Brands are always making promises. From consumer to employer brands, a brand promise is a core part of a strong brand architecture. It reinforces what the brand stands for. Then, it's up to the product or service to deliver on that promise. Personal brands are no different. We have to live up to our resumes, our interview promises and the statement we make about how we'll perform at work.
But as professionals, we rarely think about how to deliver on our own brand promises.
One afternoon I was having coffee with a former U.S. government executive. She had spent years working for an agency that was predominantly male in an industry not known for producing women leaders. Yet, she'd made it to a very senior role.
As we sat over lattes, I focused on the present: "you must be really proud about how that experience has gotten you to what you're doing today," I said.
She looked at me and said: "I'm more proud of what I did in the past."
Sometimes the climb to the top is the lesson driving the pride. And for women at work, it was a harder lesson than many of us realize. In the 80s and 90s, this executive had children. And when she did, her primarily male colleagues were not thrilled with her leaving the workplace to pick them up from school. Sure, she signed back on at night to finish her work, but that wasn't a substitute to her colleagues.
And while she was outperforming them easily (according to her bosses and her performance reviews), she still took a ton of flack for leaving early. She could have slunk out quietly or tried to find babysitter coverage to do pick up. But she didn't.
Instead, she took a different approach. Every day when leaving at 3:30 p.m., she made a big deal about her departure. She stopped by her colleagues' offices to say goodbye and walking through the cubicles, yelled out to people to have a good night.
She made it abundantly clear she was leaving early, and that she was perfectly fine to do so.
By doing this, she underscored her own brand promise. If she didn't believe she could leave early and get her work done, how could anyone else? The idea that if we can't believe we're making the right choices, it's hard to deliver on them fully.
March is international women's month. I've had my own share of challenges in the workplace and choices in the workplace--we all have. I've faced my own examples of discrimination and seen modern day gender disparity rear its ugly head in ways even my husband couldn't believe when I told him. After all, in 20 years of HR you're privy to some situations even you can't believe some days.
But until this morning coffee meeting, I hadn't thought about the value of my reaction to an action. The importance of being clear about my brand and its promise.
When I first started exaqueo as a fully virtual company, it was to provide some of that flexibility I wanted. It allowed me (and my colleagues) to focus on getting great work done, and not just a required 9-to-5 schedule or a chained-to-the-office mentality. It means now that at 7 1/2 months pregnant, I can sit with my feet up on the couch, or snack all day if I want to (most days I do).
And until recently, I stayed largely quiet about it all. Afraid that if I emphasized the lack of bricks and mortar, or our fully virtual workforce, that clients would shy away. I hesitated inviting them to our virtual office for fear that it would send the wrong message about how things should be.
But now it's time to embrace our brand promise. We've always said that team exaqueo works harder, smarter and more efficiently because of who's on our team. Every team member comes to the table with a mentality to get great work done but own their own balance in doing so. It's even part of our values:
We Own Our Balance
We are proactive about managing our time and are responsible enough to ask for help when we need and offer help when we have the time. We structure our schedules to be available for our clients and still balance life priorities when we need to.
Last week, a prospective client asked to see our virtual office space curious about our model. We ended up talking about it for 30 minutes. I found myself describing how we grew our business with this model and how it allows all of our team members (parents or not) to deliver great work to our clients, be respectful of their time, and still balance our own.
It's a promise I make every day to my clients, my family and myself.
This month, I'm not just celebrating women at work. I'm celebrating the promises we make at work and how we deliver on them. And in case you're wondering, here's a sneak peek into our office. It's empty this Sunday afternoon (except for me), but that's when I'm choosing to work and others are not.
Susan LaMotte (@SusanLaMotte) is the founder and CEO of exaqueo, an employer brand experience firm building employer brands and the talent strategies that drive them through research, consulting and creative and digital execution. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research and recruiting strategy offerings.