MBA Research

Action Briefs

We learn a lot from the business community and want to share that with you in our Action Briefs that highlight business trends and their impact on the workplace and curriculum.

It’s not a secret that the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on chief financial officers (CFOs) this past year, elevating their role in organizations across industries. In this Action Brief, we take a look at what factors have caused this shift and what this important role is focusing on in 2021 and in the years to come.

Earlier this spring, we attended a webinar where we learned firsthand from CFOs in major businesses about how they were called upon to be more vocal during the early weeks and months of the pandemic. As the year continued, so did the challenges that necessitated visionary responses across all aspects of their businesses.

Intrigued, we did a little more digging and discovered a trove of articles confirming what we had heard in the webinar. So, what drove the changes? One word—survival. As businesses closed up physical office spaces almost overnight and sent their employees home to work, a lot of things needed to happen quickly to maintain financial business operations and to keep people employed. As a result, many CFOs grappled with the following:

  • Transitioning from the role of monitoring overall financial operations and investments to thinking strategically about how to stay afloat on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis; keeping people safe and employed became priority number one.
  • Shifting to new communication methods and collaboration tools meant training staff on these virtual tools while simultaneously establishing safety and data privacy policies and norms for employees to follow
  • Safeguarding data in remote work environments included managing risk related to cloud computing and assessing additional threats of cyber hacking
  • For businesses still staffing frontline workers, investments in cleaning and protecting their employees’ health (e.g., providing employees with PPE) quickly became a priority.

Long-Term Investments and Projections for Growth on Hold

Due to sales and supply chain disruptions, CFOs were called upon to strategically navigate cash flow on a daily and weekly basis rather than monthly or quarterly. Cash has been and still is king during the pandemic; CFOs spoke about holding back at the beginning of the pandemic in order to accelerate business investment as they start to come out of the pandemic—to return to pre-pandemic levels or to respond to pent-up demand. For now, planning for an entire year or any long-term investments for growth are most likely on hold as businesses continue to watch the macroeconomics of the vaccine rollout locally, nationally, and globally.

New Budget Line Items and Shifting Resource Allocations

  • Many CFOs believe that companies will need to budget for the health and well-being of their employees going forward; this is a new expense that is probably here to stay.
  • Data security policies need to be enhanced to recognize the additional dangers/challenges of remote work.
  • Education and training for employees on these policies needs to continue and be enhanced to keep data secure.
  • Investment in learning about the threats of hacking (prevention) and the development of cyber recovery plans (response)

New Technology Investments

  • Investment in communication and collaboration tools—as well as education for employees on using these tools
  • HR interface for onboarding/offboarding, orientation, training: the need for keeping employee information secure when everything is online
  • ARP systems needing to be secure, and connected, with dashboards for easier viewing on a daily/weekly basis to make decisions about cash flow and investments
  • Cloud computing—understanding how it can help with growth and reduce overheads; some basic knowledge is needed to strategically work with CTOs and developers; must understand the risks involved when making decisions on which way to go
  • The changing landscape of the payments industry—knowing the different payment gateways, choosing the best one for your business, and implementing it with few disruptions to customers and transactions

Overall Economic Changes Impacting the CFO Role

The boom-and-bust cycle has been shortening since the U.S. housing market crash in 2008, so CFOs need to be more strategically involved rather than simply monitoring cash flow and investments. Weathering a long bust (such as that brought on by COVID-19) after a short burst of growth takes strategic diversification. With the pandemic, this has meant preparing for possible future lockdowns or new disruptions to trade, manufacturing, and distribution. Knowing one’s industry and how to prepare for the inevitable next big challenge can mean the difference between company survival and failure.

2021 and Beyond

It’s going to be a while before we see a return to normal; 2021 will be a transitionary year because businesses are still looking at meeting needs rather than big-picture planning and forecasting. Some projections are saying that the pandemic will be affecting businesses for the next 2+ years.

In terms of future investments and fulfilling stakeholder demands, businesses have additional stakeholders to consider now. In addition to being available to and watched by their investors, business metrics are more widely available and being watched by employees, customers, and regulators. More qualitative KPIs such as safety regulations, workforce impact, and alignment to corporate strategy need to be considered to address these new stakeholder interests going forward.

