I was working with a team recently that had developed a bit of a bad reputation. The management team of their organization had decided that they were complacent, stuck in the past, and not driving hard enough for growth. The team leader admitted that there was a kernel of truth in the statements but insisted that their performance in the past 6 months was much stronger. Sadly, although the reality had shifted, the perception had not. They needed to rehabilitate their team’s reputation.

Have you ever been in that situation? Have you ever worked on a team that was getting bad press in your organization, despite your best efforts to deliver results? It’s challenging because changing people’s opinions once they’ve formed is difficult. As humans, we fall victim to the confirmation bias and look for data that validates our initial positions. If your leader believes you’re complacent he will pay more attention to the one metric where you’re falling short than to the other 9 where you’re getting the job done. So what options do you have to change your leader’s misperceptions of your team?

Stop talking, start listening

What you want to do is start rhyming off all the amazing things that your team has been doing and how dedicated and hardworking you are now. Unfortunately, that’s likely to be seen as defensive and desperate. Instead, when someone has a poor opinion of you, get them talking. Ask questions like, “What are you looking for?” “If you were in our position, what would you prioritize?” and “How would you invest your energy differently?” Demonstrating that you are interested in your leader’s opinions is a good start.

Get some intel

Don’t rely on your leader to give you the straight goods about your performance and your brand. Some leaders are conflict avoidant and will give you less than the whole truth or sugar-coat their answer if you ask about their perceptions. Find folks you trust and who have a good understanding of your leader’s views to give you additional counsel. Start by sharing your perception of the team’s reputation to validate whether or not you actually have a problem. If you do, then see what insights or avenues the person recommends by asking questions such as, “What kind of actions would get her attention?” “What are we doing now that’s a waste of energy?” “What is really going to move the needle on her perceptions of us?” Getting a third-party perspective can help provide insight into the magnitude of the problem and the most effective approaches to solving it.

Stay humble

When you’re frustrated by an unfair reputation, it’s tempting to want to share each and every bit of good news you get, “SEE…see what we did!” Instead, balance the good news with quick admissions of what you’re still working on. “We took your advice on being with our customers more and it’s paid off. Our opportunity funnel was up 13% last month. We still haven’t cracked the problem of too many internal meetings. I’m frustrated that most people are still saying 25% of their time is taken up on these. That’s what we’re focused on next.”

Use Graphs

I read an interesting article this morning about the power of using graphs to correct misperceptions. The research demonstrated that visual representations of data were much more effective at changing someone’s opinion than sharing the information in text. So, rather than making your case in an email or a passionate plea, try showing your team’s performance on a graph. Use a line graph to show an uptick in activity or a bar graph to compare your team’s performance to benchmarks. Maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Get the message out

If your leader is still stuck on an old story about your team, make a concerted effort to share your new dedication and results with other influential people in your organization. Don’t even mention the issue with the boss, just make sure that the facts about your team are known by those who might have an opportunity to go to bat for you at some point.

It’s demoralizing when your team’s efforts go unappreciated because you’re fighting a bad reputation. Spend some time reflecting on where there’s truth to the story and then get busy doing the things that will shift perception.

Further Reading

3 Quick Tips to Fix a Bad Reputation

My Boss Doesn’t Like Me

Navigating a Difficult Political Situation

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