June 23, 2018

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Helping Employees Retool Their Brand After A Layoff

It was only a whle ago when your employees were going a million miles an hour answering a gazillion emails and figuring out which headhunters to blow off their call list. Life was good; there were more jobs than there were qualified people to fill them. What a difference a year makes. Now, many of those same people are the product of corporate America’s "layoff fever" -- sitting at home flipping the channels or surfing the Web, wondering how they’re going to make the next car payment on the BMW.

As a responsible, thoughtful human resources expert, it's your job to stop them from worrying and help them start re-tooling so they can get back into the job market. The economy has slowed and layoffs have become commonplace, but we are still enjoying low unemployment which by all counts shouldn’t exceed 4.5% by year-end. For people who are now unemployed, 12 weeks is the average time they’ll be out of work. So, a layoff, when framed properly, is nothing more than a rest stop on the road to success. If handled in a healthy way, it can be a great time to slow down and ponder existential questions like who are you, what are you good at and what do you really like doing, so you don’t land yourself face down in your next gig.

Why The Personal Brand Revolution Matters

Branding is a revolutionary way to look at ones self. Great brands like Nike, Disney, Coke and MTV all have meaning beyond their name. They create an emotional connection with the people they need to influence. When you think of Coke, "refreshing" comes to mind. Nike’s "Just Do It" reminds us that we’re living in the age of the active lifestyle. And Disney has become synonymous with "quality." The right personal brand, one that authentically reflects your core values, passions and talents can help you become the Oprah of your chosen profession. But, to get there, you have to untie your ego from your company and the title that has been bestowed upon you. They and it are not you. Now is the time to declare your expertise in a way that has value and reflects who you really are.

By helping your former employees through the eight step branding process found in my book, Make A Name For Yourself they’ll learn how to:

  • Unearth their authentic self to develop a brand that reflects their

  • Natural talents, abilities and passions

  • Define their log-term career goals and dreams

  • Adapt and sell their brand to their target market

  • Identify and overcome personal roadblocks

  • Package themselves to reflect their chosen brand image

  • Launch, maintain and build their new brand

Whether you hire an outplacement firm, assemble an alliance of outside experts or use your own staff to retrain and motivate dismissed workers, you must do something meaningful to defuse your former employees’ anger and turn what could be perceived as a big negative into a positive.

With or Without A Title, We All Have Value

At this moment, employees your company has let go are falling all over themselves trying to answer the question "what do you do?" Personally, I never say, "I’m president of Big Fish Marketing." What does that mean in the grand scheme of things anyway? I say, "I’m a brand strategist and published author." The idea is to say something that speaks to your expertise, dreams and accomplishments.

Remember that with or without a paycheck the people that are no longer with your company still have value. They need to know that. Now, is the time for you to coach them on how to plant their flag in the ground and declare their specialty to the world (or at least to the next person who interviews them). After all, now that they’re out in the job market, they’re going to learn very quickly that specialists make the big bucks. Generalists are old news.

A good friend of mine had a sweet deal producing movies for Universal Studios. When the studio decided to downsize and cancel her deal, she was out of a job and a paycheck. Rather than go back to the same old grind, she opted to become a content creator for the Internet. Her value as a film producer was in finding great stories "under Hollywood’s radar" and turning them into movies. She re-branded herself as the "Digital Storyteller" and landed a big content job in a matter of months with no Internet experience.

Step One: Dig Deep To Unearth Your Authentic Self

The first step of your brand-oriented outplacement program should be to help former employees dig deep to uncover who they are. Exercises and role-playing includes:

  • Defining what product they’d be on the grocer’s shelf

  • Listing their core values

  • Declaring their life’s mission

  • Describing their passions

  • Defining themselves with a tagline

My core values are love, empowerment and safety. I’ll only work with clients and take on projects that embrace these core values. It’s a clue to who I am and the types of companies I’ll align myself with. In the same respect, my passion to creatively build businesses is what makes me happy in my work. Branding requires uncovering these truths and guiding those who have been laid off to a new place where they can operate authentically.

Step Two: Define Your Dreams And Put Them Into Action

Forget about following your feelings… lead them to your stated mission! That means that you encourage your newly terminated employees not to take the first thing that comes along (unless it is the perfect job for them) no matter how desperate they feel. Instead, you can help them create the end game and the winning plays that will get them there. Here is where they’ll learn that saying "I want" isn’t good enough— only careful planning will help them find a dynamic position.