Classroom Implications

Imagine that you were the chief financial officer of a medium-sized business with about 80 on-site employees this past year. What skills did you need to employ to make many quick decisions and changes in your business? As the CFO, why do you think these decisions and responsibilities fell on your shoulders rather than another position in the company?

What does it mean when we say that companies quickly shifted to day-to-day cash management and “cash is king,” versus projecting and investing for longer-term growth? Describe some examples of supply chain disruption that caused companies to be hyper-focused on cash reserves.

What sorts of challenges does new technology create? And then, what efficiencies does new technology create?

What is a boom-and-bust cycle? How do you think companies operate differently in each cycle when it comes to their financial management?

Links for further learning:

Finance Derivative: “The Evolving Role of the Chief Financial Officer in 2020”
Financial Management: “The Pandemic’s Effect on CFO Tenure”
CFO Dive: “CFO Role Has Grown During Pandemic: Accenture”, “4 CFO Lessons From the pandemic”
CFO: “CFOs Respond Rapidly to Pandemic”
Accounting Today: “Pandemic Forces CFOs To Manage Financial Liquidity Better”
Wealth Monaco: “CFO’s Capital Allocation Strategy Shift After Covid”

Nearly a year ago, many office employees might have thought their work-from-home situations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic would last two or three months. Fast-forward to January 2021. COVID-19 case numbers are still significantly high. Unfortunately, many businesses have closed permanently. Many remaining (and thriving) businesses are fully remote and have decided to remain so indefinitely. But still others are taking a wait-and-see approach on their return to the office as the pandemic continues to unfold.

Luckily, vaccinations are underway, but the question remains for businesses that have had limited office access since last March: How and when is it safe to return?

Vaccinations Requirements?

Vaccinations might play a large part in how a business decides it is time for employees to return to the office.

In an interview with NPR, Johnny Taylor Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), said businesses would be within their rights to require employees to be vaccinated before coming back to the office. Taylor cited Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws, which mandate that employers provide a safe environment for their workers, as the reason. He also said there could be exceptions for “sincerely held religious belief” under Title VII or disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But the need for a safe workplace means most workers should be vaccinated.

Office Life

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage employers to create their own health and safety plans. It also encourages open and clear communication with workers about changes in their work procedures or environment. Some widely suggested safety measures employers can take are as follows:

  • Consider extended workdays with staggered work hours, or blended remote/in-office schedules for employees.
  • Besides requiring masks to be worn in the office, make sure air filtering systems and ventilation meet CDC and OSHA guidelines.
  • Evaluate the potential redesign of workspaces and communal areas to provide recommended distances, and clean these areas frequently.
    • Consider providing outdoor work or meeting spaces if possible.
    • Think of open spaces as possibilities for meetings rather than enclosed conference rooms.
  • Require employees who feel sick to stay home. If COVID-19 is suspected, have them get tested and follow CDC isolating/quarantining guidelines.
  • Encourage employees to help each other follow recommended guidelines and report safety violations to management if they can’t be resolved on the spot. This may sound harsh initially, but this is not the time for “Don’t ask, don’t tell” behavior.
  • Develop business travel-related policies for employees conducting out-of-town work.

Lastly, fears and misinformation can easily lead to biased behavior in the workplace. Be sure that diversity and inclusion strategies are considered as you implement COVID-related policies. 

Just as beginning to work from home was an adjustment, the same is true for resuming office work. In a piece for LinkedIn, Susy Jackson wrote that employers should “give employees a reason to return to the office.” And once they are there, employers should provide continued flexibility and a period for acclimation and adjustment.

Classroom Implications

  • Think back to a previous or current work or volunteer experience (if applicable) since the coronavirus pandemic began. Did you feel safe in your environment? If not, what measures could have been taken to improve safety?
  • Imagine that you are a business owner. What factors would you use to evaluate whether or not it would be safe for employees to work on-site in your company currently?
  • Ask a parent or mentor how the pandemic has affected their work and what safety measures they are taking or would like to take.
  • Would you feel comfortable “calling out” a work colleague or classmate for not following safety procedures? Why or why not?


