Sylvia Chrominska Speech - January 19, 2011

Effective ways to advance your career

An address by Sylvia Chrominska
Group Head, Global Human Resources & Communications
Scotiabank

Presentation to the participants of the 2011 Professional Development Day, held by the Toronto CFA Society, Toronto, Ontario.

January 19, 2011


Thank you [name] for your kind introduction.

I'm extremely honoured to be here today and to be a part of your Professional Development Day.

The organizers have put together a very impressive agenda and I really think the theme is an important one. I also think it's worthwhile for you to understand how the financial services industry is evolving: what the needs of the workplace are today and what those needs are to likely be in the future.

It's with this theme in mind that I have focused my topic for today. I want to talk to you about the importance of personal branding as an effective way to advance your career.

While the notion of personal branding is not at all new, it has become more commonly used in the last decade. Branding experts have been trumpeting it for years, and professionals around the world have embraced the principles, as I know many of you have.

While we all have a brand, what I want to emphasize is the importance of strategically developing and consistently communicating yours. I assure you, it will make a meaningful difference in how successful you are in influencing how others perceive you.

Your reputation and profile is absolutely critical to your career development – and if you're not managing your brand, then you're leaving it to others to determine it for you. For something as important as your career, you need to be the one controlling the messages. If you're not, the risk is high that the perception others have of you is not the one you have of yourself, or the one you would want them to have.

Let me start by taking a closer look at what I mean by a personal brand.

The word "brand" was first used simply in reference to the way to tell one person's cattle from another's – by means of a hot iron stamp. I promise you we won't be doing that today!

Obviously, the term has evolved since then and, nowadays, most people associate the term with corporate branding – a way for companies to distinguish who they are in the marketplace – their value proposition.

At its core, a brand is a concept that's developed to simply and clearly communicate a product's benefits to a target market. In the case of personal branding, that product is you.

Our personal brand is what we use to market ourselves.

Celebrities are a great example. Where would Donald Trump be without his personal brand? Would he be perceived as the magnate, socialite, author, television personality and business leader that he is today?

Oprah Winfrey is another good example. She has a tremendous amount of power in the marketplace, and her influence is a reflection of her personal brand.

And then there is Madonna – her brand is based on her ability to keep changing while staying true to herself; her values and her individuality.

While we're not all like Donald, Oprah or Madonna, we can take a page from their books. Personal branding isn't just for celebrities – each and every one of us is a brand, whether we realize it or not.

The modern-day concept of personal branding was first introduced by Tom Peters, a leading business management expert, in an article he wrote that came out in a 1997 issue of Fast Company.

It was called "The Brand Called You," and he said, "We are CEOs of our own companies: 'Me Inc.' And to be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called 'You.'" This was a powerful message that resonated with readers, and the idea began to take hold in the business world.

Since then, a number of leading personal brand experts have emerged.

One expert, Hubert Rampersad, sees a personal brand as a perception of a person held in someone else's mind. For him, personal branding is the process of managing this perception effectively, and influencing how others perceive you.

One of Canada's personal branding experts – Paul Copcutt – recently spoke at a Scotiabank event. He asked the group, "If you were approached at a networking session and asked the question, 'What do you do?' – how would you answer?

  • If you say, 'I'm a great investment professional,' that's marketing.
  • If you get somebody else to do it for you, that's public relations.
  • And if you just keep going up to somebody and saying, 'I'm a great banking professional,' that's advertising.
  • But if somebody comes up to you and says, 'I understand you're a great investment professional,' that is branding."

Your brand defines you. It's what makes you different from everybody else, and what separates you from all of your peers. And separating yourself from the pack will become increasingly important as the career marketplace changes and new opportunities emerge.

These days, change is happening on a scale and at a pace that we've never seen before. Technology, demographics and shifting global economic power are all undergoing a massive change very, very quickly.

Naturally, these changes are reflected in the business landscape – and, of course, by extension, the job market. Large scale change leads to some challenges but, more importantly, it leads to many, many opportunities. To take advantage of those opportunities, it's critical to develop a unique personal brand.

And – looking at it from a career perspective – the faster things change, the more important it is to have a strong, clear definition of who you are and the strengths you have. You need to be able to cut through all of the noise and clearly communicate what you bring to the table. That's what a strong personal brand can do.

