My father owns his own independent business and last weekend was his industry’s regional conference. While much of the conference was full of educational and networking opportunities, a big part of it was also a competition among businesses for the best product.
Getting an award is a big deal, and when you go to his business, you see the plaques prominently displayed. He can get good press coverage from the awards and also a big boost from customers who see that he is the best in the region. It reflects well on his product and brand to be recognized by others for quality workmanship.
While the branding he has done makes sense for an independent business owner, it is less clear how having employees with strong personal brands creates significant value for the employer.
The argument for personal brand
What really got me thinking about this though was a post on the Forbes blog by Glenn Llopis with the headline “Why America’s Corporations Will Lose Control of Their Employees.” In it, he says:
In today’s ‘new normal’ workplace, reinvention of an organization has less to do with the organization’s brand, and more do to with its people. If an organization allows its employees to have a greater freedom of expression, they will be able to be more entrepreneurial and to contribute more. In order words, organizations must unleash control and allow their employee’s personal brands to flourish in meaningful and purposeful ways. If not, innovation will be short-lived and organizations will become more vulnerable to competitive threats in today’s short-term, rapid-paced, talent-dependent, fast changing, virtual, trust-demanding world of work.
For the individual, there must be alignment between who you are (your true personal brand) and the opportunities you pursue. If there is not, you will overlook opportunities you must not miss, and instead seize opportunities of less significance.
Likewise, companies who are concerned about employee personal branding would be best suited to hiring people with strong personal brands and developing current employees with personal branding in mind, especially in key areas of the business. Certainly a segment of employees will feel empowered by this but how many (and how much investment is it worth) is really the $64,000 question.
How many employees have interest in a personal brand?
Knowing many people I interact with online are highly concerned about their own personal brand, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like everyone is on board with the concept. But we shouldn’t be surprised if many people aren’t familiar with it since it is relatively new. In fact, the concept was really just coined in the late 1990’s by management guru Tom Peters. But while the concept has gained attention, it’s hard to quantify the impact of personal branding.
Simply attracting great talent is not enough anymore. And while that may sound like an endorsement for personal branding, it can be the exact opposite. A strong corporate and personal brand that aren’t aligned well isn’t going to end well. Investing in highly talented but very brand oriented employees often means not only the expense of labor but the expense of flexibility.
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While advocates of personal branding see it as a way to get a leg up on competition and gain control of their careers, managers (especially in traditional work environments) don’t necessarily appreciate the sole focus of only being interested in advancing their own brand. That can not only lead to conflict between an individual and a manager, but is also a deterrent to other employees thinking about being more brand focused, too.
A caution and a consideration
As I mentioned earlier, finding a fit between company, job, and employee is the best way to fix any issues. If you have the right company, position, and employee in place, the personal branding issue isn’t going to be a big deal. If an employee is interested in it and wants to learn more, an employer should be more than happy to do that.
It’s also safe to say that the concept may be lost on some or disregarded by others. Individually, I think that is fine but as an organization, we can choose to be flexible from people with zero interest to those very interested in personal brand.
We are people, not brands. We are capable of change, thought and inspiration that go far beyond what a simplistic branding message can deliver.
While I know others have had opportunities open for them because of their great reputation, we should assume (and hope) that what we see in a personal brand is just the beginning of their potential, not the end. And if you take the personal branding craze with that big grain of salt, you’ll probably be just fine.