Further Reading:

NPR: “When Everybody’s Working at Home and the Magic Is Gone”
Investment News: “Advisory Firms Split on When To Reopen Offices”
Vault Rankings: “How Safe Will Offices Really Be When They Reopen?”
Employee Benefit Advisor: “4 Questions Before Reopening Your Office”
Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM): “Employers Consider COVID-19 Testing as Vaccine Rolls Out”
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge: "COVID Killed the Traditional Workplace. What Should Companies Do Now?"

Small businesses today have a singular advantage to businesses from even 10 years ago. That advantage is big data and data analysis. Data is more accessible than ever and can help small-business owners make more informed decisions on business strategy.

What is data analytics?

First, big data is the use of large amounts of information that is automatically collected from electronic data. And, data analytics is the study and the use of that data to make decisions. Big data is no longer something reserved for the largest companies in the world. As technology has advanced and become more accessible, it has become easier for small-business owners to use big data for their own needs.

Data analytics in action

One powerful example of businesses learning customer behavior is the use of point-of-sale systems in restaurants. Companies like Bareburger, Jeni’s Ice Cream, and Harpoon Brewing use a system called Toast. Employees use a POS system to take customers’ orders, which are then logged in a computer system. This tracking of orders can be used a few ways:

  • Restaurant owners can look at any item that was ordered at any time and organize information.
  • Owners could look at a POS system like Toast to learn how frequently a menu item is ordered and make decisions to keep menus up to date.
  • Managers could track how many food orders come in at certain points of time during the day and schedule more workers during the busiest times of the day.

Another common tool is the use of web tracking systems like Google Analytics to track product marketing or website use throughout the day. Web analytics tools are useful when owners of small businesses want to know the following:

  • How often people are visiting their business’s website, and how long they are staying there.
  • What exactly people are using to reach their website: through search engines, through social media, or by typing in the Web address in a browser.
  • The location of the IP addresses that people are using to access the websites—useful information for target marketing.

Data analytics techniques can be used in other ways, too. Through predictive analytics—the use of analytics to plan for future events with statistical projections—rations and supply chain management can be influenced by data.

For example, a manager at an independent grocery store could be notified through an alert that a type of produce needs to be ordered based on a week’s sales information. Or, a manufacturing company could plan to have maintenance scheduled on equipment if there is anticipated downtime based on work orders, past sales, and sales forecasts. And, according to Purdue University, big data is making its way into agriculture. Farmers are beginning to use analytics to make decisions on what fertilizer is used on what plant, seed distance, and harvest estimates.

Classroom implications

How do you think data analytics will grow in the next five years?

What do you think could change? Think about examples of data analysis you may experience in a normal school day. If it isn’t present, can you think of ways data analysis could be implemented in your school?

Links for further learning

Executives from across the country have talked with MBA Research staff about the importance of an agile workforce. Many businesses have started to think about flexibility and the ability to embrace change as qualities of primary importance as they hire new staff. Some businesses put qualities of this nature over actual technical skills as they look to build workforces that can withstand—and even thrive—in rapidly changing business environments.

When COVID-19 struck, many companies were thrown into turmoil as they struggled to adjust to a “new normal.” Companies that were already in an agile mindset have had an easier time adjusting to many of the changes they endured, and other companies quickly became more agile to embrace new ways of doing business.

Agile workforces in the business world
What exactly is an agile workforce? Agile workforces are typically made up of small work-teams within an organization. These teams are made up of motivated employees who are focused on sharing data, have diverse skillsets, and tend to be strong communicators and high achievers. The small, focused teams help foster innovation and the ability to change on demand in response to key business drivers.

One of the most recognizable companies in the world that thrives on an agile workforce is Amazon. According to The Guardian, Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos famously has a rule for the company: if more than two pizzas were needed to feed a team, the team was too big. The idea was to make it easier for team members to discuss ideas and communicate more readily and to focus on company values as they planned and completed their work.