In this step, you will get your former employees to ask themselves to think long term so they can manifest their personal legend.

  • What defines "living well" to you?

  • Where do you want to make your dream/career happen?

  • When will you be ready to make a move?

  • How will you make your dream/career come true?

  • Why do you want this dream, what’s the up side?

  • Who will help you get to where you want to go?

The legendary life is directed and focused towards happiness and self-fulfillment. Acknowledging that there is a reason for your existence on this planet creates it. I can guarantee you that your employee’s mission was not to be laid off. But, perhaps the layoff is a sign that they weren’t on the right path to begin with. You will be doing them a great service if you can help them come to this conclusion.

Step Three: Go After Your Target Audience With A Vengeance

When your former employees begin to put their dreams in writing, have them consider who they’ll need to influence to make it come true. The "who" is an essential element to the branding equation. In marketing speak, we call these folks the "target audience." And, the best way to appeal to them is to do a 180-degree turn, stand in their shoes and figure out what they want to hear from you. More than likely its how they're going to be saved or made to look good. In other words, the question, "what’s in it for me?" must be answered right upfront.

Unfortunately, some of those familiar faces in the target audience may have already branded those you’ve laid off as something they never imagined or wanted. And, because contacts are critical in landing a new position, perceptions must be changed. So many times we get pigeonholed with a label that doesn’t reflect how we want to be perceived or who we really are. The truth is if you don’t brand yourself, someone else will.

To find their target audience and change any preconceived notions, encourage your former employees to clearly state their new brand when introducing themselves at trade shows, conferences and industry affairs— getting out to these events is mission critical to brand building, because these events are concentrated with the people that they want to influence. For example, in the cable business there is one national convention where all the cable networks set up exhibits in a large convention center. The marketing people from each network always attend, so every year since I started my own company I tote my portfolio to the National Cable Show and give existing clients and potential new ones a look at my latest work. It keeps my business going by keeping me visible to my target audience.

Step Four: Don’t Crash and Burn—Figure Out What’s Stopping You

Fear and competition can keep you from making your dreams come true. Helping those your company has laid off to overcome these barriers is the fourth step to creating a personal brand for success. Creating a disaster fantasy is a powerful tool to implement when fear is standing in the way. It asks, "what is the worst thing that would happen if I went for it?" and "can I live with that outcome?"

So many fears surrounding a layoff tap into childhood issues of security, poverty and self worth. Anyone who claims not to be wounded by losing his or her job is simply not being honest. It is infinitely important to uncover these issues and deal with them head on. The alternative can lead to anger and lawsuits; exactly what were trying to avoid in spending time and money helping those we’ve said goodbye to.

Step Five: Recruit a Squad of Brand Cheerleaders

No one can get to the next place in his or her life alone. Everyone needs a little help. This is where business contacts mentors and business coaches come into play. Ask your former employees to make a list of all of the people in their life who can take them to the next place, who will introduce them to the right people and most importantly, who will enthusiastically recommend them. Then, encourage them to do the following:

  • Ask each one of those people to lunch

  • Enthusiastically layout their new brand strategy

  • Probe for a list of possible employment leads

  • Encourage them to put in a good word

  • Offer to do something substantial in return

In brand marketing we often contract with celebrities to represent our products (think Britney Spears and Pepsi). People brands have to do the same. Making the right connection with people who see you for your potential and cheer you on can be like having an anchor in rough seas.

Step Six: Learn The Secrets to Packaging Your Brand

It’s pretty safe to say that when we’re grocery shopping we gravitate to those items that are packaged in a way that gets our attention. These packages are carefully crafted to convey a brand’s image. The same is true for people. We are attracted those that know how to put themselves together in a way that is familiar and appealing, yet a bit unexpected.

Eighty percent of all communication is visual, so if your former employees don’t look the part they want to play, they won’t be cast in a new role. Bring in a fashion strategist who will help them to dress the part. Hire a consultant to help them rewrite their resume using their new brand as a platform. Ultimately, their packaging should reflect the soul of their brand.

From the resume to the portfolio to the briefcase to the shoes, choosing the right visual elements is essential. Getting dressed for success today means having your exterior reflect your interior. In other words, package yourself in a way that talks to the real you— your talents, creativity and professionalism.

This step is really important if someone that you’re coaching in outplacement wants to reinvent his or her career in a new direction. For example, if before their layoff they were in accounting, but through the branding process realize that their real dream is to switch to marketing, they’ll need to rethink their wardrobe to convince a future employer that they are in fact creative.

