Competition is fierce these days and small and large firms are closing their doors at a shocking rate. Daryl Rigby of Bain & Company in Boston advises companies on what to do during a downturn. “Think of a company as a race car careening around a track, where recessions are the curves,” he says, “and this is the time you need to be particularly skillful.” He notes that companies with less power make bold moves during bad times and then emerge as winners. Rigby observed that industry leaders often come out of a recession as industry laggards, and laggards emerge as leaders.
Employees are a firm’s most important asset, not their products or services. This is the time to make a clever move and invest in the appearance of employees if you want your firm to move out and leave the competition in the dust. When a company’s employees look like laggards, they are not an asset in times of fierce competition. We inevitably judge a book by its cover, because that method consistently serves us well.
The headline of the Editor’s Letter of a recent edition of More Magazine announced, “Why You Should Be Well-Dressed in the Downturn.” Lesley Jane Seymour notes that many of her readers feel more under the gun than ever to look pulled together and ageless. She gives good advice when she suggests switching from quantity to quality – and wear what you buy to death. In the long haul quality represents better value. Seymour suggests buying something spectacular rather than the same old things you’ve been buying for years.
By the same token, in stressful financial times, companies also want quality rather than quantity. They may cut back on some services, but the ones they buy now had better give good value. And they aren’t looking for the “same old same old” right now. They want something that appears spectacular so it will provide a big bang for the bucks. Big publishing firms have discovered that we do judge a book by its cover, and they spend millions on book covers. Appearance matters!
If the appearance of your employees doesn’t match the caliber of your products or services, you may be sending mixed signals to potential clients – and existing ones may stray if they find a more irresistible cover. When times are tough, the tough get going – and this is the time to insist that your employees represent your firm well. Corporate casualty attire simply won’t cut it these days. In the immediate wake of September Eleven, many financial services firms went back to professional attire because they felt it would be more reassuring to clients.
You may be thinking that you work in a small office where you don’t have to impress each other. University studies have proven that when you look good, it improves the mood and attitude of co-workers. I’ve interviewed workers in call centers, and they confirm that working with sloppy-looking office mates affects their attitude and productivity.
Some employees wear a suit only when seeing a client – or when they’re going on an interview.
Everyone dresses professionally for an interview, but consider this. Your client is interviewing you every day – and your boss might be doing the same if he’s thinking about down-sizing. Employees who dress “up” only on days when meeting with a client don’t get it. It’s all about feeling good about who you are and what you do – and wanting to shout it to the world by dressing to show it! They’re the ones who leave the competition in the dust!
Sandy Dumont is an image coach, keynote speaker and workshop presenter who teaches corporate staff and management how to dress to impress. Contact her at www.TheImageArchitect.com.