Updated: Mar 6
Cuban-American entrepreneur and author Glenn Llopis wrote a 2013 article for Forbes.com that still continues to inspire my exploration of personal brand development as a specialisation. In that article he notes that,
“The workplace of the future will be less about silos and more about boundaryless environments. As such, the importance of your job title will diminish and your personal brand will become the ultimate identifier of what you are able to deliver and how you can contribute to the growth of the organization…”
Two trends with LinkedIn profiles
Over the years as I use LinkedIn I’ve noticed a trend. Many employees have chosen to update their profile by replacing their job title with a description that's more about the value they offer to any organisation (even if it's an organisation they plan to create).
So, for example the Marketing Manager of Company X may be replaced with something like “Marketing leader with expertise in digital engagement”. My theory is that the individuals making these changes recognise that,
Their time with a specific organisation and in a specific role is limited
Re-orienting how they describe their value could attract bigger and or more aligned job offers on a platform that promises to connect users with opportunity
Ultimately, they’re starting to intentionally craft a personal brand identity that makes them “boundaryless”; a professional of worth within and outside of their current role and organisation
The second trend I notice is that many professionals include multiple roles or titles - for example Speaker, Author, Digital Marketing Specialist. There’s an attempt to communicate their “whole selves” and diverse abilities in a world where it doesn’t seem feasible to be “just one thing” anymore.
The employee fulfilment deficit
Llopis' article was around leadership strategy. But in today’s environment employees, with or without leadership titles are now seeking ways to define and leverage their personal brands for mobility across career pursuits. The idea of a single role, in a single organisation and a single career or a single career trajectory is virtually obsolete.
Added to that, when your role as an employee takes up a larger and larger percentage of your waking hours each day but satisfies only a small percentage of your personal human needs, a huge fulfilment deficit results. The job becomes less meaningful and neither more money nor grander titles will fix that.
I know that after several years in corporate positions I began to feel that the ME I knew was stifled beneath the job title and the responsibility to the organisation. If only the two could coexist in harmony; if only I could express other sides of myself without feeling that it would be frowned on by my employer.
Closing the deficit with a personal brand
Closing the fulfilment deficit by expressing what truly gives meaning to the human behind an employee title is one of the strengths of personal brand building. The employee steps out of the organisational bounds to share a fuller picture of him/herself with a broader or different audience, often via digital channels, volunteer work, side hustles or other spaces that feel more personal.
If he/she is also a writer, a poet, a musician, a blogger, a new parent, a side hustler, a fitness enthusiast or several of these, they want to express that not stifle it. They somehow want to find a way to make all aspects of themselves relevant in the work that they do but most workplaces don’t have a framework for that or just don’t encourage it. Carving out a personal brand space becomes essential; a space where that employee has ownership of the strategy, the execution, the content; a space with greater fulfilment and a greater sense of ownership.
It’s why employees may often be wary to embrace employee advocacy programmes where they’re encouraged to use their social media and other channels to promote their organisations’ initiatives. Sometimes they really just want to use their personal channels to share personal experiences, thoughts and opinions and don’t want their employer to infringe on that space too. But also, they struggle with a way to make the two congruent.
Can employee brand and personal brand converge?
My own definition of a personal brand is “the set of ideas and ideals associated with a person that can generate enrichment or commercial value to that person”.
This means that the act of personal brand building involves sharing those ideas and ideals focusing on key audiences likely to produce a specific outcome. But it begins with acceptance of self and a space where that full self is the greatest asset.
Is there a way that employers could embrace and even encourage employees to show up as their whole selves and acknowledge the employee role is but a part of that whole self? I’m still mulling this over and probably so are many employers and employees.
This is where a clash may come. Values have to align, and when an employee agrees to work for an employer he/she agrees to uphold those values inside the workplace and when working on behalf of the employer. The lines however become blurred when that employee is on his/her personal time.
Sometimes the best solution is to sever the relationship. But I think the COVID-induced emphasis of this tension between a worker’s employee brand and his/her personal brand should make it more evident that a solution has to be found. Getting to“boundaryless” may be an uphill battle for many organisations.