The Story of You

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I'm probably like a lot of you. I've read a few of management guru Tom Peters' books.

October 01, 1999

I’m probably like a lot of you. I’ve read a few of management guru Tom Peters' books. All have been interesting, and I really liked one. "The Pursuit of Wow." The idea that customers had to be wowed by their experience with a company was dead on. The case-history examples of organizations big and small that deliver that kind of service and the results it produced were fascinating. It’s a book worth rereading every now and again.

I can’t say I’ve read Peter’s newest book, "The Brand You," though USA Today recently published a review of it as well as an interview with the author. Over an early-morning breakfast in a hotel coffee shop I read how middle-level, white-collar managers are the next group to experience the massive job cuts that changing technology leaves in its wake. Blue-collar workers experienced this phenomenon firsthand in recent decades, and to think that any segment of the work force is immune to this disruption is shortsighted and -- quite possibly -- dangerous to future employment prospects, says Peters.

"Ninety percent of white-collar jobs are in jeopardy. Anybody who thinks he’s going to save his job is crazy. Welcome to the free-agent nation, and free agents must distinguish themselves," explained Peters in the USA Today interview.

Those in harm’s way can ensure their survival in the new business world by self-branding. Brand You, according to Peters, is about accumulating a portfolio of projects worth bragging about. It’s about distinguishing yourself from the 15 other people in the department. "People in cubicles must do things to get noticed," he says.

It may be unfair of me to second-guess an author when I haven’t read his entire work, but the title of Peters' newest book troubles me. The idea that each employee in an organization must concentrate on standing out from every other seems dangerous. While such a committed focus may be career-saving for one, it could be company-threatening for all.

I think about this year’s National Housing Quality Award winners profiled in this issue. After spending time with the management in each organization, I feel safe saying none would encourage "me" thinking among its employees and associates. In fact, at Shea Homes Arizona, The Green Cos. and Sunrise Colony Co. that sort of thinking is actively discouraged. Personnel are encouraged to do their very best work not for personal recognition but because doing so will benefit the entire organization. The "We’re all in it together" mind-set dominates at all these companies. Management is careful to involve employees in every aspect of decision-making and in turn is rewarded with increased productivity and innovative thinking.

If self-branding isn’t the right focus for a secure employment future, then what is? In my job I don’t think about developing a portfolio of projects that make me look good to those above, and I am one of those middle-level managers in a big company. Our floor is filled with cubicles, yet none of us on staff feels compelled to compete for accolades.

Could be we’re just lucky and blessed with an enlightened manager. While he is smart and we are blessed, he isn’t the reason none of us feels pressure to compete. The real reason is the message that manager sends about where we must focus to succeed. In the day-to-day of doing our jobs, none of us works for the boss; that we’re told again and again. We all work for you. Our customer is you -- the reader. That is true for every person on PB’s staff -- editors, salespeople, support personnel, artists, etc.

Ask the folks at Shea Homes Arizona. Spend a few minutes with the people at The Green Cos. Walk one of Sunrise Colony Co.’s developments. Each of these organizations has created a culture in which every individual works for only one person -- the home buyer.

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