Personal branding: HR in practice

The business

BDO Stoy Hayward is part of BDO International, the world’s fifth largest accountancy network, with more than 600 offices in 100 countries.

This year the company was rated as one of the UK’s top 50 workplaces by the Financial Times (FT) for the second year running – the only accountancy firm to make the listing. The organisation also appeared in the Sunday Times’ Best Companies to Work For 2008 list, coming in at number 62.

The challenge

As part of its commitment to maximising the potential success of every member of staff, BDO Stoy Hayward felt that it needed to give them a competitive edge.

The company was already deeply committed to personal development, but HR wanted to improve the non-verbal messages staff were giving out, as well as the verbal ones. The HR team wanted to make a difference to employees at all levels of the business, from basic ‘do’s and don’ts’ for trainees, to partners gaining the edge in the boardroom.

The solution

After consulting staff, someone suggested that personal branding might be the answer. Personal branding refers to the way people package themselves and how that relates to their careers, and does have some negative overtones of 1980s ‘power dressing’. But practitioners describe it as the skill of consistent visual presentation accurately projecting personality messages. BDO believed it could make a difference to employees at all levels of the business, and wanted to focus on all aspects of their personal branding, from the colours they wore to their verbal habits.

BDO Stoy Hayward put Jane Mather, a senior manager in its business restructuring team, on a personal branding course at image consultancy Aston and Hayes.

Having completed the course, Mather sent out an e-mail announcing that she was now able to offer personal branding advice, and let staff members approach her. She felt it was important that any awareness campaign should be low key, because inviting someone to have personal branding training might be misconstrued as a criticism.

Mather offered personal sessions lasting around an hour and a half to senior members of staff. The sessions were so popular that workers returned to their departments enthusing about the training, and less senior staff demanded their own workshops, attending in groups of 25 at a time. Mather has now found herself providing personal branding advice to new graduates, as well as the company’s PAs and other support staff.

Tact, she says, is the key. “Personal hygiene is a big issue. I ask people to fill out a questionnaire, like an image audit, asking people to assess whether their clothes and their personal hygiene are assets or not.

“Sometimes the message is difficult to deliver,” she admits. “If it is a one-to-one session, then I have to tell people myself. With a lot of people the issues are usually around self-confidence. Once people become conscious of what it is that is not working for them, then they really want to know how to fix it.”

The outcome

Daniel Kasmir is HR director at BDO Stoy Hayward and a partner in the firm. He managed the personal branding roll-out, and has yet to complete his full review, but feels the service has been useful as well as popular.

Mather has been providing the advice at no cost, but Kasmir says: “Judging by the reaction of people who have been through this, I think it is something we would want to pay for.

“There is a tangible commercial benefit. When you are in a client situation I think that you are being judged in a series of different ways, and your physical appearance is one of them,” he concludes. “If you believe the adage that people buy from people, then what are they buying?”

If I could do it again…

Daniel Kasmir, HR director of BDO Stoy Hayward, believes that he under-estimated the popularity of personal branding.

“News of the branding spread like wildfire,” he says. “I knew it was working well because people were popping up from all over the place wanting to do it, and it became a bit of an urban myth in our community.

“There was a very swift recognition that when you are in client situations, you must do everything to give yourself competitive advantage. I would say to anyone else about to offer it, be prepared for it to be tremendously popular.”

Employee perspective

Accountant Danny Dartnail was one of the first to experience personal branding.

“I heard a couple of people had been through it and it appealed to me,” he says. “I am thinking about partnership and what my brand is and how people view me.

“I am 31 and look quite young, and the majority of the partners are older. I thought I was at the right stage in my career to take on something to improve my image and brand. I was sent a feedback form that other people had to fill in about what I was wearing, and what I could wear differently.

“I thought it was mostly going to be about clothes, but we hardly spoke about what I was wearing in my branding session. We talked about what I stood for and what I represented in the company. I often use humour as part of my interaction and I need to be aware of the shortfalls of that.

“Someone was quite damning about my appearance. I am quite tall and he said ‘sometimes he looks scruffy and I guess it can be difficult with a frame that size to look good’.

“I am conscious of my branding all the time now. Jane [Mather] has offered to go shopping with me to pick out some shirts and ties.”

Guide to building your personal brand in 8 steps

1 Ensure your clothing is appropriate for the occasion.

2 Ask yourself what messages you want others to pick up from you, and what messages you think you are conveying in what you’re wearing.

3 Keep accessories, jewellery, make-up, perfume and aftershave subtle and appropriate.

4 Practice the art of making small talk and introducing yourself.

5 Be conscious of the appropriate etiquette in the circumstances.

6 Remember other people’s names and use them.

7 Smile, make eye contact, shake hands, relax, and don’t fidget.

8 Listen carefully and pay attention to what the other person is saying, to show interest and to find common ground. Do not chatter.

Source: Mowbray by Design

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