Step Seven: Get Comfortable In Your Own Skin

What you say is not half as important as how you say it. That’s why bringing in a public speaking coach to help former employees take charge of their brand and present it with confidence is so essential to the process. Many coaches film the participants with a video camera so that they can take a look at their style and evaluate for themselves where they need to fine tune. Learning how to smile when you speak on the phone and handle tough interview questions is all part of this brand polishing.

Another way to get comfortable in your skin is to hone your skills. They say that if a person reads seven books on any topic they’ll become an expert. Since being a specialist in order to differentiate yourself from the competition is the cornerstone of branding, reading books and taking classes to increase their expertise should become an obsession for your former employees.

Step Eight: Devise A Plan and Get On With It

Discipline is a means to happiness. Taking responsibility for the things we want and not acting like a victim is the way to win when we’ve been set back. At the moment we are faced with a challenge our true character is determined. And, the winning strategy is always to step back, re-evaluate and begin making a plan.

The final step is all about what it takes to bring a personal brand to market. You can get your former employees placed in new firms if they have crafted a grand brand plan. The process involves the following:

  • Evaluating risk versus responsibility

  • Checking the reality of a dream or next career move

  • Defining publicity efforts for getting noticed

For those wanting to start their own business, it means looking at where the money is going to come from and who will be on the team.

When I left my post at Turner Broadcasting I had no savings to start or support my new business. What I did have was a substantial amount of Turner stock. It gave me the underpinning I needed to print letterhead and business cards, buy a computer and printer and add phone lines to my home office. With my former employer as one of my first clients I was ready to begin what has been a very prosperous life.

Practice The Holy Trinity of Branding

To stay on track, practice the holy trinity of branding: clarity, authenticity and consistency. If you tell others who you are and act the part long enough, you will become your desired brand. From MTV to Martha Stewart, the super charged brands never waiver or compromise what they are about. Neither should you or the employees you’re saying goodbye to.

The most important thing to keep in mind while you’re guiding your former employees through the eight steps I’ve described is that you very well may be helping them to plot a course to a new frontier that will promise even greater riches. Those that define their mission and stay focused will strike it rich just by being themselves. This may be something they could never really do in your organization.

Resist Cookie Cutter Approaches To Outplacement

Putting the eight steps to work in place of or in addition to your current outplacement program makes you look like a hero because it is individualized, powerful and fresh technology that encourages people not to follow their feelings, but lead them to a stated mission. It prevents floundering. It promotes integrity of purpose. It creates a bridge that respectfully acknowledges the dedication each and every one of your employees put into your company before they were let go.

It’s uncertain how long the massive layoff trend of 2001 will continue. One thing is for sure, all indications point to those out of a job today finding gainful employment in the very near future. While announcements at big firms have been making headlines, thousands of small and medium-sized firms are still hiring. And, these smaller companies are happy to be getting a shot at so many quality job seekers after a long time of slim pickings.

Motivate Those Who Have Been Left Behind

Communication is the key to ensuring that everyone left behind won’t just start jumping ship. Within hours of the layoff call a meeting and tell remaining staffers who was let go and why. This is the time to rally your own brand cheerleaders (read: management) and get them looking toward the future. They should create an exciting vision of what’s to come and why they’ll want to be there for the ride. Reorganizing, reassuring and reenergizing the team is key. Don’t let staffers get too overloaded with extra responsibilities— set the pace and keep letting them know that their jobs are stable.

Ultimately after the downturn you’ll be faced with the perennial problem of finding workers. So, you should figure out creative ways to hold onto the ones you’ve got left. Perhaps orchestrating a company-wide effort to help managers create their own personal brand is a good start. You’ll make your business part of their mission while supporting their desire to create a specialty and expertise that your company needs.

-Robin Fisher Roffer
President, Big Fish Marketing, Inc.
Robin Fisher Roffer is a speaker, trainer and author of "Make A Name For Yourself—8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create A Personal Brand Strategy for Success" (Broadway Books, January 2001). She is also president of Big Fish Marketing, Inc. and Fishnet in Los Angeles and Little Pond Productions in Atlanta. As one of America’s leading brand strategists she consults with television networks and technology companies to create unforgettable identities, award-winning promotional campaigns and Web sites. Her clients include A&E, The History Channel, MTV, Comedy Central, CNN and Lifetime. For more information on "Make A Name For Yourself" or the eight step process, visit Robin can be reached via email at