Marketing your employee brand: risk management rationale

There is no such thing as a permanent job anymore. This, and the increasing mobility of employees and employment, added to the rise of social media, means there is no choice involved in whether to invest effort or not into building our personal employee brand. In addition to achieving excellent outcomes in our full-time job, it’s simply a question of how much time we invest into personal employee branding and how it manifests itself.

Working on personal employee brand

Personal employee brand building is especially necessary for those us who work in fields such as marketing and public relations. Let’s face it, if you can’t do a half-decent job of delivering both an ‘employee product’ and marketing the product then, really, can you be entrusted to effectively fulfil a marketing role at all?

And there is little difference between a permanent role (which has no defined end to the employment arrangement) and a contracted role (which does have a defined end to employment).

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This is because any role can be made redundant at any time and this can be done with much less friction and turmoil than was the case even ten years ago. Unions have less say over these matters than they once did and the increasing commercial focus of government organisations is becoming increasingly prevalent. An outcome of this is a diminishing of the ‘jobs for life’ mindset.

What this means, therefore, is that apart from doing an excellent job in your current role, there is a strong argument to be doing at least some proactive and ongoing, even if relatively low level, marketing of your employee brand. Because the sad truth is, your job could vanish when you least expect it.

I believe this is less likely to happen to those who are perceived as doing an excellent job, but it can still happen. Just look at the resources sector in Australia. Because of its recent downturn, companies have made dramatic changes to their businesses which have resulted in contracts being curtailed and, hence, job losses – including high performers.

Building up the personal employee brand is therefore both a reputation building and risk management exercise.

Which leads us to the question of, as an employee (and not a consultant or business owner who is seeking new clients) just what proactive personal employee brand building activity should we engage in? And how much?

Personal employee brand building activity

Jeff Bullas, as usual, has plenty of valuable advice as to building your personal brand. For what it’s worth, here is what I think everyone should be doing on at least a relatively frequent basis, employees included, and especially those working in a public relations or marketing-related field.

Firstly, make sure your profile has its act together on LinkedIn.

Do I really need to say more? There is plenty of useful information on this topic available. LinkedIn is the number one professional networking platform and if you aren’t taking it seriously then I suggest you aren’t taking your career seriously.

Secondly, undertake activity on LinkedIn. Share some good articles/posts through LinkedIn, adding some useful observations, rather than simply sharing. Participate in some professional group discussions.

Thirdly, if you do not have a blog, write one post (it doesn’t have to be long) expressing an opinion on a topic related to your profession on the LinkedIn blogging platform. You can even analyse some other posts or articles. If you can’t manage one a month, then try for one every two months to start with.

And finally, once you start developing this content, which should based on your expertise and interests, over time you develop your own thought leadership positioning. And after that occurs, you can consider the variety of other means of developing your personal branding such as getting articles in the media and speaking at conferences.

Holy Trinity of public relations applied to personal employee branding

The Holy Trinity of Public Relations is constituted of three elements, which can be applied as much to personal employee branding as any other marketing activity:

  • Strategic alliances
  • 3rd party credibility
  • Thought leadership.

You can create strategic alliances in your job by collaborating effectively with those outside of your work’s business unit. It’s salutary to remember that even in-house employees have clients.

This is partially related to internal organisational politics (tis simply the way the world works…sigh), because you want to position yourself well for internal as well as external opportunities (i.e. making friends and influencing people).

Creating positive perceptions of yourself amongst colleagues who work outside your business unit gives you 3rd party credibility and enhances perceptions of you to your target audiences. If you are posting useful and insightful information on platforms such as LinkedIn, this will also enhance your credibility amongst recruiters and others within your industry, which may include potential future bosses or those who they work with.

Undertaking this activity provides visible evidence to your prospective employer of your thinking, the effort you are investing into taking the time to think and articulate it and your proficiency in social media. By implication, it also illustrates your familiarity with the important notions of inbound and content marketing.

You will also find, over time, credible professionals will engage online with you (and even spread word of your insights and competence), providing further 3rd party credibility. If you wish, you will also be welcomed in contributing your own content to fellow professionals’ blogs (more 3PC!).

Thought leadership content illustrates your thoughtfulness and helps differentiate you from your potential competition in a new role. Of course, you should also illustrate this thoughtfulness in your assigned role and the  value you can add outside of your role’s specific requirements. A variation on this is the leadership and mentoring you can provide to others who do not report to you and may or may not work within your specific business unit

Risk and reward in personal employee branding activity

There is a risk that by investing in your personal employee branding your employer, and perhaps future potential employers, are going to think you are either being dazzled by your own reflection or are more focused on the marketing of your employee product than the product itself (i.e. the work you are paid to do in your role).