Amazon’s success at developing their analytics service, AWS, is talked about as a success of agile principles. The creation of the powerful data service came out of Amazon’s desire to have teams work independently from each other, meaning Prime Video is separate from Amazon Books. AWS was created so all the data from Amazon could be accessible to any part of the company that would need it.

Another example of agile businesses can be linked directly to COVID-19. Think about how much the restaurant business has changed since March 2020. Sit-in restaurants, bars, and breweries all the sudden lost the ability to serve customers in-house. Many establishments were able to quickly pivot to a carryout model. Others were unable to flex in this way. To adjust, restaurants and bars had to quickly reconfigure. They changed their menus, their business plans, and started to deliver or became carryout only businesses.

Make agile work for you
The Amazon concept of having highly focused, independent teams is a trademark of agile workforces. Agile workforces are much more horizontal than the typical vertical waterfall management structures, according to McKinsey & Company.

Our research found that the following is helpful in building an agile workforce:

  • Teamwork and collaboration. Agile teams share data and other information openly and transparently with each other. Brainstorming and providing feedback to team members is a significant part of agile teamwork. According to Management Study Guide, teams that self-manage working on tasks with “a timeline and tangible objectives” can be an effective way to produce results.
  • A desire to learn. Employees working in an agile organization need to have a thirst for knowledge, and they need to be comfortable learning new things. This is what agile work practices are built on. We found that workers need to be able to try new tasks and feel empowered by their manager and coworkers to complete them.
  • A willingness to try new things. Employees and managers alike should feel comfortable innovating and trying new ways to complete their work. Agile workforces experiment to make their work better. Businesses should also recognize that if a new process is not working, it’s OK to recognize that and try something else.
  • Shared common principles and values. McKinsey referenced this principle as “strategy.” The more buy-in there is for employees to a company’s vision, the more likely those employees are to be motivated workers. The culture, core values, and mission need to be well defined and part of the everyday frame of reference within a company
  • Communication. Employers need to encourage feedback from their employees. Communication and transparency go both ways. If employees feel they are not able to address their concerns with management, they are not working in an agile environment.

Going agile isn’t an overnight transition, but developing agile tendencies within an organization can lead to increased productivity along with greater employee and customer satisfaction.

Classroom implications and questions for students:
How could agile work principles apply at school? What would look different?
Reflect on a current or past job. Can you identify agile or waterfall processes at play?
If you were starting a business, what steps would you take to help ensure workforce agility?

Links for further learning:

You’re walking down the street when you get a ping from your cellphone. It turns out you just got a coupon from Starbucks which, coincidentally, you just passed.

This is a form of marketing called geofencing, the virtual bracketing of a specific area with the goal of collecting data from either GPS systems or RFID (radio-frequency identification). This is all made possible through location data from location services on cellphones. Geofencing is a very attractive marketing technique for many businesses because it allows marketers to advertise to potential customers who visit specific areas. Many consumers also love the convenience of receiving advertisements or offers to businesses that are close by.

Considerations for the workplace

Geofencing is being used widely in business in a number of different ways. Based on our research, some businesses are developing best practices as they use geofencing. Here is what we found.

First, it is worth considering how long data collected from a geofencing campaign will be stored. Will it be more than a day? A month? Europe has laws that limit collection of data storage through location services, and California has a law that went into effect in January 2020 to do the same. The goal of both laws is to cut down on perceived privacy violations from the marketing practice.

The data storage time frame is just one decision to take into consideration. Another important decision businesses have to make is determining who to solicit. The general consensus on how to determine this appears to be through an opt-in system. An opt-in system means customers can tell businesses they are OK with their location data being used.

Some businesses are only using geofencing to target ads through social media like Instagram or Twitter. This eliminates notifications altogether and could be less intrusive to the customer.

Many companies are working hard to be fully transparent with consumers about their use of geofencing. The opt-in option explained above is one way to do that. Another way is to be specific when ads come to the prospective customer. Businesses can remind consumers that they are receiving notifications because of their expressed interest in these types of notifications or ads.

Ethical Dilemmas in geofencing

Not surprisingly, the practice can be very controversial and can bring up ethical dilemmas, even among marketing professionals that MBA Research has heard from in focus groups across the country. 

