Category Archives: Career development

Your personal brand and social media

In recent times, much has been written about the notion of one’s personal brand, and how one’s image in the eyes of others can have a profound impact in areas such as recruitment, career progress, personal influence and self-esteem.

Seeking out someone in demand is driven heavily by that person’s personal brand and how we feel about that. This is especially important in the workplace as people reach out for technical or job related advice or for general mentoring. On the social front, personal brand has a big influence on how friendship groups are formed and how different social activities unfold. A person who is not a team player for instance may gain a negative reputation as a result which will have major bearing of how people reach out to them. Their personal brand in this regard could be a real impediment to their work or social inclusion and activity.

Well guess what, participation in social media has now made this issue both more visible and potentially more challenging. On social media, one’s personal brand is on display, and is front and centre for all to see.  It does depend of course on the level of participation. Those who are passive participants will not face much impact on their personal brand compared to those with full participation whose personal brand will be highly visible.

The figure below shows a visual representation of the link between the level of social media involvement and one’s personal brand.

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The point is that the more active you are on social media the greater will be the impact on personal brand whether positive or negative. Any participation can reveal things about you, but full participation on social media can reveal much about you as a person in terms of interests, beliefs and attitudes. What you contribute by way of articles or opinions can also show your inclinations or tolerance to certain issues. Indeed, you may not intend for some of this to be interpreted in the way it occurs. From the perspective of personal brand, it is all about how others see and interpret what you say as you participate in social media.

The transparency of social media means that activity on social media feeds directly into your personal brand. What is said on social media becomes an integral part of your personal brand, which is fine except it means both the good and the bad. Various filters and restrictions can be placed on who sees what on social media, but it is fair to say that anything said on social media will impact your personal brand in some way. There will be some community that sees what you are saying or the articles you are sharing.. Take recruitment for example. A recent Jobvite survey concluded that 92% of U.S. companies were using social networks and media to find talent in 2012, up from 78% five years. Anything on social media is in play when it comes to the job market, and this has a direct link to your personal brand.

Having witnessed some personal brand challenges on social media in recent times, there are three reminders to carefully consider in this context:

  1. The first and obvious point is that anything and everything you place in social media will have some bearing on personal brand
  2. The second issue is that what is said on social media is very hard to undo or retract
  3. But on the positive front, what your place on social media can be used very much as a positive such as contributing to various conversations connected to your area of expertise.

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Is lifelong learning coming of age?

At business school many years ago, a professor of mine stated that learning should not cease when we left the MBA campus for the last time. It seemed a fairly logical and obvious point at the time, and at the end of the programme, we all marched off with our newly found commitment to continue our learning journey.

But back in the real world, it was not quite as simple. The pressure of the corporate world, extensive work travel for some and the day-to-day juggle of work-life balance all seemed to conspire to relegate learning to a back seat. Of course, work and life itself are great teachers in their own right, and the learnings from those experiences are priceless. The school of hard knocks as it is often called does sharpen ones senses and the responses to daily challenges in so many ways.

But there seemed to be a missing ingredient. Somehow, the soufflé was rising but not as much as we had expected. Enter the corporate training and skills development programmes. These events provided a good internal forum for the exploration of ideas, the development of technical skills, and the shaping of more productive networking amongst colleagues from many different places. But by their very nature, they tended to be highly structured and corporate centric, and therefore individual needs were not necessarily the focus. Over time, many of these events have focused more on the development of the so-called softer skills, leaving much technical training to be done using online or remote learning tools. These corporate activities especially around the softer skills will continue to play a key role in the development of critical capabilities in organisations such as leadership and collaboration.

Then came the outside development programmes which were run by business schools or leading management institutes. These brought together people from diverse organisations and backgrounds. Learning through the diversity of experience in a safe external environment was a key driver. These programmes provide a re-fresh from the home organisation, and without doubt help develop different ways of thinking and approaching problems and indeed life itself. Putting these learnings into practice back in the workplace or at home can be a challenge.

But the digital world has in recent times added a rich layer of learning on top of all the above activities. The “student of one” is now alive and well, and the digital age now presents an amazing opportunity for individual development at so many levels. In addition to various formal corporate and other structured programmes, people can now gain access online to a vast number of channels for personal development either by way of books and materials or online courses directly.

