Sometimes our challenge isn’t about getting noticed, it’s getting noticed for the right things – getting noticed in the way we want others to see us. So, in essence our challenge is to overcome people’s preconceived ideas about us based on what we’ve done in the past (whether good or bad). Think of all of those actors or actresses that just can’t get past that one famous role they had years ago. Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller, Carrie Fisher will always be Princess Leia and Daniel Radcliffe will likely always be Harry Potter. So what are you known for? What has been your brand up to this point and how can you change it?

Peter’s Story – overcoming a successful brand

Peter was a panelist several years ago in seminar I was leading on “How to get recognized as a High Potential.” His story has stuck with me ever since. Peter graduated from one of the top engineering schools in the country and began working for Turner Broadcasting. This was back in the day when Ted Turner was actively at the helm, and anyone who knows much about Ted Turner knows he has a passion for classic movies. When Peter showed up, there was a huge collection of classic movies that Ted had purchased over the years, but very little was being done with these movies. Peter was pretty good with Excel so he decided to create a model to allow all of those movies to be managed like valuable investments. Peter’s model took off. He rapidly became known as “the movie guy” in the halls of TBS. Not a bad thing, huh? The problem was that Peter didn’t want to always be the movie guy. He had bigger aspirations. How was he going to convince everyone that he wasn’t just a movie guy? He had to work diligently over the next few years to use his “movie guy brand” to get other opportunities. In the end, Peter became the youngest SVP in the history of the organization at 29 years old… and even then, people would still walk up to him and say him, “aren’t you the movie guy?”

What can we take away from Peter’s story? A few important points:

• Get known for something positive ASAP – there’s value in getting on the radar. Get known for something invaluable to the organization as soon as you can.

• Don’t stay there too long – quickly use that recognition as an opportunity to ask for the kinds of work / projects you want to be known for. You’re fighting against people’s perceptions – the longer you wait, the firmer their perceptions become.

• Don’t make yourself invaluable in your current role – if you want to shift, make sure you can! If it wasn’t for Peter’s model, he may have been stuck in the “movie guy” role for a long time. Fortunately, the model allowed him to move onto something else. If you are the only one who can do what you do, train somebody (or automate yourself) and fast.

But what if you are known for bad / negative things? Consider Nicole’s story:

Nicole’s story – overcoming a negative brand

Nicole was a rock star at work. No one was more productive or more organized than Nicole. Just to be in Nicole’s presence, the words “discipline, efficiency, quality and responsiveness” all came to mind. Good things, right? Absolutely. However, these traits were all overshadowed by Nicole’s crankiness when she encountered other’s disorganization or sloppiness. She had very little patience with co-workers and she would not hesitate to let them know how frustrated she was. Soon Nicole became known as “difficult to work with” and possessing a “bad attitude.” Nicole was stuck. If she wanted to be known as a future leader in the organization, she was going to have to do something and fast. She set out to build personal relationships with everyone in the office to counter this negative image. Hundreds of coffees and lunches later, Nicole was promoted to division VP and her poor brand was a distant memory.

Overcoming a negative brand is even more challenging. Here’s what we can take away from Nicole’s story:

• Overcoming a negative image requires “hand to hand” combat – if you want to overcome a bad image, you’ll need to do it one person at a time. Get ready for lots of coffees, breakfasts, lunches, etc… You may never be able to eat alone again for some time.

• Don’t slip up – Everyone is watching. If you make one slip back into your “bad image,” all of your hard work will be lost. Nicole knew she could never afford again to be negative at work… ever. Talk about discipline. Whew…

• Come clean (optional) – Some people choose to acknowledge there is a problem and tell everyone they are working on it. This can be a good and bad thing. The good – it draws attention to it and let’s people see your changes more quickly. The bad – if others didn’t know about your “bad image” they do after you tell them. They are also watching you more closely in case you screw up. Choose this path with caution.

There you have it. Ways to overcome your brand in the event you are known for the wrong thing. We’ve all been there: “The PowerPoint Princess,” “The IT Guy,” “The Survey Dude,” “The Party Queen,” etc… Getting recognized for something good is the first step, but managing that recognition into what you want is an on-going effort that separates the solid performers from the rising stars.

Oh, and just in case you don’t know who Ferris Bueller is, here you go.  Talk about managing your brand… no one did it better than Ferris.