Disney or DMV: Our colleagues view us as a brand

Like it or not, our colleagues view their daily interactions with us similar to a corporate brand.  Here are five intentional behaviors I use to actively manage my personal brand.

Plan Ahead by Oregon Department of Transportation is licensed under Creative Commons | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Plan Ahead by Oregon Department of Transportation is licensed under Creative Commons | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Several weeks ago I participated in multiple concurrent assignments where none ran smoothly according to my standards. I found myself frustrated with what was shaping up to be my new normal—my days consisting largely of redundant throwaway work and a greatly reduced operating efficiency.

If you’re a planner like me, you’ve likely experienced this frustration before and know how terrible it feels.

I knew something had to change. Why? Because several evenings passed where I found myself reflecting on the interactions I held that day. “How did my attitude come across in that meeting? How was my tone in the next unrelated meeting with an entirely new set of stakeholders? Did that e-mail I fired off come across as passive-aggressive?”

This got me thinking: “If I were a corporate brand, would my colleagues compare interactions with me to that they experienced at Walt Disney World or, in contrast, the local Department of Motor Vehicles?”

Uh oh. I was due to make some course-corrections.

There are times we all get frustrated at work. As a planner, I know one of my biggest pet peeves is addressing the same problem repeatedly. If something isn’t working correctly I like to put a process in place so I don’t have to address it again. But we don’t always have that luxury.

After several evenings of self-reflection and speaking with trusted friends, it finally clicked that protecting my personal brand was first and foremost more important than addressing resulting redundancy and inefficiency. Not to say addressing those items is not important, but the goodwill of my personal brand was starting to suffer and that needed to be addressed immediately.

To help me get back on track, I started to list my behaviors I developed over my career that I believe have contributed to my (hopefully) positive personal brand. I came up with the following:

I view my role as a theatrical performance

The moment my car’s front bumper reaches the office parking lot I consider myself “on stage” in contrast to the moment I leave the parking lot in the evening. Hallway interactions are important, even if I don’t know an individual’s name or the role they perform within my company. They are a colleague and a potential future consumer of the services me or my department offer.

Millennial tip: Remove those earphones when walking the hallways at work. Make eye contact with those you pass and offer a smile and perhaps a greeting. Years ago a classmate of mine landed himself a job at the New York Yankees with nothing more than a variation of this simple approach!

I try to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar

No matter the quality of my processes and documentation, there will be those individuals who require a more personal touch and significant hand-holding through a process. I still need to perform those duties with a smile rather than pushing people off and telling them to go read my process documentation. Instead, I take them through the process verbally and then summarize with, “Here’s where you can find the documentation that more thoroughly describes what I just took you through.”

I explicitly set the tone rather than be subjected to it

Human interactions and empathy must come before process compliance. No amount of “you must” and “no exceptions” and exclamations and ALL CAPS will make my job easier or less stressful. In fact, leading off with this approach is likely counterproductive by putting the customer on the defensive before a dialog even begins. As difficult as it is sometimes, I always take the “How can I help?” approach. Many businesses haven’t yet grasped this simple concept.

No multi-tasking during meetings

It’s tempting to multi-task during telephone meetings. I found my overall productivity improved and my re-work decreased by focusing on the meeting at hand. At times I even flipped up my laptop screen and turned on my video camera to help prevent me from multi-tasking by knowing my engagement level was being projected to others.

Rarely assert authority over others

I rarely attempt to assert authority—it will work some of the time at first, but generally I discovered it will backfire in a big way later. I attempt to earn authority naturally.

After a week of revisiting these behaviors and internally emphasizing them to myself at work, my weeks were again ending less stressful. A few times I did have to politely state: “I agree with you that x is inefficient and has room for improvement. This is the current reality as it stands and currently this is the confines within which I must work.” While I don’t know if this approach offered any consolation to my peers, it has made my evenings at home more enjoyable again.

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