This post applies to mentors and mentees alike.
Like it or not unless we work in a silo we each have a brand at work - a "personal brand". Some folks may interpret this as "reputation" or "track record" or "popularity". But I think our personal brand is all that and more. Ultimately it is what is evoked in other people's minds when they see or hear our names. Think of someone at work whose name simply being mentioned makes you cringe. Now think of someone (perhaps your mentor) whose name makes you smile or relax or energized. There are a set of actions and communications that have occurred from and around that person that have etched these intangible associations, these feelings, in your brain. I believe that successful people actively manage this aspect of their work presence much like brand managers apply "marketing techniques to a specific product, product line, or brand. [Brand management] seeks to increase a product's perceived value to the customer and thereby increase brand franchise and brand equity. Marketers see a brand as an implied promise that the level of quality people have come to expect from a brand will continue with future purchases of the same product." The product here being the person him/herself - you!
This may all sound a little too capitalistic but when "personal brand management" is done with integrity it can actually propel someone forward and allow them to achieve goals more easily. Once your brand is established you'll find people naturally helping you maintain that brand image.
This is not a new idea at all. In fact there is a great article about this topic called "A Brand Called You". I just don't see many people advancing their careers in this way yet. I like to suggest this approach to mentees who feel stuck in their careers.
Here are some thoughts and steps to personal brand management and it all centers on open and honest communication:
- Say what you are going to do and do what you say. Keeping commitments is critical and many people do that well but that's only half the equation. Perfectly good, trustworthy people hestitate to make many (or sometimes any) commitments. You have to first make commitments in order to keep them which in turn builds your track record, trust and your brand.
- Be "out there". A key first step to brand management is brand awareness. People have to know you exist before they can formulate and store an opinion of you. Even if that means taking on an extra project, writing a white paper or presenting at a conference.
- Be open and honest with the challenges you face and invite feedback from all corners to help you with these challenges. Make sure to give credit and share the success when you've overcome these challenges. When folks see your gratitude and your public acknowledgement of help most will want to help you even more in the future.
- Keep communication channels open and running. Don't be shy about including folks in your communication especially around successes. Note: There's a line of diminishing returns here as too much broadcasting may end up being perceived as 'spam'. You need to find the right balance for your team and organization. I've found though that 95% of the time people tend to under-communicate rather than over-communicate.
- Be competent - know what you are talking about. You can't be a trusted brand if you haven't mastered your area sufficiently.
- Never be arrogant. That will kill your brand. It will put your brand in a place that's extremely hard to recover from.
Here are some additional thoughts and questions taken from the article mentioned above:
- "Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors -- or your colleagues. What have you done lately -- this week -- to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?"
- "Do you deliver your work on time, every time? Your internal or external customer gets dependable, reliable service that meets its strategic needs. Do you anticipate and solve problems before they become crises? Your client saves money and headaches just by having you on the team. Do you always complete your projects within the allotted budget?"
- " Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value? Forget your job description. Ask yourself: What do I do that I am most proud of? Most of all, forget about the standard rungs of progression you've climbed in your career up to now. Burn that damnable "ladder" and ask yourself: What have I accomplished that I can unabashedly brag about? If you're going to be a brand, you've got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, that you're proud of."
- "If you want people to see you as a powerful brand, act like a credible leader."
- "No matter what you're doing today, there are four things you've got to measure yourself against. First, you've got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, you've got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value. Third, you've got to be a broad-gauged visionary -- a leader, a teacher, a farsighted "imagineer." Fourth, you've got to be a businessperson -- you've got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes."
I agree that this is an overall touchy subject because this can feel like pure "marketing" but it's actually not. Pure marketing of yourself without the substance behind it and the integrity and partnerships that build it will get you nowhere past the initial flash. Personal success that does not in turn lead to team, divisional, company and business success will also get you nowhere. My belief is that thinking of yourself as a brand and carefully managing that brand will lead to a "win-win" situation for everyone.
I'll end with one more article quote: "A career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. It's full of moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, even go backward when that makes sense. (It often does.) A career is a portfolio of projects that teach you new skills, gain you new expertise, develop new capabilities, grow your colleague set, and constantly reinvent you as a brand."