As originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com
“The future of work,” it’s the latest buzz phrase. Five years ago, that meant telecommuting, going paperless, shared workspaces and in-house coffee bars. Today, that topic means considering artificial intelligence, tenuous job security, contingent labor, robotics, job migration, talent underutilization, independent contractors on digital-only platforms (ever heard of Upwork?) and even workplace monitoring (Can your boss really ask you to wear a tracking device?). Compounding the situation of this shifting workplace are the multiple generations now trying to co-exist in it, each focused on staying relevant and competitive in their own way.
Consider a prediction from Cathy Benko, vice chairman of Deloitte and co-author of the book, The Corporate Lattice. Forget the “corporate ladder” — more and more ambitious and talented employees will be moving sideways rather than up, tapping into new networks.
This new “lattice model” will allow free-flowing ideas and career paths. According to Benko, the lattice model provides more opportunity and more possibilities to be successful because you’re not looking in only one direction — up.
How do you become — and stay — more competitive in this rapidly changing landscape, whether you’re on a traditional corporate ladder, or in a corporate lattice model — or somewhere between the two? You develop a strong personal brand.
To fully understand and embrace the power of personal branding, the first question you should ask yourself is: Who cares? That’s not meant to be flip. Rather, to urge you to think about why — and how — your personal brand will attract people to you, and why it will lead you to find opportunities that align with your brand.
What a personal brand is — and isn’t.
Any brand — corporate or personal — is what you put forth as an expectation of the experience people will have with you. A personal brand gives you the ability to stand out from the competition in a way you design.
Everyone has a brand — by design or by default. If you go through life and your career and you’re not mindful of the way you’re perceived — if you’re not consciously designing it — then the marketplace may do it for you.
A brand is proactive. It is a way to be intentional about how you’re perceived and what you offer others. Branding also gives you the ability to articulate your values. Presenting yourself in a way that is consistent with those values provides credibility. A brand strategy gives you the ability to anchor your message, your behavior, and your online presence.
Its goal is to influence, inspire, and impact others. And, very importantly for today’s competitive world, a strong brand gives you the ability to identify your target audience and align with what that audience needs and wants.
Personal branding, is about “being a signal in the noise of human capital,” according to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University.
He wrote in a 2013 article for the Harvard Business Review that “the stronger your brand, the stronger that signal. In today’s world, self-branding matters more than any other form of talent, not least because the mass market is unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between branding and talent.” Those are sobering words for all of us.
Most of us go through our careers with the intention of doing good work, adding value to an organization and contributing to a team effort by using our skills and inherent talent. All of that is well and good, but we may find ourselves missing out on opportunities because we haven’t been intentional about aligning with decision makers in our field, and presenting ourselves as someone they’d want to align with.
More importantly, we can no longer count on our talent alone to provide the all-important competitive edge. The assumption that talent alone will trump anything else is what I often refer to as the “passivity syndrome.” It could be fatal in tomorrow’s workplace, where certain “talents” may be considered commodities, and certain jobs will be viewed as easily filled by automation.
What we can learn from the millennial generation.
Multi-generational, multi-cultural, hyper-connected, 24/7. This is the workplace millennials have come into, and we can learn some good lessons from how they’re fitting in. Millennials are not only adapting to a changed work environment, they’re changing it themselves in real time. At the risk of generalizing too much, we can say that millennials are incredibly connected across global platforms and they understand the power of these connections and affiliations.
Millennials also understand the need for personal branding, as many of them are either independent contractors who need a distinctive brand — 38 percent of millennials are freelancing, according to a survey by Freelancers Union — or they look to change jobs regularly in pursuit of their idea of a steadily advancing career.
Millennials have generally led the way in the use of social media to create a brand and stay relevant, but anybody can, and should, do the same. In a recent study, sales professionals who used social media outperformed those who weren’t. These successful people adopted new skills on their own initiative — no formal training from their organizations, no prompting from their managers. They simply adapted.
Moral of the story: No matter what you do for a living, or where and how you work, you have to keep pushing to stay relevant in your field. A strong personal brand that clearly communicates your value gives you more control over your career in a work environment that can often make career control feel tenuous.
What’s in it for companies?
When people think about personal branding, they often ask that very question. I recently worked with a national firm who asked me to present to their employees, many of them millennials, on the topic of personal branding. They wanted their employees to understand all of the touch points that can affect how others see them. This company’s clients and potential clients are making multi-million-dollar decisions about potentially giving work to the company, so if a young engineer goes to a meeting and doesn’t represent himself or herself very well, they also aren’t representing the company well.
Whether it’s a junior lawyer, a sales executive, or a troubleshooting engineer, companies certainly want employees to feel empowered, to “own” their sense of self and personal brand. They also want them to understand the expectations the company has for them in upholding a corporate brand image. The combination of the two can be powerful.
Research supports the premise that the power of an individual employee’s personal brand online can benefit the company: Brand messages are re-shared 24 times more frequently when posted by an employee versus the brand’s social media channels. Employees have 10 times more followers than their company’s social media accounts, and content shared by employees receives eight times more engagement than content shared by the corporate brand channel.
Supporting employees’ personal branding can be a win-win — it helps create a company of knowns by building a powerful narrative about the company and its people.
A wise “someone” once said, “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself.” The same could be said for your personal branding effort: Work at it until your brand precedes you. Work at your brand until you no longer ask yourself if you’re staying competitive in a rapidly evolving work culture.
Most importantly, work at it so that you aren’t leaving to chance whether others see you as valuable, credible, and relevant. The expectation of the experience people will have with you — the essence of a brand — is totally in your hands.