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There are some striking similarities between consumer product brand management and career brand management.  The most important, in my opinion, is the need for discipline and courage.

Having The Discipline To Say "No"When consumer products brand managers are dealing with full-on pressure to achieve corporate expectations for improved margins, they typically pursue one or all of several options, including:

  • Reduce investment on product research
  • Trim quality in the manufacturing process
  • Deploy new packaging that will allow for a reduction in quantity without lowering the price
  • Pull back on the marketing budget, including consumer coupon discounts
  • Cut distribution costs even if that means longer delivery times or erosion in quality of perishable items in transit

Sometimes those adjustments go unnoticed by the consumers, but savvy shoppers usually figure it out sooner rather than later.  Their discovery can lead to unintended consequences — a loss of sales, or more importantly, a loss of trust.  A brand manager must have the discipline and courage to avoid quick fixes because the effects may not be sustainable and the damage in losing buyer trust can take a considerable amount of time, and money, to repair.

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On the career management side, executives being recruited must be disciplined to say no thank you to a job offer that they know in their heart of hearts will be problematic.  This is particularly hard for an out-of-work executive who sees what was thought to be a generous severance agreement running out.  With a mortgage, monthly household expenses, school tuition and an anxious spouse, the pressure to return to the workforce can become intense.  In my more than 20 years of executive search, I have seen that sense of pressure lead to a full blown feeling of desperation which, in turn, leads to the abandonment of any semblance of job selection discipline.

For example, some executives are natural influencers; they can get things done using their skills for communication and persuasion, or when they have direct operating control, they know how and when to pull the operational levers to achieve the targeted results.  They have knowledge and  experience and are comfortable in both a traditional operating environment or one that is overwhelmingly matrixed.

Executives with what I call a dominant hands-on leadership style and skill set should carefully assess whether their influencing skills are strong enough to be effective in an organization that relies on a matrix leadership structure, or whether their dominant hands-on management style — their natural strength — will keep them from succeeding within the matrix organizational chart.  This is a common dilemma for candidates in an environment where healthcare reform is leading organizations to try new ways of managing their business.   Candidates must remember that weaknesses are strengths either unchecked or in the wrong environment.

Lacking the discipline to have that honest internal conversation and the courage to say no before accepting an offer can lead candidates to another career disaster. Two quick job tenures can be devastating.

Do not assume that somehow it will work out because in the majority of cases it doesn’t.

Do not assume that the employer “gets it” and possesses some uncanny insight to see in you a quality that will enable you to succeed in their environment.  They usually don’t.  In fact, if you look at most failed executive searches, employers are prone to make that mistake more often than the candidate.

On the hiring side, companies also have a brand to manage — their employment brand.  Liking a candidate who seems to match with the values and behavioral profile of the organization is simply not enough.  If the company does not exercise the same level of discipline and courage, then their employment brand will suffer.  If it reaches the “common knowledge “ level in the marketplace, top candidates will sense that dysfunction and avoid the place, leaving the company’s recruiters to make do with less talented or less successful candidates.

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Discipline and courage are key to avoiding costly job acceptance and job hiring mistakes.