Does Personal Branding Matter for L & D Professionals?

Do we as Learning & Development professionals need to concern ourselves with the idea of Personal Branding. When we look in the mirror do we see what others see in terms of our personal brand and should we care?

I am sure like me you have read a lot about how it’s important to take your personal brand seriously if you want others to take you seriously. As professionals, whether employed or working for ourselves, we are creating a brand identity for ourselves simply by interacting with others so doesn’t it make sense to give that “brand” some thought and to exercise some control over it?

You might therefore want to consider these tips for understanding the importance of personal branding, defining your own personal brand, and marketing your brand.

Understanding the Importance of Personal Branding

Your personal brand helps you to:

1. Focus on building your reputation as an Learning & Development Professional. Your personal brand is your reputation. It’s the way others see you. If you’re like most people, you may be switching jobs and employers from time to time. Your personal brand is an asset you can take with you wherever you go.

2. Chart your own direction. Being clear about your personal brand you will find it easier to establish meaningful goals, priorities and action plans. Even while taking care of daily obligations, you’ll have a bigger picture in mind.

3. Serve others. Self promotion can go too far, so it’s easy to think that branding is somehow vain or self-absorbed. In reality, your personal brand shows the positive impact you can have on other people and the world around you.

Defining Your Own Personal Brand

These tips will help you create an outstanding personal brand as an L&D Professional:

1. Take an inventory. This should be an easy one for any L&D Professional! Take a good look at yourself. Write out your strengths and weaknesses. Identify your passions. Think about what you’re good at and what you like to do.

2. Distinguish yourself from your colleagues. There are plenty of talented and dependable people in our field. Pinpoint your unique selling point. Maybe you’re a trainer who always gets the very best out of even the most reluctant learner?

3. Talk about benefits. Let your target audience know what you can do for them. Explain how you can boost profits by increasing sales or saving money.

4. Summarise your “mission” or what you do that’s different in 10 seconds or less. Be prepared to capture people’s attention quickly. Let them know what you do in 15 words or less. You can tell you’re on the right track when they ask for more details.

5. Ask for feedback. Ask your family, friends, learners and colleagues to find out what they think of you and your abilities. Show your appreciation for constructive criticism so they’ll keep sharing it with you.

6. Stay updated. Review your personal mission statement every six months. Make new action plans so you’re always getting closer to your goals.

Marketing Your Personal Brand

No-one gets noticed who keeps their light hidden under the bushel do they! Think about using some of these strategies to expand your reach:

1. Increase your visibility. Post fresh content on your website or blog regularly. Stay active in social media. Look for opportunities to help others learn, give presentations, or write articles for professional organisations in our field like the Learning and Performance Insititute or the CIPD.

2. Build A “Fan” Base. Collect samples of positive feedback you get in the workplace. Assemble testimonials from happy learners or organisations and encourage them to make referrals. Word of mouth is often more effective and certainly cheaper than paid advertising.

3. Tell your success stories. Craft brief anecdotes about your accomplishments that showcase your skills and make you proud. Rehearse telling them so you sound natural.

4. Gather Statistics. Numbers sound convincing. Try to quantify the value you can deliver. For example, if you have saved your organisation money by implementing a new learning initiative – get the facts and figures as you would do in your CV

5. Be aware that you have your own dream team. By “dream team” I mean of course your Personal Learning Network. It’s difficult to go it alone. Cultivate your network. Help others to market their brand and they’re more likely to do the same for you.

Years ago when we talked about branding we tended to think about cattle or big corporations, but now everyone is in on the act. Take charge of your personal brand as a Learning & Development Professional and keep learning!

When Did Learning & Development Become So Complex?

I read a lot of articles, papers and indeed books about Learning and Development as you might expect. It’s good to keep abreast of the latest thinking, hear about people exploring new ideas and approaches and testing out what works and doesn’t work.

However, sometimes I do wonder if we as Learning & Development Professionals have a tendency to over-complicate things. One of my passions throughout the time that I have been involved in L&D is to make learning accessible and to communicate with people in a way which makes sense to them. Of course it’s right and proper that we as professionals in our field stretch ourselves, reflect on our learning and share things with others. But do we always need to dress it up in seemingly obtuse language or come up with some clever description for it?

I was discussing this the other day with a fellow L&D Professional and one of the comments that they made was that they thought that sometimes we do it in order to express our uniqueness as a profession. They pondered whether, in a world where many organisations still bundle L&D responsibilities into the remit of an HR. Generalist, we might feel the need to carve out a very distinct identity for Learning & Development.

That set me thinking about what L&D is ultimately about and why having spent some time throughout my career with HR. Generalist responsibilities I chose to specialise in L&D. I can well remember one of the first events that I attended which opened my eyes to the impact that Learning & Development could have. Having participated in a number of “Train The Trainer” events since I first started to drift into the L&D area I was a little sceptical about this event, assuming that it would be more of the same. However, it was to be a revelation. The trainer was enthused about their topic and they conveyed that enthusiasm to the group.

I call it an “event” but in reality it was more of an informal discussion with a group of us sat comfortably around the room and a flipchart set to one side. No high-powered laptops, PowerPoint presentations or other fancy gadgets and distractions. It was a discussion about “How do people learn?” The Trainer/Discussion Facilitator acted as a guide as we explored all the usual suspects (courses, books etc.) and then explored what we didn’t know that we knew. He opened my eyes to the wealth of learning opportunities that we don’t even realise we are experiencing as we go about our daily lives. He skilfully helped us to consider how we could reflect on that learning, apply that learning to our work based challenges and keep on learning.

I remember his closing sentiments to this day which were along the lines of “Our job as L&D people is to help others learn how to learn and to provide them with the tools, resources and opportunities to learn. We need to enthuse people with a passion for learning; to enable them to see that learning is easy; learning isn’t about the when, where, or the how it’s about the what; the ability to learn is a lifelong skill and like a passion for reading it’s a gift which we can awaken in others.”

For me that has been a guiding approach ever since. Whatever the latest fad is, be it eLearning, mobile learning, blended learning, social learning, unstructured learning, is largely irrelevant. Whatever deep and meaningful ponderings we come up with to explain our latest approach are all irrelevant.

What matters is that we as Learning & Development Professionals are encouraging a real passion for learning and once we awaken that passion in others we are making a real difference. I will close with a comment I made on Twitter earlier today:

L&D’s mission, if they choose to accept it, to help people to learn how to learn & then provide the tools to feed their desire to learn.

Are you ready to accept your mission?