A reader writes:
I recently had my mid-year performance review, and my boss’s feedback was glowing until the end. She noted significant improvements since my first performance review a year ago and praised the number of performance benchmarks I’d met (more than anyone else of my organization’s 15 teapot coordinators).
However, at the end, she told me I would never be considered for a team lead or manager position until I changed my personal brand from “consistently delivers high quality work on any project given” to something more specific, like being the go-to person for teapot spout questions. Aside from my own dislike of personal branding, I don’t understand why that’s not a great brand. She told me she spoke with a teapot director who agreed on this feedback.
How do I go about creating a brand if my work culture requires it? And how do I promote the brand I’ve chosen without feeling slimy when I’m an introvert who hates schmoozing? I can think of a few areas where I’m the go-to person that I could potentially turn into my brand, but I don’t know how to do so. I’ve tried discussing this with a few coworkers, but none of them have intentional brands.
Or is this just a sign that I just don’t fit the office culture and should start job hunting? She also told me I needed to focus on befriending a manager or director (with most of whom I already have friendly, collegial relationships), which makes it feel like she’s saying my personality is a poor fit to be successful here.
I hate, hate, hate the whole idea of “personal branding.” I think it’s cheesy and misapplied, and generally overlooks that “reputation” works just fine, if not better. (Except, of course, building a strong reputation takes much harder work over a longer period of time than what people generally recommend for “personal branding.” In fact, a commenter here once called personal branding “marketing the reputation you wish you had,” which I think is perfect.)
That said, as much as I would welcome the opportunity to slam personal branding, is it possible that what your manager is saying to you is less about branding and more about the idea that in order to move up in your company, you need to be known for something more specific than just doing solid work across the board?
I might be reading too much into the example she gave you, but it sounds to me like she’s saying that you need to get more specific — that you need to have a specialty and build your reputation around something more narrowly defined than just “generally awesome.”
I happen to like “generally awesome,” but your company may have reasons for wanting more narrow specialties.
I’d try thinking of it like that and take the branding lingo out of it altogether, and I think you’ll feel more comfortable with it.
If I’m wrong and your company really is all about cheesy branding and flash, then yes, it could be that it’s just not the right culture for you. But before you conclude that, I’d spend some time looking around at the people who have moved up in your company and what about them stands out. You could also talk with some of them for advice about this and see what they say. (You did mention that you talked with some coworkers, but it’s not clear to me if they’re peers or people above you; it’s the latter group who will be most helpful here.)
Last, your manager’s advice to befriend a manager or director doesn’t sound to me like a coded way of saying “your personality is a poor fit here.” It sounds like she’s either suggesting you find a mentor in the ranks above you, or that she’s saying you need to have close relationships above you in order to move up, which would mean promotions there are heavily political. That might be good advice for this workplace, or it might be that your manager is just off-base about what works in this company (she wouldn’t be the first manager to have weird ideas that weren’t actually reflective of the broader company). Seeking out advice from people above you in the company will be a good way to figure out which of those it is.