The internet has changed the game in personal development. I remember being intrigued (and still am now) at the number of personal development books that adorn whole sections of major bookstores. In years gone by, this probably represented a large proportion of what was available, but the difference now is that it is just the tip of the iceberg. The internet provides not only the choice of books, but also the vast array of online courses and other online reference material. This gives the “student of one” a rich selection of choices, but also over time a growing influence on what is supplied to the market.

One of these digital layers that is rapidly growing is around the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Last year, I wrote about the MOOCs just as I was finishing one of the 12 week online history courses via Coursera. The growth of MOOCs has been staggering. As an example, Coursera was formally launched in April 2012, and now boasts some 4 million students, 400 courses and 83 university partners. MOOCs generally are continuing to expand in their current form, but are also exploring different business models both to capture fee income and also to provide a more robust accreditation regime for various courses completed.

My professor from years ago has long retired, but he would sit in awe of the opportunities now available for real lifelong learning. In his day, this concept needed a real effort to do it. Now it is the opposite, and requires a real effort not to be scooped up by learning opportunities in so many areas. These opportunities give us a real chance to affirm the sentiment from writer and futurist Alvin Toffler who said,

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” 

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Career development needs an MBA – fact or fiction?

Over the years, I have mentored many people whose opening question was “should I do an MBA?” The real answer to the question is of course “it depends”. But career development is not about fence-sitting. It is about clear thinking and taking some decisive actions, so lets explore this further.

A former IBM colleague in the US Bill Smillie would sometimes interject in a meeting to say “are we asking the right question”. Which is exactly what we should be saying in the case of the MBA question above. Indeed, the MBA choice can only be fully understood if we are sure to explore the right question.

Starting points are different

People approach the MBA issue from many different starting points. Some will have recently completed undergraduate education, and see the MBA as a natural launching point into the world of business. Others may be ten or so years into their careers and see the MBA as an opportunity to re-group and refresh or possibly change direction. Other will approach the issue strongly influenced by the culture of their national business community. For instance, the MBA in the US has long been the popular and in many cases the expected track from college into business careers, whereas the MBA in Europe or Asia has not been as prominent.

The MBA decision is a big one as it may involve significant timeout from an existing career, plus a substantial cost in dollar terms and personal and family commitment.

So notwithstanding the geographic and cultural differences, what are some of the questions to be explored.

1. What can you bring?

The first is about what the person can bring to an MBA programme. Some find this a strange place to begin. What about the nature of a specific course and the reputation of a business school? Yes these are important, but a good MBA is as much about learning from each other as it is about learning from a professor or management guru. You get out of an MBA as much as you put in. What you can bring to the table determines whether you should embark on an MBA in the first place, and indeed which MBA should be undertaken.

A good MBA is about shared learning rather than an experience of being taught. This can be viewed in the context of that wonderful thought from Benjamin Franklin “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

2. How will your specific needs be addressed?

The second is about how the MBA may help the person address his or her needs. Is it about a career change or about career enhancement in specific areas? How does the MBA really address these points, and why? Someone said to me once that they wanted to embark on a MBA to enhance their skills in marketing. I responded by asking why the MBA would help in that regard. We then engaged in a full and frank discussion, not so much about the MBA, but rather about the perceived need to enhance the skills in marketing. We finally agreed that the marketing need could be better addressed through different roles back in their organization. But what we did agree was that the MBA would provide a different set of thinking around business problems. One example might be how marketing can provide a better role in delivering value to the business, and help to re-shape its business model.

A good MBA will provide an excellent set of experiences about the process of solving a problem as distinct from learning specific functional techniques. For example, in statistics, there are plenty of ways of learning how to calculate a standard deviation. But in a MBA context, the point is not how to do the calculation, but rather how to interpret the results in a particular business context, what it means for the business and what decisions need to be considered from the data.

3. How will the MBA make you different?

The third and final key question is to have an understanding of what broader success might look like after the program is completed. This needs to go beyond the warm and fuzzy feeling upon graduation, and monetary opportunities that may arise. It needs to take into account the new capabilities that are acquired, and how people will be different, both personally and in a business sense. This is akin to the personal business case for doing an MBA. What will be different after your significant investment of time and money into the MBA?  Will you be a better person and one with enhanced capability to grow your career both professionally and personally?

So back to the original question, “should I do an MBA?” For many people, the answer is definitely yes, and significant benefit can be gained in many dimensions. For others, it may be a different outcome. But the real point here is not so much a “yes” or “no” position, but rather the level of engagement in a rigorous decision-making and questioning process. Only then will we have the right answer.

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