Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
1/3/2014
09:06 AM
Bennett Quillen
Bennett Quillen
Commentary
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Do Your Employees Dress For Failure?

Sloppy writing, attire, and overall comportment reflect poorly on an organization's people and work ethic. Demand better.

A major management recruiting company recently conducted a survey of its clients and discovered that most job applicants aren't qualified for supervisory and middle management positions.

The reasons have nothing to do with deficiencies in intelligence or lack of educational degrees. They were found to be unqualified because of their poor attitudes, sense of entitlement, lack of ambition, poor interactive skills, poor appearance, and lack of education in the fundamentals of writing, speaking, and logical thinking.

This sad state of affairs brought to mind the beginning of my career. More than 40 years ago, I was hired for the data processing department of a large, well-known engineering firm, CF Braun & Co., located in Alhambra, Calif. The job wasn't particularly exciting or unusual: programming in COBOL and Fortran. What was unusual was how this company went about training its staff.

Men were to exhibit good manners and ambition. We were also required to wear suits and ties, even encouraged to wear hats. The company reciprocated by providing private offices for everyone, literally everyone. All offices were carpeted and included a glass-paneled wooden door, handsome wooden desk, chairs, clothes closet, built-in wooden filing cabinets, and a coat stand. Our desks were expected to be uncluttered. If we left papers out after hours, the night staff promptly swept them into the trashcan.

Founder Carl F. Braun considered it essential that every engineer in his company possess the skills of good communication and writing and proper deportment. He wrote four books, all 5 x 8 inches in bright red cloth binding, for all employees to read: Presentation for Engineers and Industrialists, Corporate Correspondence, Fair Thought and Speech, and Letter Writing in Action.

CF Braun also provided weekly luncheon lectures on a wide range of subjects, most of which related to engineering, scientific research, and how to improve writing and presentation skills.

[Business jargon must go. See Stop Butchering The English Language.]

Some may think that his attitude was one of a patriarch and autocrat. Perhaps, but it produced an efficient, well-run organization with high employee morale. Some years ago, the family sold the company, but there's still an enthusiastic group of former employees who refer to themselves as CF Braun alumni.

The other day I happened upon my editions of a couple of those books and glanced through them. It would be well if we applied his admonitions in American business today. Consider just a few of the chapter headings in Fair Thought and Speech: Don't Act Superior; Don't Be Too Positive; Don't Be Unfair; Don't Bluff; Don't Carry Tales; Don't Snap, Don't Scowl.

As I opened another one of his volumes, Letter Writing in Action, I was struck by how much of an impact it had made upon my writing style, without my even being aware of it. For example, Braun stated: "If now our letters fall short either as tools of thinking or as tools of communicating, they are just so much sand in the wheels of our common effort. Ill judgments, misunderstandings, ruffled tempers, ill will, and frustration -- these are the fruits of careless writing."

He insisted on balanced and uniform paragraphs and avoiding (where possible) the use of colons, semi-colons, and dashes. (I can see from above that I have committed some errors!) He called for keeping sentences short and using words of everyday speech. His most important punctuation mark was the period: "Here in the period, we have the king of marks."

There's more behind Braun's rules of conduct than proper letter and report writing. His insistence on men wearing suits wasn't some tyrannical edict. It was to present confident, knowledgeable engineers. The lesson of Braun's teachings: Deportment and communication relate directly to productivity.

In today's almost-anything-goes work we need to once again set a dress code for men: suits and ties, blazers and chinos at a minimum, certainly not jeans, shorts, polos, or flip-flops. As an aside, I was recently a consultant in a client's operations center. Most of those staffers wore shorts, flip-flops, and T-shirts -- and they worked lackadaisically and haphazardly.

I'm specifically avoiding any comment on a ladies' dress code, as therein lays a minefield.

I know all the opposition arguments: We don't deal with customers face-to-face, so we should be able to dress casually. Well, your colleagues are your customers, too. And it's proven that proper deportment begets high productivity.

So, forward with proper English usage, polished letter writing, and suits with white shirts (occasionally blue).

