Hone Your Brand, Believability and Style


By Bob Gold and D. Scott Sink

The issue, opportunity, problem

William T. Morris first wrote about the three-ball problem associated with implementation strategies for industrial engineering in the late 1970s. Morris was an outstanding ISE professor who studied improvement project implementation success rates and, more specifically, failure modes (factors causing unacceptably high failure rates of ISE type projects). He concluded that failure often happened because ISEs lacked the skill in juggling what he called the three balls associated with a successful implementation:

  1. Solve the focal problem (capture the opportunity and crack the code on how to improve the process)
  2. Program and project management (create a strategy and plan for the work, assemble the right people and resources and successfully manage the program and projects over time)
  3. Change leadership and management (create a shared vision, gain alignment and attunement and get the right people in the right seats doing the right things)

Habits and tendencies

In some cases, these things actually are our brand: body language, energy, attitude, passion, work ethic and being on time. All young professionals should bring these 10 things to the table from the beginning. Yet experience in the field suggests that most have not mastered them, so foundation work needs to be done.

Establish a strong foundation. Then climb Covey’s celebrated first set of seven steps. Refine, hone and build those habits by using what we will call the second set of seven habits for highly successful young professionals.

  1. Selectively and effectively use great mentors: Carefully create a board of directors for yourself. Learn how to tap into their wisdom. Seek feedback from them and others.
  2. Build and sustain great relationships: Learn how to be a great relationship manager. Develop the ability to initialize relationships, understand who the key stakeholders are and how to understand them and work with them.
  3. Manage your brand: Understand brand, consciously design it, understand your default position brand, identify gaps and close those gaps.
  4. Toot your own horn: Position yourself consciously and systematically in the organization. Learn how to “toot your own horn without blowing it,” as the expression goes. Position yourself effectively but not in a boastful fashion.
  5. Develop curiosity and T-shaped mastery: Successful ISEs are curious, but over time they have to build what’s called the T-shaped mastery model (breadth and depth).
  6. Establish thought leadership: Many young ISEs enter the world of work without a lot of confidence. They are hesitant, cautious. Their organization is looking for them to bring points of view, to bring theories, principles and methods to bear on complex problems. In short, ISEs have to learn quickly how to be thought leaders.
  7. Build and grow trust: Your ability to influence others, to motivate and cause positive change, is based on your ability to have key stakeholders allow you to work on projects where the quality of your solutions can be recognized. And this is based a great deal on whether people trust you. People, especially young professionals, don’t understand the mechanics of building trust over time.

Now let’s examine ways to develop those habits in a systematic way to become more believable.

Becoming believable

The other component of believability is credibility. Credibility comprises the objective and subjective components of how believable a source or message is. You build credibility over time by systematically managing the T-shaped professional model: Saying yes to things, being proactive about learning and growing, being curious in ways that broaden and deepen your knowledge and skills. As we do that over time, our expert base of power grows and our reputation, our brand and our competencies build our credibility.

By doing what we say we will do and doing it well and by living up to our promises and focusing on serving the higher good, we build trust while building our knowledge and skills. Over time that grows our credibility.

Causing other people to believe helps build your believability team. None of us are as smart as all of us, as the saying goes. Most are up against things bigger than we are. We don’t know enough. We need a team. Picking good mentors (trusted advisors) and collaborators (our team) and using both groups of individuals well expands our believability by creating our believability team.

Assembling a team for a critical improvement project confronts us with the Jim Collins opportunity of “First who, then what.” Often we can’t do first who, then what. Instead, we’ve got “what” first, and we have to learn to work with the team we inherit or have.

That’s the real test of leadership and management: how to get the most out of the people you have. This is often where our biggest persuasion challenges lurk.

The flexibility of style

Brand and believability are critical, but being able to deploy those to the right stakeholder groups and individuals is where the payoff takes place.

All improvement projects have various stakeholders that you have to work with and gain buy-in from. Each stakeholder has unique needs, expectations and hot buttons. Being able to tailor your words and actions is the key to persuading stakeholders. Often, we get into a “push” rather than a “pull” mode. Like in lean, we aren’t pulling from the customer, we’re pushing like a provider. Just like in lean, learning to create pull rather than push will yield better results.

The science of persuasion is a lot about human factors engineering and “use cases.” Every situation with an opportunity to sell, persuade, influence, gain buy-in or get people connected has a slightly different use case (users/players, context and desired outputs and outcomes). The successful change agent must first size up the opportunity and situations with the group of stakeholders. Remember, as a change agent you are being paid to be in “role,” not in “self.” You are an actor every time you interact with stakeholders.

This is the style flexibility component. At times you must be an expert solution provider, at other times just an accepting listener. The art of persuasion is to read the stakeholders, the situation and match your style and tactics to them.