Have you ever thought about how your boss thinks about you? Not what he thinks, but how he thinks? What about how the organization thinks about you? How about the top leadership in your organization? What about the folks in your professional organizations? Do you stand out in any way? Do they think of a certain kind of expertise or talent? Do they think of a certain kind of results?
When you think of McDonald’s you get a “picture” of what McDonald’s is. Depending on your age and interests, that image might be different, but it pops into your mind. The same is true of Coke, or Apple or Sears or Fanta. You make decisions about those brands based on your values, interests, likes/dislikes, income and other demographics. You want to be able to control (or at least strongly influence) how people think of you (your brand) when they think of you. The more you influence your brand and the more aware you are of it, the more likely you are to be able to manage your career successfully.
How I Learned This Lesson–The Hard Way
I worked for many years in a large, rapidly growing organization. There was a period of time when I was “stuck” in the same position for several years. The men who had started in the organization with me were moving past me and I was standing still. I was very confused by this. Rightly or wrongly, I rejected the idea that it was a gender thing. I thought it was something about me. I was VERY frustrated. I was quite angry about it. (Although looking back on it, I’m not sure just how clear I was about what was causing my frustration.)
Our CEO had a leadership meeting and announced the formation of a trilogy of high performance projects. He announced that the people selected to work on these projects would be those who were identified across the organization as the “best” in each of the areas. I was thrilled. I was the “best” at one of them. (Ok, maybe I wasn’t really, but at the time, I was absolutely, completely, without a doubt sure of it.) So . . . I waited for the invitation. It didn’t come. Someone else in my division got selected. Someone who not only wasn’t as good at it as me, but who wasn’t even interested. I went from being angry to being FURIOUS! How could they announce that the ‘best’ would be selected and then not pick me!?!?! I couldn’t let it go. I asked my manager. I asked the VP of HR. They didn’t know. I finally asked my VP. His reaction was one of the best lessons I ever got–although not at all fun!
He was completely, genuinely surprised that I even thought I should have been selected. It hadn’t occurred to him. It was in this very painful way that I realized that he really didn’t know that I was the ‘best.’ The person he had selected was a charming, talented person who regularly delivered results. He didn’t know anything about the subject matter at hand, but that didn’t really matter that much. He was easy to get along with. He was very competent (at other stuff). He was charming. He got results. So he got picked.
I, on the other hand, was pretty much an unknown to the VP who had my career in his control. He certainly didn’t think of me–at all. This was completely eye opening. And when I got over the shock of it, I got over being so mad, too. I could see how and why he was oblivious to my strengths. I was pretty much totally responsible for that. I hadn’t made a point of selling my abilities to the ‘powers-that-be’ in the organization. I hadn’t made sure that I was thought of as an expert in the organization. Once I figured this out, I went about building my ‘brand’ in the organization. And I got ‘unstuck’–promoted within less than a year. And then I got promoted again. And then again.
How do you build your brand?
- Be an expert. Build your expertise. Within your organization, become THE expert on something. Be the ‘go-to’ person for that subject.
- Help other people. Create mutually beneficial situations. Create ‘organizational trade routes.’
- Act like you’re dating. Remember back to the days when you were dating. Somehow or other you always managed to be in the right place at the right time to ‘meet’ up with the person of interest. You managed to ensure that s/he knew how great you were. You managed to appear to be as smart as possible, as talented, as charming as possible. Do that again–just in a different context–prove how ‘right’ you are for the organization.
- Be brave. Stand out. Blending in will not do you any good long-term. What’s different/better/a more perfect fit about you? How can you get it communicated?
- Make sure other people are ‘selling’ you. The theory behind social media marketing is that buzz created among ‘friends’ is more credible than advertising by the company. I can’t tell you how many times I was in meetings of managers who were deciding who got what job. The candidates who were known of by more deciders were the ones who got the jobs. EVEN IF THEY WEREN’T the most qualified on paper. If you know of someone, you feel more comfortable choosing him than a total unknown. Imagine how much better someone did who was known of (because they had effectively sold their brand) by all the deciders.
- Get over any thoughts that ‘selling’ your brand is unseemly. This is your life, your livelihood, your career. This is the way you do it.