Let's look at a few ways that the business landscape is changing.

We can start by looking at just the past few years, since the financial crisis. There have already been sweeping changes for the players in the global marketplace, especially for financial institutions, as well as to the rules and regulations that govern how we operate.

In the wake of the crisis and the global recession, companies in all sectors are taking a closer look at their business models, growth opportunities and structures to ensure they remain competitive. They will be looking for good people to help lead that change. There are also broader, long-term changes taking place. For example, a major demographic shift is underway that will change the face of our workforce. That is, the Baby Boomers are retiring.

In Canada, like many other industrialized countries, the proportion of our population aged 60 and over is expected to increase from roughly one-fifth of the population today to nearly a third by the mid 2020s. (The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 2010)

Within the decade as this shift occurs, we will be facing the prospect of significant skilled labour shortages across a wide range of industries and occupations.

Even though there is expected to be what is being called a "war for talent," it won't be a walk in the park for job seekers. The opportunity will be enormous, but so will the competition – especially for full-time positions in strong, stable organizations. Not only will there be competition from Canadian workers, but there is expected to be an influx of skilled and talented, well-trained workers from abroad.

In anticipation of the changing business and demographic landscape, employers are already looking to fill skills gaps. To gain every advantage that you can, it makes sense to focus right now on building the skills you will need for the future. Fortunately, we already know what some of those skills are.

In 2009, a poll was taken of more than 1,000 organizations in the U.S., and 79 per cent of them reported skills gaps in their organizations right now. (Bridging the Skills Gap: ASTD 2009 Poll)

At the top of the list of those gaps, was a lack of leadership and executive skills (50%). There are other gaps in:

  • Managerial and supervisory skills (44%),
  • Sales skills (44%), and
  • Process and project management skills (43%).

We are also finding that the skills and competencies that were relevant to success in the past are not necessarily those that will ensure success in the future. If you are going to be prepared to fill those gaps, there are several key areas that I would suggest you should focus on. These include:

  • Adaptability,
  • Communication,
  • Collaboration, and
  • Strategic influence.

At Scotiabank, one of our priorities is to make sure we have the right leaders in place to support our future growth. We have a Leadership Profile that defines the values, behaviours and experience we want to see in our leaders. It acts as a guide to those aspiring to the most senior executive levels by helping them identify and assess their leadership qualities and potential.

We support career development for all of our employees in a number of different ways. We offer a wide range of training programs and courses, as well as targeted development and networking programs. Most importantly, we encourage cross-functional development moves and mentoring.

In the next decade, there will be tremendous career opportunities for individuals who have developed skills that will fill these known gaps. As you deliver on your brand and consistently reinforce those attributes that set you apart, you are creating a stable basis for your trustworthiness, credibility and personal charisma. You are also communicating your aspirations.

From my experience, when individuals are being considered for a project team or appointment, the technical competencies are a given. They are table stakes. The focus more likely tends to be the attributes that they bring to their position, such as their ability to work on a team and focus on results. Can they, for example, lead and motivate others?

With an authentic personal brand, your strongest characteristics, attributes, and values can separate you from the crowd and give you a tremendous advantage. Without this, you are just like everyone else.

So how do you go about building your brand to maximize its effectiveness? Obviously it's an ongoing process, and there's a lot to it, but let's look at some key starting points.

Remember that in establishing a personal brand, you are creating your unique value proposition. Therefore, authenticity is critical – you've got to represent who you really are.

Start by looking inside yourself. What makes you different? Ask yourself:

  • What do I stand for?
  • What makes me unique?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What makes me compelling?

If you can't answer these questions clearly, you probably won't be able to communicate your brand effectively to others.

For myself, I started focusing on my personal brand very early on in my career. I was one of a very few women in the corporate bank at Scotiabank in the early '70s, and I found that understanding my strengths, communicating what I stood for, and consistently delivering on my brand were of the utmost importance.

Over time, I established a strong brand and my reputation as hard working, results focused, and with a very high personal standard became fairly well known.

I was given the opportunity to participate on a number of project teams and initiatives that helped with my career advancement. In the early '90s, I moved from the credit area to head up human resources.