While receiving a discount coupon to a favorite store may be seen as a bonus to many consumers, getting an ad for a personal injury lawyer while you’re in an emergency room may feel a little too personal, and a little less comfortable. This was the topic of a story featured on NPR in 2018. The marketing agency behind the ads claimed the goal was to make it easier for patients to find services they may need. An attorney in the story noted that, as of now, the federal government does not have any laws that regulate this type of advertising in hospitals and would not violate medical privacy laws like HIPPA. Patients, however, felt as if they were being spied on.

And, the American Bar Association wrote about a court case involving Monsanto, the manufacturer of the herbicide Round-Up. The complainants alleged the use of Round-Up gave them cancer. As a jury was being selected for a trial for the case, Monsanto purchased and sent ads to people who were inside the courthouse where the lawsuit was set to begin trial. The ads claimed Round-Up was a safe product to use. The people suing Monsanto in the case complained the geofenced ads were a form of jury tampering. The judge in the case disagreed. The judge ruled that the speech in the ads was protected and no different than people wearing buttons with political messages in the courtroom.

Through our research, we found that there is very little regulation related to where geofencing is applied and where businesses send their advertisements, like in a hospital or in a courthouse. In many ways, it may be up to consumers to manage their own privacy settings on their tech devices. But the question still remains: is it ethical to track and target people in a courtroom or a hospital emergency room even if it’s not prohibited by law?

Classroom implications and questions for students 

  • Consider a time when you think geofencing was used to target you with an ad or discount offer. Was this a positive or negative experience?
  • Imagine that you own or are working for a business considering using geofencing. What types of laws would you consider to be fair for both businesses and consumers? Should laws be focused on limiting advertisements inside hospitals, like in the NPR story? Would they seek to limit the amount of information collected or not?
  • Now consider geofencing from the consumer perspective. Do you think consumers have greater rights to privacy in certain situations versus others?

Links for further learning:

MBA Research provides a LAP (Learning Activity Package) that provides insight on complying with the spirit and intent of laws. Access the LAP for free here.

A number of business executives that we have talked with over the past year have mentioned the rise of remote working as a top or notable trend. Part of our discussion on this topic sometimes touched on determining which employees are, and aren’t, suited for remote work.

Within the past couple of months due to COVID-19, many employees—ready or not—are suddenly working remotely, and managers are working quickly to figure out strategies for providing extra cushioning and coaching for those who may need it most so they can maximize productivity.

But where to start? Our research has uncovered some of the following strategies:

  • Get issues or concerns about remote working on the table. Ask employees what they need from you in order to be successful and talk about concerns on both sides.
  • Set expectations. Agree on what work needs to be accomplished, and when it needs to be completed. This can help eliminate confusion. 
  • Track work progress. A tracking tool could be something as simple as a shared department Google Document or similar service where employees log the work they have completed in a day. This shows work progress, but it can also make employees feel more fulfilled if they see they are being productive.
  • Communicate often. While many managers have regular team meetings, it’s OK to check in more often with employees who may need more direction. Communication is a key factor for workers who may lose focus or struggle with decreased production out of the office. Using live meeting platforms for check-ins can be helpful as you try to replace in-office communication.
  • Choose a tool—and encourage team group chat. Instant messaging software like Slack is useful for less formal, day-to-day conversations with team members and can enhance engagement levels.
  • Look ahead and behind early and often. Some employees may need more help developing their work “docket.” When this is the case, review what has been completed, and talk specifically about what’s on the horizon. If necessary, reiterate the to-do list via email, so the employee has it in writing. Use this list as a shared guide when checking in with this team member.

A chief operations officer for a managed services provider in Ohio described an employee in their purchasing department who is struggling with task management while working remotely. This trait was mild when working in the office but exacerbated when the employee began working at home. The manager discovered a need to spend additional time with this employee developing a task list, and tracking task completion, in order to help the employee and the company be successful.

Remote working has brought about a “new normal” to many companies. The transition has been taxing in many ways. However, if some of the challenges are conquered, workers may be even stronger upon returning to the office.

Classroom Implications: 

Consider asking students what they would like to see in their ideal remote work setup. Do they think they would be more productive in an office or a remote environment? How would they keep track of their work progress? How would they want to communicate with their managers?

