Personal development expert Tessa Hood explains how to differentiate yourself from the crowd and get noticed for the right reasons.
If there is any doubt in your mind over the security of your position at work, there is a tool that you can use to influence the influencers who have the power over your future, and that tool is very simply called 'differentiation'.
What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? Are you standing out and being noticeably and valuably distinguished from others in your field of expertise? If you’re not sure, then now is the time to start thinking about it, marking out how you are offering an enormous promise of value, that you are consistently and reliably performing well, and the company cannot consider being without your valuable expertise and input.
People 'buy' people, in just the same way as we buy any product or service. We have choice, and we make our mainly emotional decisions based on how much we think we will benefit from 'buying' a product or service, and if we will ultimately delight in experiencing the brand values its reputation promises.
So what are people buying you for and what is your promise of value? If you can define this, you can use it in an authentic and non-cynical manner to emphasise your value to your employers. Underline your brand values, define your own ‘personal brand’ and strategically but authentically market yourself using the same methods you’d use to market any branded product that you were producing.
This self-awareness of your own value to your company, particularly during an economic downturn, is something to be aware of and work on every day. This doesn’t mean blowing your own horn to the detriment of everyone else, but calmly and methodically making sure that you are consistently doing 'what it says on the tin' and keeping a note of every little 'win' that you have.
Tips for being at the front of mind of your influencers:
- Keep a 'challenge-action-result' record. Whenever you are set a task, make a note of what it was, how you dealt with it and the successful result of your actions. Others might forget, but you will always have a record to remind them should the need arise.
- Build your reputation as an expert within your field. Never compromise on your service. It is a well-known maxim that reputation is hard won and easily lost, but what is often forgotten is that reputation has to be worked at every day. Make sure you are in control of your reputation and that it is saying what you want it to say.
- Know how important you are to your business. A great brand comes from a consistent, relevant and sincere understanding of your own abilities. It also comes from the desire not to be just a cog in a large wheel, but an interactive, proactive and enthusiastic contributor within the business; taking responsibility, understanding the expectations of the customers and colleagues and looking for ways to deliver beyond expectation. Think about it and work on it.
- Always, but always, look great! Shallow though it may seem, image still matters significantly in others’ judgements of you as an individual. As in first impression 'fight or flight' reactions, your consistent display as a confident individual with self esteem will mark you out as a person of integrity who can be trusted. Match peoples’ expectations of you by dressing to conform. We don’t all have to be suited and booted, there are many more casually dressed businesses now (although notably becoming less as the recession has deepened), plus creative and fashion industries where a City suit would be utterly wrong. However, if you want to be an eccentric, that’s fine, just be sure that it’s an eccentric that your company and your clients enjoy having around.
- Work on your interpersonal skills. Really listen to people, don’t just hear. Keep great eye contact and remember what people tell you about themselves and their families. Do people ask for you by name? Do people always want to talk to you because you understand their issues, empathise and deal swiftly and professionally with their queries? And if you’re not customer-facing, does your reputation for value and ability within your own sphere go before you; for the right reasons?
- Are you patient and calm and empathetic and are you keeping all the promises you have made so that a client or a colleague never, ever, feels let down?
- Seek feedback and input from others. If appropriate find a mentor and have regular heart-to-hearts from someone with more experience than you may have. Find out how you are really being perceived. Is it how you think you want to be perceived and if not what can you do to change this perception through strategic intention, alongside absolute authenticity, to improve your brand profile?
- Learn how to walk into a room with confidence, head up, smiling and with a firm handshake, and build your network. A great network can ultimately be more important than your qualifications. Particularly when times are tough and have spun out of your control, it will be much more likely that you will find work through applying to your network than at your local jobcentre.
- Know yourself well. Once you are clear about who you are, your value, what you offer and why you are different, i.e. your USP, you can more easily stay 'on brand' and concentrate on those actions that will deliver. It is a remarkable fact that 'knowledge' is only approximately 10% of what we offer in our marketplace. 'Skill' and 'attitude' play a much larger role in the overall perception of someone’s value, and someone who has the right attitude to a client’s requests and has the ability to find the right answer is offering better value and will elicit a better response.
Don’t just be a cog in the corporate wheel, be enterprising and entrepreneurial. Understand that building a brand is not just for now, it’s something that will be continuous for the rest of your life, it needs to be part of your daily routine. A little concentration on your own brand will ensure its healthy sustainability and development. Building your own brand within the brand of your business is about being recognised as valuable, being seen as remarkable and being noticed for your USP for all the right reasons.
Tessa Hood is the lead consultant at Changing Gear Ltd., a consultancy which helps companies develop the personal brand and reputation management of individuals within their business.