Chris Brogan, one of my favorite conversationalists in social media, and a genuine, tech-savvy professional, recently talked about a topic that has been on my mind - personal brand equity. It was a conversation with Kat French that made me think of this concept of personal brand equity for rent. Why for rent? Because it's not for sale. Sorry, it used to be that way, not anymore.
New generation, new habits
All the articles and posts you read about talent being in demand are quite true. Many got the numbers wrong. I was reading a paper on Millennials by Porter Novelli (this is my company's PR agency), which looks at the generation of workers born in the 1980s.
They are 75 million strong in the U.S. alone, and they’re already having a profound effect on business culture. They value work-life balance, use digital devices natively (and intensively) and have little interest in privacy. Their numbers suggest there will be enough of them to replace Baby Boomers as they retire (or semi-retire).
What the report does not say explicitly, if I recall correctly, is that with their favorite brands of choice, they also come with personal brands. These are individuals used to communicating across platforms, multitasking vigorously, and thinking about what you're going to do for hem.
The here and now
With many companies shifting into social media gear, there will be more of this kind of person on board - people and brand-savvy, tech-smart, and fiercely independent. These are the individuals who make up their on learning programs - they attend SXSW, become a member of the Social Media Club and the Blog Council, even program their own Facebook app and create/participate in a community on Ning or a Wiki about their personal passion. Chances are they are closely related to what they work on - work is personal.
As organizations continue to scramble to keep what happens inside, inside, these individuals are making all sorts of things happen outside. The outcome or side effect of their ideas, creativity and energy builds up their social capital and reinforces their personal brand.
It's a catch-22. Organizations want and need these individuals to borrow from their brand equity, yet they may find it difficult to understand that once inside, these are not just "employees," they are talent, just like in a sports franchise. You capitalize on that kind of talent. You let it loose so that it can do what it does best. Most importantly, you listen to what they have to share and teach the rest of the team.
Are companies ready for this scenario? I'm talking about this happening at every level of the organization, horizontally, not in the supposedly rarefied air of the top echelons. It's not about titles, it's about skill, ability to make connections, and being deep domain fanatics. Have you ever met someone who *is* what they do? It's very different from just doing it as a day job.
Employee, partner, representative
For rent, for a while, for a need. Chris gives us the example of Charlene Li leaving Forrester. I'm thinking that somehow the company is losing a big part of our attention for it. I have not had the honor of meeting Charlene personally, but look at the comments to that post. She's made a mark in our hearts and has left an impression in our minds. Her personal brand equity at Forrester was very strong.
We've been talking about Brand You for more than 10 years. We've heard about the Free Agent concept 7 years ago. We've gone through the many years of downsizing, rightsizing, consolidating, and selling businesses. Is it any wonder that individuals got the message and took their own brand personally? Career is a much broader concept than job.
Have ideas, will share
It used to be that you could have the tools and resources to do great work only inside companies. Today, that is not true anymore. Technology is less expensive and more accessible. I'm thinking that research can be done through networks, social circles, and perhaps with the help of new media in the near future.
When you're passionate about creating, meaning depends on it, and so does your ability to grow and learn. Just to give you an example, I know a young girl who practiced learning to play the guitar for one year, every day, before going to her parents to ask for paid lessons. Do-it-yourself led to a band, that lead to Europe MTV. Determination and commitment are very much part of this desire to forge something from nothing.
If organizations are not ready to listen and enable, there are plenty of outlets outside their walls. In communities, networks and open source projects.
What say you?
My final thought to you is this - will companies that do not have strong brand equities become commodities, undesirable to work for/with/at? What's your take? Do you have a strong personal brand? Is your personal brand equity for rent? Would a strong personal brand be a problem inside an organization that looks at employees as cogs in the wheel and not talent? Well, this may be kind of obvious.
And here's an interesting thought - would companies start selling to you directly? Not your company, not your title, you as a brand. In recent weeks, I had not one, but two vendors who pitched me at work with some mentions of my blog in their pitch. A weak attempt, admittedly (participation and relationship *before* sale would have worked better to pique my interest), but one nonetheless.