What do you think? Am I stuck in a bygone era, or is there a crying need to improve today's professional standards? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. I'll be sure to weigh in.

Bennett Quillen, a former CIO for a leading mutual fund processing firm, advises financial institutions on project management and technology, specializing in system evaluation, development, conversions, and security and compliance management.

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gmtrmt
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gmtrmt,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 10:06:27 AM
smart casual is smart business
At present we have to wear smart shirts, shoes and trousers for work. Its not comfortable but the Directors believe it makes us act more professionally (the sales team are obviously excempt from this lol) having previously worked in a creative business we were encouraged to wear our best casual clothes which i think worked a lot better as you felt smart as opposed to sticking on a cheap shirt and bargain basement trousers and shoes as  I currently am. I understand that many people can not afford the latest fashion however even the most lowly apprentice is capable of putting together a great smart casual outfit.
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2014 | 9:52:29 AM
Re: some implementation details
Norris, I must respectfully disagree with you. Whikle it's true that dressing up may help some people feel better and be more productive, that is in no way true of all employees. And forcing them all to dress in any specific way is conformist and pretty archaic, if you ask me. I know lots of men (whom I am singling out beciuase you posted the link to men's style) who are very successful and don't dress particularly well at all. I like to think that as a society we have progressed beyond that kind of shallowness.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 9:32:02 AM
Re: some implementation details
@Rob... Great point about people that English is a 2nd language to. English is one of the most complex crazy languages when it comes to grammar and spelling rules.
norris1231
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norris1231,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 12:37:20 AM
Re: Dressing for success?
@Pauls61. I agree there is a time and a place for best dress; It depends on the situation, location, and scedule for the day/week.  The bottom-line is that all individuals must focus on looking presentable at all times.
norris1231
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norris1231,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 12:33:59 AM
Re: Dressing for success?
I agree with your comment.  How you dress shows your respect for yourself and others.  The non-verbal cues matter a lot more than many individuals believe.  You are being watched at all times, from the way you talk to the way you walk.
norris1231
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norris1231,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 12:29:40 AM
Re: some implementation details
I agree with you both that clarity of communication and quality of work does matter.  However, when one dresses-to-impress, quality of work will increase, communication will increase, and overall job performance will increase.  When one dresses good, he and/or she feel good and performances good.  Relaxed dressing should be a privilege on certain days.  It truly bothers me to see a member of my team or another department employee dress poorly.  It places a black-eye on the entire organization.  Reference :http://www.realmenrealstyle.com/looks-matter-men/

 
norris1231
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norris1231,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 12:14:53 AM
Re: Mixed Feelings
@ TechNoSeattle. I strongly believe that many corporations changed the way people develop when they eradicated the suit and tie concept.  The business casual concept started several years ago when the economy went south.  Relaxed dressing became popular in an effort to accommodate employees and increase attitudes.  However, in my opinion dressing is part of a successful corporation.  Not only did the ties disappear, the additional training classes that many corporations provided also disappeared.  Corporations do not send their employees to classes to improve their managerial skills.  Most training today is conducted by CPT.  Basic skills such as writing, speech, and presentation skills should be at the utmost importance.  However, today those skills are not being trained like they were in the past.  Is it because of the eradicated power suits and ties or is it because of the disappearance of the power-suits?
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 10:29:14 AM
Re: some implementation details
Efemera, I think you hit the nail right on the head with your comment. Clarity of communication and quality of work is what really counts, and the way employees dress -- especially as companies become more and more virtual and global -- matters far less than it may have at any other time. I believe that companies that encourage workers to express their individuality (within respectful perameters, of course) are actually far more productive and innovative.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 9:14:26 AM
Re: Sloppy writing
PaulS681 -- I second this (though as a writer and reporter, this likely bothers me more than it may others). You represent your company  through words as much as you do your attire.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 9:03:17 AM
Re: some implementation details
It's a fair point, efemera, and one I hadn't considered. Of course we need to make accommodations for those whose first language isn't English. As for attire, most of us could do better.
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