It’s possible that they are also adapting to their own version of working from home, as the coronavirus has also led to the closure of many school buildings. Ask them how they’ve found learning from home different than at school, and have them envision whether or not these same challenges would be present in the work environment.

Links for further learning: 

Or maybe just your little corner of the world? While not a new concept, social enterprises are on the rise and our global culture is adjusting to make room for them. Social enterprises are designed to address identified social problems and can be classified as either for profit or not-for-profit. Some sources indicate that 25% of all new small businesses start as social enterprises. Entrepreneurs want to start them, workers (especially millennials) want to be employed by them, and increasing numbers of consumers want to patronize them. The increase in social enterprises is even making some more-established businesses rethink their corporate social responsibility efforts and policies.

B Lab, an organization in the United States, certifies successful social ventures that have made an impact on the social mission they have selected. As of 2019, 3,000 social ventures had been certified in 71 countries around the world. B Labs requires businesses to be in operation for one year before they get certified, and also requires businesses to publish public reports that show their social and environmental performance compared to third-party standards, according to B Lab.

A business could pursue a social enterprise-like model for a variety of reasons. According to the Harvard Business Review, a social venture’s mission could mean a better ability to grow because more people would want to support the business since it also means supporting the mission.

One example is Bombas, a clothing company that donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter for each pair of socks purchased by a customer.

Another example of a social enterprise is Hot Chicken Takeover in Columbus, Ohio. This social enterprise hires people who are homeless, people who have been incarcerated, or people who are perhaps caught in the cycle of addiction. Not only do they hire those at risk, but they also provide supportive services to help stabilize other aspects of their lives.

Younger generations want to give their money to businesses that want to make the world a better place, according to an article from Forbes. These customers want to feel like they are supporting their communities. If a local venture’s mission is to invest into community organizations and issues, that venture’s mission aligns with these customers’ values.

There are several different types of social ventures. One type is the one-to-one model, like Bombas or TOMS, which gives a pair of shoes to people in need for every pair of shoes sold. TOMS has also promised to donate $1 for every $3 it makes.

Other social ventures do not operate under a one-to-one model, but either give money to causes they support or make pledges to be environmentally sustainable. One example of this type of business is outdoor-clothing company Patagonia. Patagonia has given itself a 1% “self-imposed Earth Tax” since 1985 and donated that money to environmental groups who support protecting the natural environment. Patagonia has said it has given $89 million in social causes under this social venture model.

Challenges in Social Enterprise

Social enterprise startups face many of the same hurdles as non-social enterprise startups. But they are also faced with additional challenges in finding investment funds and managing their revenue producing venture, along with their social venture. Certain types of social ventures are required to provide metrics—often referred to as social return on investment (SROI), which can be complicated and time-consuming. Social entrepreneurs also face a fairly high rate of burnout. On the other hand, a large part of almost any venture is the willingness to learn from initial failures. So many social entrepreneurs come back for more and are finding success a second or even the third time around.

In Real Time

It wouldn’t feel right to end this Action Brief without mentioning some of the things that businesses are doing right now to help ease the pain of COVID-19 in their communities: Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, Keen is giving away 10,000 pairs of shoes to frontline workers and others, and Amazon donated $1 million to a new Seattle Foundation fund for people in that region affected by COVID-19.

Classroom Implications:

Consider asking students what they would do if they were going to start their own social venture. Ask them to think about what social mission they would support. Why would they choose one social mission over the other? After they have selected a social mission, ask how they would sustain the business. What product or service would they sell? Would it be a one-to-one business like Bombas? Or would it be more similar to Patagonia, who gives a percentage of money to support causes it believes in? Click here for a more detailed description of different types of social ventures.

Links for further learning:

Personal branding—is everyone doing it? The answer is most likely yes—even if we are not being intentional about it. Managing one’s personal brand, especially in the form of an online presence, is almost obligatory in today’s professional world.

In the past, personal branding was thought of more as reputation management—and was something that politicians and high-profile personalities and executives considered, but not so much the rest of us. But with today’s plethora of online communication tools, personal brands are much more widely developed and easier to ascertain.

