the last few years, ASU law school has added numerous programs and exalted faculty, increased the size of each incoming class, and added an undergraduate program.  Space at the law school is now at a premium and it’s been a challenge to accommodate everyone.  I would not be surprised if the school has given serious consideration to how it’s using its space and how it can use it more efficiently until the new facility is built downtown.

A few suspicious things have happened recently within the law school.  First, on the schedule of classes for Fall 2011, some classes are located in the “Law Library Basement.”  There are currently no classrooms in the library’s basement, and no classes have previously been held down there.  Second, there is a rumor that architects were discovered in the law journal’s room taking measurements, allegedly for “code compliance,” but they also had design plans with them.  It looks like the school plans to take away the law journal’s space in the basement and turn it into a classroom.  The fact that space is being reallocated does not surprise me, and it’s even reasonable given the circumstances.  What disturbs me is the fact that it was done without consideration of or notification to the people who will be directly impacted, not even the journal’s faculty advisor.

I’ve heard a few reactions from the law school student body regarding the expected changes and Berman’s reputation:

  • He made a bad assumption without proper investigation.  He assumed that journal doesn’t need the space because the journal’s layout is completed electronically instead of manually.
  • He’s a prick.
  • He acts in a way that says, “I do what I want and I’m not going to tell you about it.”

Berman already has a reputation of acting without transparency or considering the impact of his decisions on all parties.  Here’s what Berman could have done that would have had the same result but without further damaging his already tarnished reputation.

  1. Identify that the school has a space issue.
  2. Notify anyone whose space could be changed to resolve the problem.  Explain what the problem is and what the school’s overall goal is in reallocating space.
  3. Provide an opportunity to everyone involved to express their concerns about losing their space and what their needs are regardless of what space they are in.  Providing at least a token opportunity to be heard goes a long way.  It at least gives the impression that you care.
  4. Inform people who are losing their space in advance of disclosing it directly or indirectly to the entire student body.  Apologize for any inconveniences you’re causing and try to make the transition as easy as possible.

So what did we learn from this?  What you do matters.  How you do it matters more.

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