Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If You’re Building Your Brand, You Can’t Escape Your Capabilities

“She said that she remembered me from my last job. I remembered her but did not think she even knew who I was since she was very senior to me.”

As I listened to this conversation the other day, it just confirmed what I always tell everyone. It’s this: someone is always watching your work. By watching, they are creating a vision for you and the brand of you — how you work, what you deliver, your attitude, and the list go on.

Regardless of how you feel about your work, even if you know you are no longer going to be there, always do top-notch work.

We all grow in different directions

As our career expands, you notice that people you worked with over the years have expanded their roles into other companies like tentacles.

Your cube mate today could someday become VP at another firm. Your prior manager could now be heading up a great project at another strong brand. The goofy guy down the hall could be heading a startup.

You just never know where everyone will end up. There is no longevity in jobs anymore, and everyone is basically temporary and will be moving on.

What that means in managing your career is that instead of the constant focus on meeting new people, refocus for a period on people that have come through the turnstile of your professional career and life.

Remember that boss you had a few years ago? When was the last time you had coffee or chatted? Your old cube mate that was your laughing partner who made the day go by faster?  When was the last time you talked?

Networking and Social media: the perfect match

Linkedin is the perfect platform for reconnecting. My advice has always been if that if you ever see or hear of an opportunity anywhere, the first step is checking out the company on LinkedIn.

How many first and second level connections do you have there? You hit the jackpot if you find an old colleague that is there. However, you can’t all of a sudden reach out if you have not heard from that person in years.
Part of your networking strategy should be built on maintaining contact with the past. Facebook also plays into this strategy. Does your company have an alumni group? If not, why not start one? This is a great way to interact with fellow cast members with a kind of hands off approach.

Over the years, we have built a Martha Stewart alumni group (it’s private). We post jobs, we offer support, and we take care of our own. Because of the business vertical of that business, alumni are scattered over fashion, marketing, publishing and new media.

Your past companies are probably set up along the same platforms. If not, there is nothing stopping you from doing it yourself and starting your own groups.

Old contacts vs. new contacts

While it is great to connect with new people, it takes time to build connections and relationships where they really know you. You are constantly credentialing yourself to get in the “club,” but does it really matter over time? That is, does it matter compared to someone who you have toiled in the trenches with?

That’s why it is so important to always be aware of the brand of “you.” The same way that people notice that you are a smart, sharp thinker, willing to go the extra mile to get it done, the opposite is also true. If you are the constant complainer that is never satisfied, that image travels like smoke across departments.

I have worked with co-workers that reach out for that type of favor to connect them with someone in my network, but if I do not feel comfortable putting my approval on them, I politely refuse. Would you stand up for someone, who from all indications, was never a great worker? When you worked with them, they came across as an average worker, and on top of that, could have been a constant complainer.

A lesson learned the hard way

I went against my rule a few years back with a family friend, who had a professional trade. He had done work for my family over the years and was a good guy. Yes, he was also a little opinionated, but I felt he could transition in this corporate opportunity.

Well, he got the role and within nine (9) months he was let go. He had difficulty, came across as the smartest guy in the room, and let everybody know it.

When I called my internal contact, I apologized because he took a chance on this guy based on my recommendation. His take: I know that you know talent and I would never hold that one against you. You did this because he was a friend and not a colleague. Sometimes it works — and sometimes it does not.

Your internal brand counts

You may not be long for the position you are currently in, however you can increase your brand strength by being known as the “go to” worker. The strength of your capabilities should precede you. If one of your counterparts were asked about your abilities, how do you think you would score?

However, you must never get so smug as to say you could care less. That would hold true if you had no plans to stay in your current industry, but the world is small and you never know where you will end up.

I had a conversation the other day with a CEO based in India, and it was amazing how many people we both knew. He even remarked that he had followed my writings on this blog over the years.

So there is no way of escaping you and your capabilities. They will follow you until the end of time.

Just make sure they measure up to who you really are. Remember, everyone is watching.

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