Implications for Business

Employers are using information accessed through personal brands to help with recruiting. Some use the information to find candidates that are aligned with their goals and values. In the current hiring climate, where many job postings receive hundreds of applicants, a personal brand can help employers narrow their focus. They can more easily find the candidates who are the best fit. A personal brand can demonstrate a potential employee’s interests, initiative, and drive. Also, an employee who has a strong personal brand will most likely represent the company’s brand well, too.

Job seekers, likewise, can use personal brand to attract employers’ attention and interest. A strong personal brand helps candidates stand out and puts their best traits in the forefront. Recruiters often use social media to find potential employees, so a profile that promotes a personal brand can be beneficial. Also, the actions taken to build a personal brand can be valuable work experience. For example, if a job seeker writes a blog to build his/her brand, that skill might come in handy for a future position.

Entrepreneurs need to understand and build personal brands, perhaps more than anyone else. Often, an entrepreneur’s personal brand and company brand are one and the same. A great example of this is Seth Godin, a writer, entrepreneur, and marketing guru famous partly because of the personal brand he built through his blogs and various websites. When trying to build a company and increase a customer base, entrepreneurs need to promote themselves and the purpose of their companies. This can help them to grow and attract investors.

While it is clear that a personal brand can benefit individuals and businesses alike, it also presents challenges. If someone’s personal brand doesn’t resonate with a certain audience, it could alienate customers or employers who otherwise might have considered working with that individual. S/He may be counted out before being given a fair chance. Personal branding also brings risks when it comes to maintaining the brand image over time. If you do not actively work to build your brand, or if you make a mistake or engage in something unsavory, your personal brand could be damaged irreparably. Finally, building a personal brand takes time, effort, and sometimes financial resources. It may not be worth the return on investment.

Implications for the Classroom

A personal brand is the way someone promotes and establishes him/herself to be marketable to employers, clients, colleagues, and other audiences. It can also be a tool for communicating your core beliefs and values. Your personal brand is the way people remember and recognize your identity. It is influenced by the person’s focus and goals. A strong personal brand can help you stand out. It sets individuals apart from the crowd when they are seeking a job, obtaining clients, networking, or growing their careers in other ways. Personal brand is conveyed in the way a person presents him/herself visually, in his/her communication, and in his/her actions. Social media plays a large part in crafting personal brand through the content that is posted and shared.

Students should consider the personal brand they are already building. Is it one that would be attractive to employers? Why or why not? Students should also consider ways they can start to build a personal brand now. Encourage students to think about people with strong personal brands and how these brands have led to success. Students should also discuss the negative effects of the current emphasis on personal branding. Is personal branding genuine? Does it reduce a person’s individuality and personality?

To help students consider their own personal brand, have them form groups of two, with each partner sharing their perception of the others’ personal brand. Students can also share ideas about how to promote certain aspects of one’s personal brand.

To learn more about personal branding, consider the following resources:

Reader Comments

Rusty Poeppelmeier, a Bond Manager with Liberty Mutual Surety in Cincinnati, Ohio had the following comments after reading our Action Brief on personal branding: 

The proliferation of social media has provided new platforms and made it easier for individuals to brand themselves.  LinkedIn has also digitized the résumé and made it easy for job seekers and fillers to connect.  For students, the most important thing is to avoid branding themselves with a virtual livestock brand—a permanent mark that follows you everywhere.  Overstating your experience and skill set can be equally as problematic.  A good interviewer will easily see right through that so don’t assume you can slip it past them.  It is all too easy to make a joke or comment that could come back to haunt your image later that can’t be taken back.  It is easy to be pulled into the politics of the time but hard to explain a profanity-laced rant five years later in an interview. 

I would learn to use these new tools to brand yourself in a positive light rather than turning it into a report card on the quality of your opinion and temperament.  What you choose to not say is just as important as what you do say.  It is also a good personal report card on how well you collaborate and communicate.  You can’t win your way in the board room with intimidation or profanities.  It might win the occasional battle but eventually you will sink your brand like the Titanic.

Do you have questions or comments? If so, drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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