I was impressed that Forrester had the audacity and guts to tackle the Personal Branding question on their blog today, especially given their own recent troubles on that front. Although Augie Ray's post didn't immediately address their own troubles in regard to analysts leveraging Forrester fame to jump ship, he obviously anticipated the question. You can read both my question and his response in the comments section of the post.
But all this led me to offer a follow-up thought on the personal branding debate. Here's where I stand, complete with A/V clip:
I find this fascinating. It's so interesting to look at the Forrester case as a self-contained experiment on the problem as a whole, because both the benefits and liabilities are so obviously exposed within your organization.
So much of the Forrester model is built on having rock star analysts. Sure, there's the reputation of the company to uphold, but it's the personalities and specific research of the individual analysts' that drive the calls and dollars. You're a bit like a professional sports team -- everyone is out to win as a team, but the reputation of specific players drive ticket sales. And just like with sports teams, ultimately those players know their value and leverage the team as a launching pad for their own endorsement deals, contract negotiations and even team moves.
The question is, is such a model a double edged sword that is dangerous but necessary in today's business, or is encouraging such activity always beneficial to the company despite the risk of investing in talent who may ultimately leave for a competitor?
David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, had a film called True Stories in the early 90's [I was wrong...it was 1986] that contains a fairly prophetic stance on this topic. In the scene, Earl Culver, played by Spaulding Gray, delivers this speech:
"Most middle-class people have worked for large corporations like Vericorp or for the government itself. But now, all that's started to change. Scientists and engineers are moving off from those larger corporations, like Vericorp. And they're beginning to start their own businesses, marketing new inventions...But It all spins back to the middle...that's why we have to keep these guys in Virgil. Even though they do leave Vericorp.
"For the time being it's create confusion and chaos. They don't work for money anymore, but to earn a place in heaven, which was a big motivating factor once upon a time, believe you and me. They are working and inventing because they like it! Economics has become a spiritual thing. I must admit it frightens me a little bit. They don't seem to see the difference between working and not working. It has all become a part of one's life. Linda! Larry! There's no concept of weekends anymore!"
Obviously this is over the top, but the core of the speech completely and accurately predicted the entire dot-com boom. And more importantly, it predicted how the big companies just needed to let the innovation happen, then either learn from the innovations or buy the best of those start-ups and absorb them back into the fold. (Not withstanding a few notable companies like Google that became giants themselves.)
I think this model is just as relevant today when applied to the personal branding question. There are obviously risks to giving employees public, social platforms of expression. After all, in these instances we are no longer just investing in what an employee can do for the organization, but investing in their own stature as an individual. We also must be concerned that they may indeed use such platforms for self-advancement or transfer this fame to their personal efforts. But we also have to accept that by not allowing individuals to shine within an organization, we lose the benefit of their inventiveness. And by burning bridges with them when they open a personal blog or decide to leave, we lose the opportunity to possibly re-absorb them into the organization later as an even more valuable asset.
I fully believe that most of the concerns over employees advancing their personal brand in tandem with the corporate brand they are tasked to promote is simply a product of short-sighted thinking. If we're truly afraid of our own brilliant employees jumping ship, then we should be doing more to either hire more loyal people or create additional reasons for them to stay. Ultimately that would be a better use of resources than trying to suppress the flood of personal expression our workers are dying to give us.
What are your thoughts on personal branding and corporate response?