I think it’s a risk worth taking, but it might be worth having a chat with your boss about this at an appropriate time. Not all employers are comfortable with the digital age and the onus this is placing on all of us to invest some effort into our personal employee brands.

Also, at the end of the day, we exist in a competitive environment. Yes, do a great job of what you are being paid to do in your full time role, but you have competition waiting for you when you go for that next role.

The contest for that role doesn’t start when you identify the opportunity.  By then it may be too late. It has already started. Feeling ready?

What is your view on the risks of undertaking or not undertaking personal employee branding activity outside of specifically doing the job you are paid to do? Do you think it’s more necessary to undertake this sort of activity now than it was, say, five or ten years ago? Is all the advice on undertaking personal employee brand building a bit overwhelming and are you unsure of just what sort of effort, if any, to invest into it?

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Personal employee branding fallacy; just do the job, stupid

The welter of chatter on developing a personal brand to advance a career has been missing one salient and elephant in the room point: doing an excellent job, stupid, is the most important branding exercise you can do, not sitting back spruiking yourself.

Personal employee branding

By doing an excellent job, you will be offered more challenging and enriching experiences in your current role which will enhance your skill set as well as add muscle to your résumé.

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Look at it from a marketing point of view. Surely your boss, your potential future boss and recruiters are who constitute your primary target audience:

  • It is your bosses (past and present) who are going to be your preferred referee for opportunities
  • It is your potential future boss who you want to have a favourable perception of you, or else you won’t get offered the role
  • In many cases, it will be a recruiter who undertakes initial role application culling and presents a short list to the potential future boss for consideration.

When it comes to future opportunities, what your past bosses say about you is going to have the greatest impact on your potential future boss’s perception of you.

It therefore makes sense that the quality of what you undertake in your current role is the best possible personal employee brand/career move you can make, not how you market yourself outside of this in a personal branding sense.

Take my favourite example of the chocolate bar. You can do great marketing to entice people to give the new chocolate bar a try, but unless the customer likes what they get, then the chocolate bar will never be bought again – flash and fizzle, sturm und drang, cutting edge social media marketing be damned.

Ipso facto, marketing fail.

You need to make sure, therefore, the ‘employee product’ that constitutes you and the quality of your work is one which makes people want to hire you again and again.

The other upside of this is that by delivering a quality employee product, your word of mouth-driven reputation is going to help you become a product in demand, both in your current role and for potential future roles.

Which takes me to important secondary target audiences for your career progression, that of leaders and emerging leaders within your business who you collaborate with will develop perceptions of the quality of your work.

Their judgements will have a ripple effect on your reputation, both inside and outside of the business. They will also influence your boss’s opinion of you (3rd party credibility).

You can be stone cold guaranteed that some of those you work with who are at lower levels in organisational hierarchy and organisational influence will not remain so, whether it is with your current organisation or at others. They are therefore important long-term stakeholders for you in your career progression.

Your own IP as frameworks

I haven’t encountered this thinking articulated before (though I’m not so vain as to believe it hasn’t occurred!), but you’ll find some bosses and potential employers think highly of you talking about frameworks and/or methodologies you have developed and applied.

Frameworks, models or matrices (and their underpinning methodologies) can be applied to a range of communication situations. It might be a framework you apply to the following situations:

  • Consulting with stakeholders
  • Identifying stakeholder needs, wants and issues which will impact on organisational reputation
  • Determining the sorts of corporate social responsibility tactics that will best serve and organisation and its stakeholders
  • Blending methodologies from different professional disciplines and/or management approaches into a unique approach which reflects your own personal view
  • Issues and/or crisis management.

Frameworks or matrices have a sexy branding vibe associated with them. They sound sharp and are enhanced by their visual dimension (the power of visuals has an impact on personal employee branding, too!).

There are a plethora of frameworks out there. And many are taken by professionals from one role to the next, with some no doubt claiming them as their own when their own stamp on the framework is possibly quite small. If they work, however, then arguably that is the main point.

Having the frameworks and being able to talk about them provides evidence of your thoughtfulness, though there is always a risk of being perceived as being a boffin rather than a pragmatic ‘doer’. Examples of the frameworks in action, therefore, will help stymie this potential perception.

PR roles where personal branding helps

If you are running your own business or are a consultant, always on the hunt for new business, then personal branding takes on serious importance. This is because your potential client will be seeking security that what you can offer is pure quality. The profile (positive, of course) and endorsements that exist of your work all offer social proof of your credentials (i.e. 3rd party credibility).

