How to create and promote your personal brand through corporate volunteerism
This winter, Lea Knight, vice president, NA service delivery, finance for Johnson & Johnson, slipped on the ice and spent a few days immobilized on her couch recovering from a neck injury. Seeing her unable to do anything, her 13-year-old son shared his concern. “Mommy, I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m not used to seeing you like this. This is not how I think of you. You’re so strong, so independent. You’re always there for me. This is not you.”
It was then that Knight realized the full power of one’s image. Whether at home or at work, we create an image around how we show up and how we impact the lives of those around us. It’s this image that shapes others’ understanding and expectations of us. And when it comes to work, it’s this image—and others’ exposure to it—that can also shape the trajectory of our careers.
Recognizing the importance of going beyond performance
Creating an image wasn’t always top-of-mind for Knight. Like many of us, she was taught by her hardworking parents to “keep your head down and work hard to get ahead.” But when she arrived at J&J as a mid-level manager, the advice of a mentor and a leadership training facilitator convinced her that it would take more to climb the ladder there. “I learned quickly that in a decentralized environment like J&J, which has five different business sectors, you can stay in your lane and work on your performance, but that’s not going to advance your career,” recalls Knight. “You have to work a lot more intentionally to build an image and gain exposure across the company.” Though especially critical in this environment, she says this is true throughout all companies, where even the best performers can risk being siloed into their departments or functions.
It was at this time that Knight was first introduced to management consultant Harvey Coleman’s PIE concept, explained in his book, Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed. Created to help empower professionals of all backgrounds to reach for the top rung of the ladder, the concept revolves around three key elements, each of which is given a dedicated percentage of the total package:
1. First, there’s performance: This, says Knight, is the most straightforward piece of the pie. It’s literally what you do in your job and how you show up in terms of the level of commitment in delivering against the expectations of your role. It may seem counterintuitive that job performance takes up a mere 10% of the pie. But don’t mistake that for meaning it’s not important. It is. It’s just that when you work in an industry like healthcare among smart, dedicated people, it’s highly likely that everybody else is also performing well. “When you get to a company like J&J and when you reach the management level, everybody’s really smart. Everybody has a lot of education. So you can no longer compete on that basis,” explains Knight. “Now, the basis of competition becomes how do you differentiate yourself? How do you become a professional among professionals, but show up differently?”
2. Then, there’s your image: This is how you differentiate yourself. “Your image, or personal brand, is what, when you’re not around and someone is stopped in the hall and asked what they think of you, will be the response,” says Knight. “It’s also an aggregation of the impact that you have on the careers of others, on driving business results and on your broader community. It’s not whether you can do your job; it’s what separates you from all of the other professionals in your company.”
3. Finally, comes exposure: “Exposure is who knows you and who has seen you in action and can speak on your behalf when you’re not in the room and decisions need to be made around who gets a shot at the next job,” says Knight. “Who’s going to sponsor you at the big table?” Exposure is the largest area of focus with a full 60% of the PIE. This is because your personal brand image only carries weight if others know about it.
Image adapted from Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed, by Harvey Coleman
The role of corporate volunteerism in filling out your PIE
For Knight, as for many professionals, one of the best ways to differentiate herself has been to volunteer. “Within organizations, there are always opportunities to volunteer to do things beyond your base job,” says Knight. “A lot of these roles have the added benefit of giving you access to people you ordinarily wouldn’t have access to.” Knight’s approach was to choose volunteer roles she was excited about, allowing her to network without feeling like she was networking. “In order to run initiatives, I would need to meet with leaders from different operating companies or present to an auditorium full of people. And, unbeknownst to me, in that auditorium was somebody who would take note of my performance and offer me another opportunity.” This approach has helped Knight advance quickly in her career while building true relationships by engaging with others around common areas of interest.
Knight says volunteering can also help you develop a unique personal brand image. For her, this came from her volunteer efforts to create a more inclusive environment that promotes flexibility and honors different working styles. “Efforts around this have gone a long way in keeping me visible, but they’ve also led to positive outcomes within the company that have helped to build my brand image,” she notes. For example, in 2014, when the executive team was looking for a senior finance director who would help build culture, Knight says it was the image she had created for herself through her volunteer roles that got her on the slate for consideration for this position. It’s the position she holds today.
Knight, like Coleman, stresses that it’s not just internal exposure within your company, but also external exposure within the larger industry and community that’s key. This is something Knight has discovered herself from her volunteer experiences over the past five years as vice chair of the board of the nonprofit Public Interest Law Center, based in Philadelphia. “I joined the board with the purest intent, because I wanted to help others,” says Knight. “But as I’ve gotten to know the 30 other members of the board, and as they’ve seen me work and asked me to do more, it has created a ton of opportunities for me personally. I couldn’t even have imagined the connections, networks and access that have resulted from this role.” It’s also helped to improve her performance. “A lot of what I do at J&J is helping to develop strategy, to find alternative ways to approach issues and influence others to get them on board. Being the vice chair of a large board, made up mostly of male lawyers, has been great practice,” says Knight, adding that the wide range of activities and decisions the Center involves her in have also helped to strengthen her skills and confidence.
Allowing for fluidity and flexibility in your PIE
While Knight says you should always be aware of all three pieces of the PIE, their importance to your career does shift over time. “When starting out in your career, it’s probably 90% performance. There’s got to be something there to create an image around,” she explains. “Then, as you advance, it’s important to be thoughtful in the types of experiences you build in order to begin also building those points of differentiation that will create your image. Once you’ve created those points of differentiation that become your image, that’s when I think you’ve earned the right, if you will, to get in front of those people and organizations that give you the platform to share that image broadly. At that point, exposure is 60% of the pie.”
The PIE process functions as a cycle. You build your image and exposure, which leads to new performance opportunities, which lead to greater exposure. “At some point, you’ve demonstrated the breadth of your skill set and that performance piece probably isn’t going to get much bigger, so it becomes a lot more about exposure.” In the larger pie of our lives, it’s also important to ensure there’s room for the pieces outside of work—including our families. Knight’s advice is to be highly selective about the types of volunteer roles you choose.
Here are Lea Knight’s 5 top tips for making corporate volunteerism work for you:
1. Understand your corporate rules of engagement. Get to know your organization’s corporate culture and figure out how the pieces of the pie are weighted within your organization. Have conversations with experienced colleagues and mentors early on in your career to learn what’s important in your organization and come up with a formula that works for you.
2. Find volunteer opportunities that fulfill your purpose. Look for ways to spend your time that are meaningful to you and that further your career aspirations. Volunteer where you can develop and grow from a professional standpoint while giving back to the community.
3. Get corporate support and engagement. Many boards and committees meet during work hours, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. Talk to your supervisor about the volunteer roles you’re taking on, why you’re volunteering and how the experiences will benefit you in your job. You’ll likely find that supervisors will be happy to support you and navigate around the time commitments.
4. Create visibility around your contributions. People need to know what you’re doing in order for your work to gain exposure. It’s important to talk not just about the roles you’re taking on, but also the specific contributions you’re making through those roles. When you’re meeting with your supervisor, be sure to share what you’re doing in your volunteer life as well as in your day job.
5. Get feedback and reassess. Ask your supervisors to help you assess if you’re meeting your development goals through your volunteer roles. If so, document that. If not, ask for help selecting other volunteer opportunities.
This article was inspired by the talk given by Lea Knight at the 2015 Rising Star and Luminary Breakfast sponsored HBA Corporte Partner and Ruby sponosr by Johnson & Johnson. We are greatful for their support.
Written by Danielle Thierry, president and content director, Thierry Writing