Most CFO’s spent the past year building flexible business models and functional agility. The new year brings a heightened focus on operational agility and accelerating growth with, among other things, the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital platforms. AI and digitization are powerful tools that drive efficiency. They also make employees nervous about the security of their roles. As CFO, you’ll be at the forefront of making technology or cost-cutting decisions, or both, and communicating those decisions to your teams and your company’s investors. To make these conversations constructive, a high level of professional credibility and personal trust needs to exist. This speaks to the need for a well defined and easily communicated professional brand. With attention to a few details, this is an accomplishable task. At the very least, understanding your brand will make you more marketable when pitching a new job.
Skills vs. Perception
According to a recent Gartner report, one-third of the skills listed on a 2017 job posting won’t be relevant in this year’s job market. If this trend holds – and given today’s level of disruption, it probably will continue – one can’t be sure of EXACTLY which of your skills will be relevant a couple of years down the road. Therefore, in the short term, while you identify and build new capabilities and skills, it’s your behavioral characteristics that become the foundation of your brand.
Your professional brand is the impression that your skills, experience, actions and value leave on colleagues, past, present and future. In a word, it’s your reputation. In his well-regarded Fast Company article, management consultant Tom Peters described the personal brand as, “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”
Happily, companies have been developing brands for decades, and the blueprint for product branding mostly holds for professional branding. The following steps will help you organize a strategy for your professional brand development and rollout.
Analyze existing data
Your professional reputation begins forming on day one of your first job. Once in a leadership role, reputation precedes you and determines how others plan to interact with you. Start your branding work by understanding what your team and your colleagues think of you as a leader and decision-maker. Survey your staff, look over past performance reviews and revisit comments from colleagues. Pay special attention to feedback given over the past year. Look for repeated words or phrases about your interactions with others and identify common themes. Take into account both positive and negative feedback to get a clear picture of the nature of your reputation. Mirror that data against how you see yourself, how your values show up in your work, and how you perceive you interact with others.
As you consider your dealings with colleagues and staff, isolate the situations that support and reinforce these common themes. Also, consider the behaviors that might undermine these themes and your reputation. This exercise will help you strengthen the positive aspects of your reputation and downplay or dispel any negative impressions.
Articulate your professional value
In honing your professional brand, define what makes you unique and distinguishable from others in your field. What’s been your focus, and what are your examples of success? Identifying examples allow you to develop narratives reflecting your differentiators. In a world of metrics, people tend to remember stories. The more memorable the story, the easier it is for others to repeat, giving your network the tools to disseminate your brand.
With your differentiators defined, create your value proposition. Similar to identifying your differentiators, the key to a viable value proposition is for it to be short, memorable and repeatable by others. Your value proposition should define how you are essential to your company and its customers.
Use this as a template; “My strength is (X). It adds value to the company by (X).”
Your behavioral differentiators and value proposition are the foundational elements of your brand.
Get the word out
Many of us are uncomfortable talking about ourselves, but communicating our brand is critical for maintaining a professional reputation. Once you start looking, you’ll find many opportunities to talk about yourself without bragging. When being introduced or meeting with investors, with staff in a town hall setting, or at a speaking engagement or conference, build your value proposition and leadership vision into your introduction or within your remarks. Consistently communicating the pillars of your brand keeps expectations clear and reinforces your value to your company. In a business climate full of uncertainty and distractions, those who clearly articulate their value move their businesses and careers ahead faster.
When you represent yourself consistently, it’s easier for others to trust your abilities and decisions. With a well thought out value proposition and supporting stories, others will have the right tools for reinforcing the professional reputation you’ve built.
It may take a while to create the momentum, but with persistence, it will happen.