Over the course of Career Day at Compliance Week’s National Conference earlier this month, the lineup of speakers used buzz phrases, seemingly by coincidence, again and again. As I reviewed my notes from the day, I noticed these terms showcased variations on a common theme: the importance of personal brand management in career success.
‘Locus of control’
One term that came up twice—first from Mary Shirley, head of culture of integrity and compliance education at Fresenius Medical Care, and later from Kristy Grant-Hart, founder and CEO of Spark Compliance Consulting—was locus of control: the degree to which an individual can influence the outcome of events in his/her life.
Much like Simone Biles nailing a Yurchenko double pike on vault, locus of control is all about mastering the fundamentals governable by you. For Biles, that’s speed, form, height, distance, and more. For a compliance practitioner, those fundamentals look different, but they are equally integral to sticking the landing of success.
Grant-Hart examined the concept in the context of her male-dominated legal career.
“An externalized locus of control can make you feel like a victim; it can make you feel hopeless or helpless, and most importantly, it requires others to change themselves … to validate how [you are] feeling,” she said. Grant-Hart said having an internal locus of control “gave [her] a sense of agency … that [she] didn’t need anyone else to change to validate what [she] was bringing to the table.”
“Your work has no voice whatsoever … unless you give voice to it.”
Mark Gonska, Chief Connections Officer, Dise & Company
Shirley mentioned locus of control in terms of building a network before you need it. She stressed the importance of establishing relationships early and often, offering an example of a woman who sent her a complimentary note about her Great Women in Compliance podcast, without agenda. Months later, the woman resurfaced asking for career advice. Shirley felt compelled to help her, “because she had laid the foundation earlier.”
Sending a sincere note to someone whose career success speaks to your own aspirations is within your locus of control, and it takes all of five minutes.
“‘Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution,’” said Executive Coach and Consultant Amii Barnard-Bahn, referencing a quote by Aristotle that echoes Shirley’s and Grant-Hart’s point.
Maurice Gilbert, compliance recruiter at Conselium Compliance Search, introduced the term personal brand into the conversation mid-morning, and it was later reiterated by several other speakers.
“Companies utilize a concept they call branding to control their image and their narrative,” Gilbert explained. “How could you apply [branding] as an individual and in your compliance department?”
The way to go about doing that, Gilbert said, is to create value statements: succinct, easily expressed, and memorable. Think: “I did A, B, and C, which resulted in X, Y, and Z.”
Yes, it requires tooting your own horn, but as Dise & Company Chief Connections Officer Mark Gonska pointed out later, if you don’t tell your boss what value you’re bringing to the company, s/he may have no appreciation of all the great work you do.
“My dad, who was a hero of mine, said, ‘You be the first guy there in the morning; work hard all day; keep your mouth shut; and then you be the last guy to unplug the coffee pot, and you’ll do okay.’ Well, I did all that, and I still got fired,” Gonska said with a laugh, hammering the point that your work will, in fact, not speak for itself.
“Your work has no voice whatsoever … unless you give voice to it,” Gonska said.
Of course, everyone is painfully aware that no one likes a braggart, which makes being your own self-publicist a challenge when trying to build a personal brand. Gilbert shared an anecdote illustrating how difficult it can be to spell out your value to an employer.
When working for GE Capital in the 1990s, Gilbert ran into CEO Gary Wendt at the movie theater one weekend. “I thought, ‘I’m going to walk up to him and tell him of [my latest] accomplishment.’ Well, sadly, it didn’t happen. I didn’t have the courage to walk up to him and do that, and I thought of it later and said, ‘Wow, that was a real lost opportunity,’” Gilbert admitted.
However, a second opportunity presented itself a week later, and this time, Gilbert took it. “I walked up to [Wendt], told him of my value story, and much to my surprise, he said to me, ‘Wow, that’s awesome. I wish more people would tell me of their successes!’”
David Ciullo, CEO of Career Management Associates, also talked about personal branding—but while Gilbert and Gonska focused on credibility, Ciullo focused on image. There is proactively building the brand (i.e., developing credibility), and then there is keeping an eye on its external perception (image consciousness).
“You absolutely have to think about the fact that you must worry about what others are perceiving your value to be. … Do not forget that,” Ciullo said.
There is a secret to becoming more comfortable with singing your own “value-add” praises, and it’s getting more comfortable with the opposite: facing up to your shortcomings.
Barnard-Bahn told participants that to achieve excellence, they must commit to “asking for feedback and getting good at it.” She fully acknowledged it might not be a pleasant experience, but “your setbacks become old friends. You get more used to living with them, and … you gain perspective from them.”
Gonska, too, suggested establishing the following feedback loop with your boss: “Here are the things I’m doing well that [you feel] I should continue doing; here are the things I haven’t done yet that you feel I should start doing; and boss—give me some feedback here—here’s something I’m doing that [you think] I should stop.
“Continue. Start. Stop. It’s very effective, very simple, and it’s excellent.”
Gonska’s recipe for a feedback loop of “continue, start, stop” compliments Gilbert’s algebra formula for value statements. It’s a lot easier to see and communicate your personal value when you pair it with an awareness of your areas for improvement. You’re not an egomaniac in this case; you are simply a work in progress, giving yourself credit where credit is due while being open to continual improvement.