I’ve been talking with a friend about his professional branding efforts. He described his frustration with his current company, which seemed disorganized and uncertain of where they wanted him to go or what they wanted him to do.
He wanted to continue building his brand as an expert in his field, which he had started while still in law enforcement. Trouble was, the company he now worked for didn’t want him to do that—despite his considerable reputation. What if he left? they thought. He’d take it all with him.
Well guess what? The company’s lack of foresight pushed him further and further out the door as it focused on sales rather than trust. When a competitor who believes in harnessing that reputation scoops him up, that company will come out ahead.
An asset, not a threat
Organizations often view individuals’ “brands,” or the qualities that make them personally and professionally outstanding, as a threat. This is understandable in industries like digital forensics, where software code and other proprietary information is closely guarded. A nondisclosure clause in a contract can only be enforced after the damage is done.
But many organizations view professional brands as a threat to the organizational structure itself. For instance, a law enforcement agency, as a paramilitary organization, traditionally requires its officers to put aside their own identities for the sake of becoming part of a unified whole. Hence the uniform, the emphasis on standards and protocols, the information stream that comes from just one source. The officer who does his or her own thing detracts from the agency’s unified image and mission.
Connecting all individuals
This is true of all employers, to some extent. And some individuals are fine with being absorbed into a larger whole. Others, however, aren’t. Truly successful organizations recognize that there’s a place for both kinds of employees, and create an environment where they can both thrive.
Allowing those with their own ambitions and visions to have a chance to pursue them is all the more important as social media grows in popularity, not just among people who want to stay in touch with far-flung family and friends, but also among professionals who want to network with one another.
That’s because jobs nowadays are all about information rather than assembly-line process; they’re increasingly complex, especially in fields like digital forensics. The more information professionals can share with each other, the better for the industry as a whole.
What about those information leaks?
Actually, it’s already happening. Competitors in the digital forensics space are always acquiring, then reverse engineering, each other’s software. And it’s not always because of employees jumping ship. Sometimes it’s friends of friends who share the software.
And when the wrong kind of information is posted to social networking sites, it’s not always a failure of employees. Sure, there’s the code of conduct. But many people don’t understand social media’s ripple effect, the fact that what they say is viewable by a much wider audience than ever before. That’s a failure of the organization to help them understand—to provide adequate training on goal-setting and use for the various sites.
Team-building via individual-building
So rather than tamp down on employees and their intellectual assets, organizations may want to follow Arik Hanson’s advice: “But, talent’s going to come and go anyway. Why not take the best advantage of that talent while it’s in-house by encouraging and rewarding personal branding activities?”
Not only does a personal blog draw on the blogger’s own network rather than the organization’s, Hanson continues, but it also allows for connections to be made on a much more personal level. This is the difference between an official interview between detective and witness, and the story of trauma told over coffee to a caring acquaintance.
Furthermore, writes Jason Lauritsen, social media renders organizations no longer fully in control of their own brands: “Employer brand management has become a dynamic, full-contact sport that has broad implications for organizations. Embracing that the brand belongs to the people raises some sticky questions for human resources teams.”
Ultimately, the company or agency that trusts its employees to be responsible is the one that will experience less trouble from data breaches or code of conduct violations. It certainly has the right and the responsibility to set goals and expectations for employees, but even this is easier—and cheaper—than dealing with employee attrition and hiring, rules violations, and so forth.
It also strengthens the organization as a whole. Think about professional sports. Teams know they would be nothing without their individual players—the superstars as well as the less talented but still necessary positions. And when you’re a fan, it’s easier to get behind a team when you feel you know (and can respect) the players.
If you’re an employee, how can you convince your employer to take advantage of your professional brand?
If you’re an employer, what can you do to promote employees as individual parts of your team?
Image: Photomish Dan via Flickr