The “Busy” Brand

There’s a lot of discussion in business journals about the importance of establishing and managing “your personal brand.” Today, I want to explore one specific aspect of the personal brand that unfortunately has become ubiquitous in the corporate environment: the “busy” brand.

Whichever attributes you’d like to be known for, it’s best to avoid the appearance of “busy-ness,” especially for corporate communicators.

This may seem contrary to your best interests when the economy continues to struggle and companies remain vigilant about cutting costs and headcount. But, take a moment to consider: There is a difference between being productive (an attribute your company values) and simply being busy.

There are distinct risks to branding yourself as busy (or “super busy” or, even worse, “too busy”):

Colleagues forget to include you – if you’ve been skipping collegial lunches for emails or eschewing after-work drinks or the softball game to log more desk time, that informal network which used to be invaluable to informing your work may evaporate. Over time, you’ll find work friends become less open to sharing information with you.

Direct reports avoid you – sending out signals that you’re swamped can impair your formal network, as well. Direct reports have a strong tendency to assume that the work their managers do is more important than the work they do and, in an effort to be helpful, they avoid interrupting that work. This means you lose opportunities to hear what’s going on in the department, to mentor and to help your employees prioritize their work.

Senior leaders don’t bring you new projects – let’s face it, the whole reason people adopt the “busy” brand is to have an impact on senior leaders. Either they’re trying to prove their value to the company or they’re trying to avoid being assigned too much work. The problem with the former is that senior leaders are pretty savvy about “busy-ness.” They know what their and your priorities are and, with hundreds of emails and voicemails of their own to respond to, the bar is mighty high when it comes to impressing them with “busy-ness.” The problem with branding yourself with “busy-ness” to avoid an even more onerous workload is that you may lose out on the chance to lead a key project or achieve an important stretch goal that a senior leader wanted to assign to you.

Clients in the business stop relying on you  communications as a function has spent years building its credibility in order to get a seat at the senior leaders’ table. Don’t lose that hard-won opportunity with your client groups in the business by portraying yourself as “too busy.” Take a hard look at your company: as busy as the communications function may be, the business functions are busier. You’ve worked hard to build a strong, trusting relationship with your clients; you want them to pick up the phone when they need help communicating (heck, you want them to pick up the phone and call you for advice about whether something requires communicating); don’t give clients a reason to avoid looping in communications.

You risk looking disorganized  communicators who over-promote their “busy-ness” by citing the deluge of emails and voicemails and meetings risk looking inefficient, and even ineffective, at something that’s supposed to be a key skill set: information management. Project management is also a required skill for the job. A communicator who spends too much time talking about their “busy-ness” just may set a boss (and HR) to thinking: “Why did we hire someone who doesn’t have these skills in the first place?”

You become suspect  when all this busy-ness fails to produce tangible results, more serious questions will be asked. “What have you been doing with your time?” “Where have you and your people been focused?” If there’s no strategic purpose to “busy-ness,” then there’s little benefit to your team, the communications department or the company.

For those who work in a function skilled at brand-building and message creation, the “busy” brand is one to skip. This isn’t a case of trying to establish a brand attribute in hopes it will impress others. You can be too good at branding yourself and, as a result, you might just get what you asked for.

P.S. In today’s Harvard Business Review blog, there’s an excellent post, titled “The Busyness Trap,” with helpful hints about information management.