The concept of reputation is closely linked to an organization’s perceived capacity to produce high quality goods or services. Yet little is known about how organizations seek to build a distinctive reputation, particularly in contexts where quality is difficult to define and measure. We consider this question by case comparison, studying two practice groups within a management-consulting firm.
Reputation is a social evaluation based on perceptions of stakeholders about an organization in which past behavior ascribed to an organization is used as a guide to current and expected future standards or actions. It essentially focuses on ‘what is ‘different’ about the focal organization compared to others in its set. A firm’s reputation is an intangible resource that is linked to the organization’s ability to create value. Research on corporate reputation has proliferated in recent years. Much of this research has, unsurprisingly, largely focused on the benefits or consequences of reputation for firm performance. However, we know less about how organizations and their members seek to build or maintain their reputations for quality through internally directed actions.
Studies have pointed to the importance of consistent behaviors, policies and practices that engender predictability. Other studies note that because reputation is engendered by social interactions, actors external to the organization are important. However, more fine grained accounts of how reputation is built, particularly in contexts where quality is difficult to define, are lacking. How, then, can organizations build a reputation in contexts where quality is ‘opaque’, such as professional service firms? In this paper we present exploratory research which seeks to answer this question.