Personal employee branding fallacy; just do the job, stupid

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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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By |February 5th, 2015|Careers in public relations|1 Comment

Leadership creating desire in change management

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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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Communication fail in change management

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One of the most powerful attributes of professional communication is redundant in change management communication. As such, the strategic power of this (internal) form of public relations is profoundly underutilised when it comes to the challenging change management process.

Change management communication

Two-way symmetrical communication is the professional communication (aka public relations) attribute to which I refer. It is an approach which identifies and/or anticipates, then provides, feedback from the target audience to the service, product or issue (in this case, the product/issue is change) decision makers.

This feedback prompts the decision makers (in this case the organisation’s executive and their advisors) to modify the product so it is more likely to be bought (or bought into) by the target audience.

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This process, clearly, is likely to entail compromise from those wanting the sell the product, but it will also enable a higher degree of buy-in and, hence, success in embedding the change so it becomes business as usual.

By the time the change product has been given to the professional communicator, there is generally little chance of it being adjusted based on target audience feedback. So the role of the professional communicator becomes one of a spruiker and issues management consultant:

  • On one hand the positive attributes of the change, the WIIFM* factor and the benefits to the organisation are sold
  • On the other, potential barriers to change and weaknesses in the change product (as determined by those the change will impact on) are identified and communication approaches are put into place to mitigate their negative impact on the change and, more broadly, on organisational culture itself.

Strategic thinking in change management

In saying the professional power of professional communication is being radically under-utilised in change, however, there are two factors to bear in mind:

  • Before the change product is handed to the communicator to work his or her magic on, it has been thoroughly scoped out by the business
  • The issues management dimension of the change, the nature of the communication itself and the way in which it is integrated into the entire change process (e.g. awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement – or ADKAR) makes the contribution of communication – if it chooses to exercise the opportunity, of course – immensely strategic.

No organisation is simply going to implement change without investing a great deal of thought into the process. It is being implemented for the long-term benefit of the organisation.

One of the key factors business analysts/management consultants/organisational leadership will consider is how will the change become embedded into the business? And part of that is addressing the questions of how will those the change is impacting upon receive the change and how will the business evolve due to this change?

One can only hope this is the case, anyway.

So there is an argument that professional communicators shouldn’t get too uppity about being simply handed the change product; the two-way symmetrical communication dimension may have already been embedded into the change product development process.

Challenging orthodoxies to improve outcomes

One of the most useful characteristics of the strategic professional communicator, however, is their ability to challenge presumed thinking (groupthink) and, metaphorically speaking, call out the emperor’s new clothes. This is not done out of ego and wilful negativity, it is undertaken to add rigour to the business and communication process.

No discipline has the capability to understand target audiences and predict their reaction to the promulgation of a product or service, especially if it is an issues-laden one, better then a public relations professional. An organisation which chooses to ignore and/or underutilise this capability is doing itself no favours at all and, in fact, is not taking the soundest possible approach to risk management.

Do you think the professional power of public relations is effectively utilised in the change management process? Where and how can public relations be best utilised in change? Is two-way symmetrical communication irrelevant to change management? Do you have faith the best possible change ‘product’ will always be handed to the change team (including communication) before it is asked to embed the change into business as usual?

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* WIIFM – what’s in it for me