Actually you are a brand. Others’ evaluation of our performance and potential is a blend of performance, image and exposure. Our level of performance will always matter but it’s naïve to ignore the other two. This is even more relevant as we move to working in a much more virtual world, where people are much less likely to physically see us and the work we’re doing.
In terms of image: think about your favorite corporate brands. They are successful because they are consistent in the messages and image they project – and these messages connect with your values in some way. As individuals working in a digital, connected world we also need to be aware of our ‘personal brand’ – the image we project and how others perceive us.
Whether we like it or not, people will make assumptions based on the tone of our emails, our voicemail message, our profile pictures and our conduct in virtual meetings. We can influence those assumptions and make sure people are drawing the kind of conclusions we’d like by consciously thinking about what values we want to project and how we can do this consistently. Go and listen to your voicemail and re-read the last five emails you’ve sent. If you had never met this person, what image would you build of them?
In terms of exposure, it can be helpful to create a map of the key stakeholders who are important to our career and make sure we interact with them sufficiently to be visible. This is not about becoming a ‘corporate marketeer’ but is about looking for natural opportunities to make sure people know what we are doing. This is as much to help us get on in life as it is to make sure others with relevant skills can build on our work, and we can build on theirs.
Of course, there’s a balance to strike. The ‘dark side’ of trying to stay visible and connected is that we do it every waking hour, which in fact reduces our focus and productivity, and cannot be maintained in the long run. We need to actively help our teams and ourselves get this balance right. For example, in an interesting twist to the digital evolution, a number of leaders of tech-giants are moving to using ‘dumb phones’ (that only take calls or sometimes texts) for say two days a week to help them disconnect and focus.