You are a brand. What kind of brand are you?
When people look at you, think about you, or work with you, they inadvertently often distil you down to a catch-phrase. You may have heard the following similar phrases in the office:
“Speak to Paul, he’s the numbers guy and can help you”
If you have any trouble, Dianne understands the marketing side best”
“If we’re going to make this client pitch tomorrow, we need Angelica involved. No one can pull it off like her and certainly not in the time we have”
For these catch-phrases to mean something they cannot be once-off references. If Paul is generally the person people go to when it comes to finance problems, if Paul positions himself as a finance specialist, if he is recognised as the finance specialist, then that is what Paul is known for. Whether he likes it or not, Paul’s actions have resulted in his brand choosing him.
Meet Diane in Sales
What you are known for within the office can be flattering or unflattering and intentional or unintentional. For example Diane may think of herself as an upcoming sales star, but the perception around the office is that she tries too hard in sales meetings and flirts with customers.
Diane may think this is all part of making sales, and feels her colleagues understand this. They may very well introduce her as a sales star when she is within earshot, but it’s what’s said when she is not around what counts. And when she is not around she’s known as the one who flirts to land a sale. This is an example of an unflattering image. Again, Diane may be asking herself, “How do I choose my brand?” However, her behaviour and choices resulted in a brand image she may not like.
Meet Preston In Health Care
Preston has been doing the same job of loading data at a hospital for years. Yet there should be no doubt, he is a stellar performer. As a business analyst he was far more interested in the operations side, but due to staff cuts and data problems he was asked to fix this problem. He did a great job, probably too good a job. His superiors kept him in this role and even the CEO, John Hennessey, mentioned his work in the quarterly report to employees. Unfortunately for Preston he is nothing more than a data jockey. It makes him unhappy and despite his efforts to break out of this role, he feels stuck. This is an example of an unintentional image. Its flattering, but not where Preston wants to be. Preston never wanted to be known as a data jockey but circumstances have led to this. Despite Preston’s dreams of moving into another role, he has been boxed into being known as a data jockey.
Is your career choosing you?
If what you currently known for is not what you want to be known for, what should you do?
- Keep a record, over a month, of the work you are asked to do, review and/or advise upon. Make a list of the type of meetings you are invited to and the emails you receive.
- Record the jokes people make about you (“Oh, Ria is not free on week nights. She is the super hero guardian of our data servers”). Lots of truths are conveyed as a joke.
- When you offer co-workers any help, record the type of help they request. They usually jump to the one thing they believe you are best at.
- Track both technical and non-technical things. Do people view you as trustworthy, honest, reliable, respectful etc.
Once you have this information, you can build a portrait of yourself. Take a clean sheet of paper and draw two columns. One is labeled “technical” and the other is labeled “non-technical”. Be sure to use only half of each column. You will need the second half later.
On one side of a page write down all the technical things that were linked to you and on the other write down all the non-technical things. Be brutally honest with yourself.
Look at the list. Is this who you thought you were? How do you feel about this? Are you happy? Do you feel proud?
It is okay and normal to be surprised at your co-workers perception of you. Especially if this is the first time you have done the exercise. All is not lost. This difference in perception is normal and happens in everyone’s career at some point. Usually it happens more than once. Take a deep breath and go make yourself some tea or coffee.
Once you have your coffee or tea, let’s do another exercise. On the same sheet of paper, on the half which is blank, write down the technical and non-technical things for which you want to be known for. Be careful when you do this. Focus on one or two things. Like any good brand you cannot be known for everything or too many things. That is not possible. A classic mistake is to focus on the technical skills only. In business, things like values and honesty are usually very important. Make sure you pay proper attention to these. Once you have this list, save it and come back to it in a day or two. This gives you time to think about the list and ensure it is complete in your mind.
Now compare this list to the list with your colleague’s perceptions. Is there is a big difference? In what way is there a difference? Write these down as well. Now think about your typical work week. How can you do things differently, or do new things to show a change in your behaviour. You cannot tell people you have changed, you need to show them.
When you get into the office, you need to keep the new list at the back of your mind and consciously think about the image you are conveying. If you do things correctly you will notice a change in your colleagues’ behaviour. In fact, you will feel a difference in your own behaviour because you are changing.
In about 3-4 months repeat this exercise and see if there are any changes in your co-workers perceptions. Remember, perceptions take time to change so don’t be disheartened if it takes too long. The important thing is to be conscious of your image and actively manage it.
Over time, co-workers will notice you are a different person. At this point you may want to actively enage your manager about a new role. Show him or her a summary of your analyses and explain why it is ineffective using your skills. Remember, you need to show why both the company and you will benefit from the change in roles.
It is a misconception that this “boxing-in” of what you are know for happens to weaker employees. Even the best performers can be stuck in a career loop. It requires self-awareness to identify this and build a way out. These steps will definitely help you.