4 personal brands CIOs need to invest in now

I’ve written often about the urgent necessity for CIOs to build a “brand called IT” in order to remain relevant in a world of shadow IT and Chief Digital Officers. Many of my suggestions have been related to CIOs upgrading their own personal brands to drive the departmental brand.

While I agree that the CIO must be the embodiment of IT’s brand, many organizations (whether technology or otherwise) fail to realize that high-performing teams are an amalgamation of powerful personal brands orchestrated by the brand conductor.

There’s a subtle yet very important difference between hiring talented people and hiring powerful personal brands. For example, all things being equal, most travelers would prefer to pay the same amount of money to stay in a well branded, nationally recognized hotel chain. If I could buy a Ralph Lauren blazer for the same price as a no-name blazer, which one would I choose?

By changing the hiring lens from one that looks at skills to one that looks at the overall brand, you can alter talent acquisition and ROI in key ways.

So what are the personal brand elements that need to be woven into obvious technical skills when evaluating and hiring 21st century talent? Here are my top 4:

Digital content strategist

For good or bad, the extent to which the candidate has an extensive grasp of social media audience development is indicative of the power of their brand. Keep in mind that “vanity metrics” (the number of friends or followers a person has) does not necessarily reflect skills in social media strategy. Strong personal brands show an ability to build a digital audience as opposed to inheriting followers as a result of the sheer breadth of their social network. Success in this digital brand attribute is directly related to having something compelling to say.

Content marketer

Many CIOs shy away from this attribute because it includes the “M-word.” There’s a feeling that the convergence of content and marketing resides with the CMO. This is perhaps the most dangerous mistake a CIO can make. The power of the brand-called-IT needs to be communicated inside and outside the enterprise. That value proposition requires producing engaging and compelling content within the IT organization. This needs to go well beyond the technical communications that makes eyes glaze over. It requires employees with double-deep and triple deep skills that can combine technical, marketing communications and digital distribution skills.

Global agility

 To use my hotel metaphor again, when I travel overseas on business, I get a sense of assurance booking at a Marriott, Sheraton or Hilton due to a matter of brand consistency across borders. Business units around the world are looking for that same consistency in the IT organization.

Since most enterprises have an extensive global presence today, I tell my students and clients to build a “global brand called YOU!” A domestic brand is great but could limit your ability to travel well across corporate borders. We can also not ignore the fact that the modern American corporation is very diverse, and one not need leave home to bump into cross-cultural elements. A personal global brand must have the agility to shift worldviews based on the circumstances.

Verbal communicators

The fact that a disproportionate amount of corporate communications is done by email creates the illusion that powerful verbal communications might not be as important as in the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, as anyone who has fallen victim to a verbally challenged help desk agent can tell you.

The strongest personal brands are supported by storytelling skills. In IT, the story might be related to a user experience, a technical problem solution, a best practice in another division or selling senior management on a new deployment.

For this reason, every interview with a new personal brand in IT should include a “Tell me a story about…” element. My story requests typically integrate some of the other personal brand elements mentioned above. For example, to get a worldview perspective, I ask, “Tell me a story about the worst case of culture shock you’ve experienced, whether overseas or in a corporate culture.”

Dual personas

In my work in both online and classroom-based graduate schools, I’ve found it important to identify whether the personal brand has two strong personas. For example, I’ve found that many great online professors could never be as effective in a traditional classroom setting. They’ve built a powerful digital persona that does not require face-to-face skills. On the other hand, many gregarious and theatrical professors find their auditory and visual advantages irrelevant online.

Gathering empirical evidence of a powerful digital persona is much more difficult than observing the more human brand attributes in an interview setting. A prospect that offers a combinational of both digital and human communications attributes is a VERY hot commodity in any organization.

How does your IT organization identify personal brands and integrate them into high-performaning teams?

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