You can tell a lot about a firm when the topic of “personal brands” comes up.
Among intelligent, driven people, discussions about personal brands can get a little heated. There are firms that quash personal brands and firms that buy them as a growth strategy. Both are acceptable and worthwhile approaches. Firms make a mistake when they do not articulate a clear strategy and purpose for personal brands. Mismanaging personal brands in this way can damage to a firm’s reputation, culture, productivity and employee engagement.
I think firm cultures fall into two camps (See Mistake No. 2: Not understanding the difference between brand and culture). The first camp is the “Firm as Group” camp. The second is the “Firm as Team” camp. Your camp dictates how to manage personal brands. In his seminal book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni outlines five elements of a dysfunctional team, highlighted in the pyramid below.
Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust
The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.
Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.
Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.
Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.
Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.
Each dysfunction is built upon its predecessor. For example, when there is an absence of trust, people will be afraid to enter into situations that present a conflict because they can’t be sure of the outcomes. Groups that have these characteristics do not function as teams. Instead, they operate as loosely held confederacies driven by insecurity and self-interest. In my experience, firms are simply large teams.
Personal Brands in “Group” Firms
Firms with “group” cultures are represented by Lencioni’s dysfunctional teams. They develop brand umbrellas (See Mistake No. 7: Creating an umbrella brand) to accommodate the needs of the member confederacy. The firm’s brand exists to accommodate the personal brands and businesses of individual partners. Partners and practice leaders are loyal to the firm and its brand to the degree that neither infringes on their fiefdoms and abilities to produce individual results that underline individual brands. The firm is happy to accommodate as long as the partner’s practice is contributing to the appropriate level of profit to the firm’s bottom line.
Personal Brands in “Team” Firms
Firms that operate as “teams” demonstrate the healthy dimensions of Lencioni’s model. Team members trust one another on an interpersonal level. They have tough conversations that address unacceptable behaviors, refine ideas and make everyone better. These teams have a commitment to the firm’s values and legacy. As a result, they hold each another accountable for the role that each team member plays, and they play to deliver a united outcome. Personal brands are earned through each team member’s selfless contribution to the team.
In a nutshell, “Group” firms see personal brands as symbiotic, living together in a more or less intimate association as in parasitism. “Team” firms see personal brands as synergistic. Either approach is acceptable depending on a firm’s culture. Things get ugly when firms do not proactively communicate their expectations of personal brands. Don’t make the mistake of not knowing what type of firm you are part of and what legacy you are trying to build.
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