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  • Writer's pictureKarthik Lakshminarayanan

Building Your Work Identity Or Personal Brand

What is your identity at work?

Sometimes called Personal Branding, it is really about who do you want to be at work and what do you want to be known for by your colleagues. It is not about spin or shameless self promotion. You should be strategic about getting the word out in a thoughtful way that adds value for you. Not being clear about your identity or brand at work can impact your opportunities. For example, important assignments that you would be a great fit for, gets assigned to someone else rather than you, because your brand is incorrect or unclear. On the flip side, when everyone is aware of your brand at work, you already have the credibility, which in turn helps maximize your potential and your rewards.

People are too focused on their own goals and may not be aware of everything you have to offer. To raise awareness of the value to your organization, and build upon the kind of person you want to be at work, you need a systematic approach, outlined below.

First, self identify what you are good at, and love doing.

This is a self assessment, where you authentically identify what you are good at and love doing, across two dimensions:

  1. Behavioral - for example, you are helpful, you collaborate well with people or you are aggressive etc.

  2. Role specific skills - you are strategic, an inspirational communicator, or you have strong customer empathy etc.

Find what the organization needs or values the most.

Now identify what your organization needs and values based on business outcomes the team wants to hit or the kind of culture they want to develop. You can make an assessment of what’s important based on information you already have (e.g. organizational all hands or understanding your manager’s definition of success).

Then collect peer feedback from coworkers or stakeholders that work with you. Ask them to share how they see you showing up at work.

Whether you like it or not, if you have been at your job for a little bit, there is already a brand associated with you. Now go find it. Ask for feedback from people you frequently collaborate with as well as key stakeholders like your manager. To motivate people to take the time to give you feedback, make it relatively painless for them. Throw out the lengthy surveys and detailed questions, instead use the 2+1 framework to collect feedback, which works as follows:

You ask each stakeholder to provide feedback by sending you 3 words to describe you.

  • Two words that they would use to describe you, based on how they see you at work. This ends up being the two strengths as they perceive you.

  • One word that they wish they can use to describe you, but cannot do so yet. This is the one area of growth or gap that your stakeholders see you in, and would most like to see you change.

People don’t mind sending you three words back, so the beauty of this is that it gets a near 100% response rate.

Once you have the feedback, identify the key patterns or attributes being used to describe you. Now overlay what you self identified with what you heard back. If you believe perception is reality, this is your real brand at work.

Take a hard look and if you feel some of your strengths are not reflected in the feedback, there is work to be done to create that association in the minds of your coworkers and managers.

You need to expunge any negative branding around you. The only practical way to do this, without spin, is two fold:

  • An honest analysis of the feedback with the willingness to change. Get better at what your coworkers want you to change. For example, if you cut people off. Or maybe you make personal attacks, where you criticize people instead of providing feedback on a specific proposal. The goal is to mute the negative effects of this brand. You can’t fully purge it but it can become background noise with a sincere desire to change.

  • Focus on the positive brand you bring and growing your association with this brand. Simply put, this association grows by consistently acting in the spirit of the brand you desire. What skills do you have that no one else has or not at the same level of mastery? Showcase your new skills and grow association with it

If you have a negative brand to overcome, your focus is better rewarded by building your new brand and letting the new brand overshadow the old brand. Old brand never disappears but becomes less of an association and fades over time.

Now pick the sweet spot

The intersection between what the organization and team needs, and what you excel at or love doing, as validated by peer feedback is the brand identity you want to pursue. If you are an individual with multi potentiality, this is a good way to pick what you want to be.

For example, a product manager I coach is renowned for his customer obsession and focus. He knows exactly what customers want. He uses his strengths combining customer empathy with his excellent sense of humor to get out of tricky customer situations. As a result, he often gets invited by senior execs to join them on customer visits, which gives him a great opportunity to not only showcase his skills but also spend more time with execs and learn about their goals and needs directly.

Reinforce your desired identity

Once you know what your desired identity should be at work, you have to invest in dedicated activities that further your brand and strengthen this brand association in the minds of coworkers. Your brand is not built overnight, you have to work at it. Say yes to relevant opportunities. This product manager that I mentioned never hesitates to help out with customers. They have a personal goal to meet at least 5 customers every week. He hosts customer panels. And every Friday they send an update to the broader team about customers that have at least one interesting quote, insight or feedback. In meetings, they are able to use their rich customer knowledge to frame questions or provide anecdotes when making a point.

On the other hand, if you have been associated with a brand whose association you are looking to dilute, then start declining those opportunities or delegating those tasks actively. Focus your activities away from perceptions you are looking to change.

Stay Relevant. Reinvent.

Your brand identity is not constant. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

The needs of your organization change. You change jobs. As you progress in life, you change who you are as a person. Be ready to reinvent your identity at work multiple times in your career. You become multi dimensional, strengthen new muscles and create more variety in your life!

If you liked reading this, consider signing up for career coaching. Schedule a complimentary consultation with me to discuss how I can help you accelerate your career.

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