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How to Protect Your Brand in Times of Difficulty?!

Author : Dilip Saraf
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During recent years personal brand building has become a big focus for many. My view is that brand building is the easy part; the harder part is protecting and sustaining that brand and its image. This is especially true during difficult times that personally challenge your mettle and character. Some famous brand-defending episodes hark back to the times when the everyday remedy for pain and feverTylenolwent through its own difficulties in 1982 where some of its packages in one small area of Chicago were pilfered and tablets laced with potassium cyanide.

After seven people died from this deliberate act of product pilfering Tylenol preemptively pulled its entire product throughout the US and abroad at a tremendous cost and replaced it later with pilfer-proof packages faster than anyone expected. This was an exceptional case of what lengths a company can go through to protect its brand and its products integrity!

On a much smaller scale of impact similar forces can challenge your personal brand. Let me explain:

Recently, one of my clients met with an accident at her home one weekend and was seriously injured requiring a visit to the ER, some surgery that resulted in a cast, which immobilized her, and serious pain medication to salve the pain. As a result, on Monday she could not get back to work despite a pending project that was due that week and that project was important to her boss.

Her injury was more serious than she initially realized and she decided to martyr herself to the project and to her boss by emailing to him that she suffered a minor fall that weekend and that she was unable to come to work and would like to complete her part of the project from home. Perceiving (or even not giving this any further thought) that this may be an act of truancy on her part her boss curtly replied back that he needed that task done as soon as possible to have sufficient time to review and to rework it if required, before it was presented to the top brass.

With this response, my client decided to go into high gear and started furiously working on her task despite her impaired condition. She worked all night on Monday braving through the effects of a strong medication given to her after the surgery to salve her pain and to calm her down. So, without much rest or sleep my client soldered through her assignment and sent that task to her boss on Tuesday. Inadequate resources on her personal laptop and her inability to get updated inputs from her team during the night further compounded her difficulty in completing her task properly.

When the boss saw what was in front of hima half-done compilation of numbers without the proper formatting that was required for this to be presented to the top management, he came unhinged and tore into her via a scurrilous email. At this point my client is frazzled and out of her wits to deal with this unfair assault. She was feeling proud for having stayed up all night and struggled through her difficult task, despite her impaired state. She was more focused on her pain and all the work she had put in that night without sleep and felt that the boss was unfair in how he was treating her. Her boss, on the other hand, was upset with her work and stated in his email to her that if she produced work of this quality that she would be better off working elsewhere.

My client was relatively new to her job at this company, so in those few months she had not been able to fully demonstrate her skills and to build a level of trust with her boss that gave him the assurance that she was a good, diligent worker. Although there were no instances of poor work, nor were there any instances of stellar assignments that my client had completed, so the boss was still checking her out. Thus, when this episode occurred at time of a critical deadline for an important task my client came shortwoefully short.

Upset with this outcome, my client called me asking me how to salvage this situation and how to get back on track. Once I realized what had happened it was clear that the two parties had different views of what had transpired as a result of my clients accident and how the level of expectations on both sides had compromised a fledgling relationship. Until this point all exchanges between the two had taken place via curt emails, which had exacerbated the problem.

After talking to my client I realized that she had done a disservice to herself by not properly explaining the seriousness of her injury. So, instead of stating that she went to the ER, she had written that she visited her doctor. Instead of clearly stating that she then went through surgery to reset her fractured bone, she had stated that the doctor took care of the situation by giving her some medication. Instead of stating that her medication would make her groggy and that she was required to rest she wrote that she was fine and could work from home with full power. But, because she was unable to walkrequiring crutchesshe simply could not drive and get to work.

So, as you can see these to different views of an otherwise serious situation had created a rift in a relationship for which only my client was responsible. If she had clearly stated her medical needs and impaired condition as a result of the surgery these things may have taken a different course.

In view of this reality we decided to re-set her boss view of what was really going on and to see if we could salvage the situation and get her some relief.

The action we decided to take was to call (no more emails) and talk to her boss to explain the situation with enough details that conveyed to her boss that she had already gone out of her way to do the task that was upon her, but her condition had failed her to deliver that with a quality and completeness that she would normally ensure. She also told him that the surgeon (not the doctor) had asked her to be on limited mobility due to her now being on crutches and to continue to take the drugs (not pills) until her pain was manageable.

Once the boss got to hear the first-hand account of what my client had endured and how she has soldered through the task despite this difficulty he changed his tune, asked her to stay home for two weeks and assured her that the task she was responsible for would be taken care of. With this assurance my client was now able to focus on her recovery and rest that she badly needed.

So, what is the lesson from this episode? Here is my take:

  1. When there is a serious need to attend to your personal situation it is best to not minimize its seriousness and to explain what is required for you to get past the setback. The normal tendency is to minimize the plighteven martyring yourself to the cause, as my client didand suffer through the difficulty. This often results in undue stress, compromised outcomes, and misunderstanding about the reality, causing you to take the brunt end of the wrath, which can negatively impact your brand and image.
  2. The best approach in situations such as what my client faced is to get a realistic assessment of the recovery plan from the experts (surgeon and her doctor in this case), tempering it with your own judgment to provide a realistic comeback plan, and pleading for some slack, so that expectations are met or exceeded to protect your brand.
  3. Managing perceptions is about managing expectations. To build and protect your brand remember that the one approach that works is: Under promise and over deliver. My client suffered her fate because initially she did the opposite, thinking that this would impress her boss. Exactly, its opposite happened.

Protecting your brand takes awareness, diligence, and the right approach to managing expectations. With these skills you can keep your brand untarnished even in times of your personal difficulty.

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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