When Should You Differentiate Yourself Professionally?

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When Should You Differentiate Yourself Professionally? By John Nocero

John NoceroBy John Nocero

I presented at a national association conference last week with a valued colleague. Before our session, we had a chance to have breakfast with many of the attendees. One looked particularly familiar. It turns out she had seen us present about a month before at another venue.

She attended our presentation and came up to us to let us know it was nice to see us again. She asked us if we were trying to differentiate ourselves from others in our industry by presenting regularly. I strongly believe in presenting in as many venues as you can to keep yourself abreast of what is going on in your industry. As a compliance practitioner, it is important to share best practices. It is not solely about differentiation, however.

The question of when to differentiate from other people is a valid one to think about regularly. Certainly, you want to be known for your work ethic, values and distinctive characteristics. One centering topic is trying to determine where you add value to your organization as a compliance practitioner. Where adding value is concerned, being different is good. Only you and your team know where the organizational gaps exist and how your contributions close them. But trying to be distinctive for the sake of being distinctive is a bad move. This is especially true if it inadvertently compromises your team’s reputation. Never flip the script to make yourself look good and your colleagues bad. This distinction will create the perception of a hidden agenda, while tearing down your team and destroying teamwork. Social media highlights professional differentiation and how someone achieved remarkable success. The failures, we never hear about, but I am willing to bet they are almost even.

In the final analysis, deciding to be different is a call that only you can make with absolutely no assurances. Personally, I would rather produce tangible results. If my car breaks down, I don’t go to the auto mechanic who is different. I go to the mechanic who can fix my car the fastest and get me back on the road. Your organization needs you to answer real-life business questions and have the willingness to do what it takes to get the job done. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, the secret of success is consistency of purpose. It is about what you consistently do or do not do that defines you. Apply the wisdom of this principle by fully applying yourself to your organization with your skills and knowledge without focusing on being different.

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  1. I think John’s points related being distinct primarily for the sake of being distinctive and deciding to be different is a personal call with no assurances are good words to heed when considering one’s differentiation strategy.

    I will go so far as to add that I often see differentiation as a means or attempt by some to accomplish another objective…to mask their deficiency of skill or knowledge. For example, when having a discussion with someone I asked why did they not at least consider using the FSG descriptions on an effective compliance program when doing a gap analysis of a program they had inherited and the answer I got was “bizarre” at best. It wasn’t too into our discussion that I was easily able to conclude that the reason the person did not go down the path of establishing this connection with the seven elements was because the person did not even know what the seven elements were, much less try to develop them. In the end, the analysis they attempted to complete was worth little more than the paper and toner used to create the “report”.

    I am sure many of us have similar examples but my opinion is simply based on the idea that differentiating as a means to diversity one’s approach is certainly worth considering…but if that approach or attempt of differentiation is not well grounded to begin with on a foundation of understanding, experience, and knowledge…then I think many people will detect that there may be other factors in play that likely are not going to contribute to a good outcome.


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