For those working in-house, the business we are promoting is ourselves and our career. A place where actions speak louder than cute sturm und drang personal brand marketing efforts.

Only you can make the best call on what constitutes the appropriate approach, pillars of content (e.g. thought leadership) and effort to expend in building a rewarding long term career as an in-house employee.

How much effort, as an in-house employee, have you expended on building your personal employee brand? Is it on the to-do list? What are you prioritising, or would you like to prioritise, in efforts to build your brand to help with future employment opportunities?

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Leadership creating desire in change management

Effective (i.e. engaging, relevant, compelling) communication is imperative if change management is to occur successfully, with leaders at all levels crucial in ensuring this occurs. Importantly, communication is inextricably entwined in the desire stage of change, as defined by the leading change management ADKAR model*.

Change management communication

Supporting this assertion is research undertaken by a leading change management model which determined the greatest contributor to change success is active and visible executive sponsorship. Inherent within ‘sponsorship’ is communicating with those leading the change, as well as those being directly impacted on by the change itself.

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It is executives who are sought after by employees for big picture, context setting communication, while for information directly relevant to their specific roles it is the employee’s supervisor who is relied upon and has credibility in their eyes.

Five key change management steps

*In full, the five change management (ADKAR) components/steps as Prosci sees it are as follows:

  • Awareness – making those who going to experience the change aware of what will be occurring, why, and how it is relevant to them (WIIFM*)
  • Desire – galvanising change targets to welcome, want and embrace the change
  • Knowledge – giving those experiencing change the information which enables them to enact the change
  • Ability – similar to knowledge, this gives those enacting the change the capability to put it into practice
  • Reinforcement – reiterating the rationale for change, celebrating successes, addressing weaknesses before they become a disease which cripples the embedding of change.

Creating desire through change management

Communication is generally relied on as playing leading roles in the awareness and – often –  reinforcement stages of change. But there are two important caveats that come with this.

Firstly, as it is necessary for leaders to build desire within impacted employees for change, the importance of what is classically termed ‘communication’ during this phase cannot be underestimated. This includes the notion of ‘engagement’, which inherently means conversations, listening and empathising. These are fundamental characteristics of two-way symmetrical communication.

As the change ‘product’ will have already been determined by this stage, typical two-way symmetrical communication tools such as market research are likely to be of little benefit at this point, as the product will not change (sic) greatly. There are relatively minor factors such as speed of roll-out, however, which could feasibly evolve based on employee feedback.

As with any communication, if the ‘product’ can be adapted at all based on target audience needs and wants, the higher the propensity for buy-in (and its extension, advocacy).

How many change programs have the in-built capacity for modification after roll-out is instigated, however, is the moot point (and one which I’d love to hear from if any readers have information on this).

Research has also determined – surprise, surprise – the most effective form of communication in change management is face-to-face, while the most important messages contain information on the impact of change on the individual and why change is occurring.

This is all seemingly straightforward – and research tells us many who have led change would, next time around in change, have more communication, a more comprehensive communication strategy and communicate earlier – but what do you do when an area of the business is being impacted on by multiple change initiatives?

In this case, impacted leaders (those on the ‘ground’ in particular) and employees are at serious risk of change fatigue. Humans aren’t all that great at change anyway, so having multiple pressures from different sides regarding change is, clearly, going to make the embedding of change even more difficult.

The challenge for leadership in change management communication

Change management crystallises a major problem any organisation faces, that of when managers are barely competent at managing, let alone leading.

Leading requires empathy, walking the talk and interpersonal skills that are difficult to teach and often seem to come secondary to technical expertise and experience. So often we see managers appointed because of how excellent they are at their chosen professional field.

At this stage in organisational development, after the massive amount of experience we have in this field, I should think it is the people leadership dimension which is prioritised over the technical expertise dimension when it comes to appointing ‘bosses’.

Clearly, the manager of a particular business group needs to have an understanding of the work that group undertakes, but that group will never reach its potential if it is not managed effectively and, most importantly, provided with strong, purposeful leadership.

This is the sort of leadership that supports and inspires. It is leadership that concurs with organisational vision but adapts to the needs and wants of individual employees.

Within change management, the pressures on managers escalates. And the chief trait which is needed is contained in the word, sentiment, burden and opportunity of leadership. This is the trait which is most likely to facilitate the generation of desire (for change) within impacted employees.

Without it, change is a mechanical thing, one more akin to an alienating burden, rather than a relevant process leading to a personally meaningful outcome and commercially advantageous outcome.

Have you been involved in change programs that have had the in-built capacity for modification embedded into them? How have you seen leaders impact on the quality of a change outcome?

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