The CEO and the Board recognized my strong business acumen and my willingness to challenge the status quo and ask the hard questions, as well as my leadership skills. This is my personal brand, and I have worked hard to consistently behave in ways that reinforce the views I would want others to have of me, which I think has paid off

As you develop your brand, you'll want to be assessing how others perceive you in the workforce. A great way to do that is to ask your colleagues, team members and boss. You will find out how others perceive you and whether it is an accurate reflection of who you are or if you need to change it.

One of the ways to communicate your brand is by creating an elevator pitch, which is your career conversation starter.

It's helpful to imagine yourself riding the elevator with the CEO of the company you work for. Instead of watching the numbers of the floors go by, this is your opportunity to begin a conversation about your career and your aspirations.

The goal is to make your pitch as clear and concise as possible, while communicating your key messages. In the 30 seconds it takes to make your pitch, you have a significant opportunity to solidify a good impression.

An elevator pitch should have three components: Who you are – what you do – and what your future aspirations are for your career. The key facts that someone takes away after hearing you speak are the most important aspect of an elevator pitch. It is your sound bite that "sticks."

An elevator pitch is a great way to start, but for a personal brand to be successful, it must be demonstrated and communicated over and over again through a variety of channels.

It's helpful to have a brand toolkit. It can include your business card, resume, elevator speech, portfolio, blog, website and your social media presence.

You'll also want to promote your brand by building brand equity. You can do this by:

  • Joining associations,
  • Volunteering for a project or taking a leadership role in your organization,
  • Networking and meeting new colleagues,
  • Teaching a course, or
  • Participating in the community.

These kinds of things help you to build a strong network, deliver on your brand promise and, in short, live according to your brand promise.

You'll also want to make sure that you're building your social media presence. Social media has provided unlimited personal brand-building opportunities.

Did you know that:

  • The number of people who are visiting social media sites has increased by 24% over the last year? (Neilson Wire, Canada, 2010)
  • 75% of HR departments are now required to research candidates online? (U.S. Cross Tab Marketing 2008/2009)
  • 83% of employers will Google candidates and research them online? (U.S. Cross Tab Marketing 2008/2009)

Clearly, employers are making hiring decisions based on positive content, which means you have to be actively managing your online presence.

With the rise of social media outlets such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, the line between a personal and professional brand has become blurred – they are now one.

While social media is a great tool to get your message out and support your brand, you have to be careful about how you portray your brand online. You really don't want to be passed up for your next big career break because of a questionable photo on Facebook.

These applications allow you to communicate more extensively and with a broader reach than traditional methods.

At Scotiabank, we are launching a global communications platform shortly that will allow all employees to share information, and build their personal brand through an online profile. A profile page includes an employee's experience and knowledge, selected personal information such as hobbies and interests, and allows for a brief biography, as well as a photo.

In a multinational organization like Scotiabank, with more than 70,000 employees, this platform will be extremely beneficial in connecting employees – allowing them to find common interests to share experience and knowledge. All of this supports collaboration and encourages communication. It also provides an ideal way to build personal brands.

With so much out there to choose from, it can be challenging to keep on top of everything. To me, the important part is being aware of all of the opportunities to communicate your brand and tailor these to what you feel will benefit you the most.

Obviously, the more touchpoints you have, the more opportunities you will have to reinforce your brand, increase your visibility and build your network – which all create the potential for new opportunities.

Ultimately, it is up to you to take charge of your career. There will be tremendous opportunities for you to take advantage of – but there are lots of other people out there with similar credentials, skills and experience.

You need to stand out to be recognized. And a way to do this is by identifying your values, what makes you unique, and what makes you compelling through your personal brand.

The same strategies that make corporate brands or celebrity brands appeal to others, can work for you. You can build brand equity.

To do this, you need to consistently deliver on your brand with every interaction, with every project and with everyone you meet. This reinforces your brand promise, and supports your authenticity.

At the same time, remember to take advantage of all of the social media sites and networking opportunities available to you to help increase your visibility. Don't let others determine your brand for you. Leaving this to chance is a very risky proposition. Take control of it yourself, so that it represents you the way you want it to.

I challenge all of you to write or update your elevator pitch when you leave here today.

Be ready for the next opportunity to communicate your brand strategically, consistently and effectively.

Your career is in your hands; make sure you give yourself the opportunity to make the best of it with a strong personal brand.

Thank you.