Beware: The Competition Will Try to Define You


During the political season we are reminded of a strategy used by certain candidates to cast their opposition in a disparaging light. The one who draws first blood or throws the first punch has the advantage. The concept is to define their opponent in the negative they want them to be seen in the eyes of the voters. The image or caricature they create and assign to the person may not in reality be an accurate picture of who they are. But, if they persistently hammer home the message, repetition will cause people to believe it.

The persona they create and attach to their opponent becomes how they are seen by others and becomes their image shaping their reputation. It is not a trial where character witnesses are called to refute the charges against them. The target can defend themselves and attack the negative label, but it must stick to them wherever they go. The voter’s perception becomes the candidate’s reality. The politicians have essentially given them a brand that will minimize their effectiveness against the onslaught of negative publicity.

Branding or labeling your competition is a technique that is also used in the business world when dealing with competitive companies and competitive products. If you can convince the consumer that a product is unreliable and the service provided by the company is substandard, you can divert the customer to your products and services.

I remember a sales representative whose product was not a market share match for the competition. The sales representative’s presentation focus was on equivalent safety, efficacy and cost relative to the other products. His wildcard was superior service. He used his sales presentation to enhance a “yes but” approach around the service.” Yes their products are good, but you can’t rely on the sales representative to give the kind of service you deserve.” In the world of commodity products, where every product is comparable with superior products, the focus deviates from the product to ancillary or alleged advantages.

You should also be mindful that someone may be trying to use the same defining technique on your reputation. Individuals or factions within your company may be trying to restrict your career growth and limit your impact within the organization. You may discover that misconceptions and misinformation exist about your skills and motivation that were intentionally planted or inadvertently allowed to persist. If this inaccurate performance profile is not corrected, your career can be stalled and irreparably damaged.

Let’s further examine this technique as it relates to your career. Whether you know it or not someone may be trying to define your reputation. Many times you don’t even know the charges have been made. Katherine was a rising talent within an organization, putting very impressive numbers on the board, which led to a promotion. She received rave review from a number of people in management. Her boss decided to ask one of her peers about her performance on the job as it related to being a team player. The teammates said, “Katherine was a hard worker and people liked her, but you would think with her skill level she would have a greater attention to detail.” This planted the seed that she could not be trusted to handle the small intricate details of a project.

Another individual got a new manager and his new boss sat him down to discuss two issues regarding his performance. The big issues were around initiative and decision-making. The employee told his boss how he came in on weekends to get a head start on the week, spending upwards of six hours away from his family, to lay the foundation for a productive week. Apparently, there was a note in his file that he could not get work done in the timeframe allotted, so he had to come in on weekends.

Secondly, while describing his decision-making technique he mentioned that he watched his boss to see how he made decisions and when the boss was not present, on the smaller matters, he would make a determination and then inform his boss when he returned. The boss never expressed that he had an issue with this approach. However, in his file it stated that he frequently overstepped his decision-making authority. This was a part of the record and gave the impression that he was reckless in making decisions.

A Regional Sales Manager (RSM) found out that his National Sales Manager (NSM) harbored a negative image of one of their District Sales Managers (DSM). When the RSM issued a positive performance review on the DSM, he received lukewarm feedback. Later when RSM wanted to recommend the DSM for a promotion, the NSM would not support the recommendation because he felt she had to change her image. The National Sales Manager said she was perceived as aggressive and abrasive, which did not apply to her. He felt she had to change her reputation before he would recommend her for additional responsibility. The Regional Sales Manager asked a very pertinent question, “How is she going to change a perception that does not represent who she is?”

There are advertised companies that perform a reputation audit or assessment on line to see what the Internet says about you. Just as it is reasonable to conduct a credit check or an audit of your financial status for identity theft, it is also good to do an assessment of your reputation within your organization.

  • Reach out to your peers and managers to discover what the word on the street is regarding your image
  • Consider developing a small survey with a few questions around skills you need to improve
  • Have information from mentors, advocates and sponsors who will speak on your behalf and speak candidly to you

Biases, misconceptions, stereotypes, prejudices and preferences can hamper your career mobility. I am not suggesting that’s premeditated acts are committed to sabotage your particular career, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that people’s careers have been shattered by unscrupulous employees, who were internal career competitors. In previous writings I suggested that is important to know who knows you and what they think of you and how they arrived at their opinions. Your image is important and depends on this information to enable you to be knowledgeable to take corrective action.

Organizations are providing 360° feedback instrument for their leadership teams. But, rarely is this instrument taken down to non-managers. I would suggest that as a manager or a non-manager, gaining a perspective of how you are perceived by your peers and others could provide important information for your personal growth.

Additionally, you may ask your HR department if they have instruments that you can use to share with your peers or you may go on the Internet and find resources that you can tailor to your needs.

When you receive feedback from people you should listen carefully to what they are saying and any nuances that may indicate reservations about you. When you hear negative feedback, you must be calm and refuse to cause a scene. Seek assistance in devising a strategy to handle negative information, which involves enlisting trouble shooters and internal image specialist (HR and mentors). There may also be legitimate instances where the poor reputation is earned and you must remodel or remove yourself from the organization if it is career threatening. You may need to take the feedback and gain a fresh start in another company.

The objective of this article is not to make you paranoid, but prudent in understanding all of the variables that could impact your development. The more information you have about your personal performance, the faster you can make adjustments to correct any abnormalities and keep you on the path to reaching your goals. When people form impressions about you, they should be authentic, accurate and positive reflections of your reputation and your track record.

Copyright © 2016 Orlando Ceaser




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