Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
1/3/2014
09:06 AM
Bennett Quillen
Bennett Quillen
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%
Repost This

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.

In the 17 years since we began the InformationWeek U.S. IT Salary Survey, more than 200,000 IT professionals have completed the questionnaire. Take part in the 2014 U.S. IT Salary Survey -- it's a great way to prepare for your next salary review, or that of the people you manage. Survey ends Feb. 21.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/20/2014 | 10:14:19 AM
Re: some implementation details
I don't disagree a bit with you that many people you do not know will make superficial judgements about you, much of that based on how you look. I would not wear a hoodie and sweatpants even to a job interview at Facebook, even though the founder dresses that way. If it is important to you what people you do not know think about you, by all means they should follow your advice.

My points are directed towards already having a job. And I'll leave Fortune 500 out of this, those companies are so big you know people just about as well as the people you see in a New York subway station. You are constantly making a first impression in a place like that, along with dealing with constant politics and CYA behavior. You better "play the game" if you want to work in place like that, and your advice is something you have to do if you goal is to rise thru the ranks. Heck, since many of them throw out the 10% they don't like every year, you better do it to survive.

But for the rest of us who work at SMB, who our coworkers become like family, this dress up idea is senseless. It has nothing to do with being "professional". I design systems and write code for a living, I guarantee you I'm as professional at that as anyone you will ever meet. But you can't convince me how I dress has anything to do with that. If my applications work and make my coworkers jobs easier and more efficient, make our company easier for our external customers to do business with, no one cares that I get that done in jeans and t-shirt. This is a forum for IT people, not salesmen and HR.
norris1231
50%
50%
norris1231,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/18/2014 | 9:46:30 PM
Re: some implementation details
@TerryB. I don't think a price tag can be placed on dressing neat and professionally.  One can take a cheap pair of pants from Wal-Mart and a nice dress shirt and look professional.  I strongly believe that one should not be allowed to wear jeans to a Fortune 500 company.  I do not believe tie's are necessary.  "Most people make initial decisions about you in the first five minutes they meet you. " (Career builder (2013) website: http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-929-The-Workplace-Do-You-Dress-for-Success/).  The way you dress might make a difference if your even considered for the next promotion or if your superiors even take you seriously.  This concept is directed towards professional careers.
norris1231
50%
50%
norris1231,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/18/2014 | 9:34:58 PM
Re: Mixed Feelings
@GM. You make a very good point.  Companies have changed their requirement, but we can also agree to disagree.  I believe as a business man or woman you should fit the part.  One who has a B.A., Masters, or even a Doctoral degree should look, act, and talk the part.  Dressing says a lot about a person and in my opinion makes a strong judgment of their character.
RobPreston
50%
50%
RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/9/2014 | 2:00:44 PM
Re: some implementation details
Let me just put in a good word for today's young people. From my experience, they have a lot more on the ball than my generation did at the same age. They're more aware and less prone to doing truly stupid things. They're kinder, more respectful. I do find that they're less independent--the victims of too much Mommying and Daddying. Generalizations such as those are always prone to criticism...just my limited observations. I wish I was as "together" in my late teens as my sons are.
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/8/2014 | 1:30:41 PM
Re: some implementation details
This certainly a discussion where no opinion is wrong but I don't get the connection to showing respect for others. If I'm wearing a $1000 tailored Armeni suit and silk tie and you are in your $150 JC Penny special, does that really make you feel good about yourself? The CEO and lowest clerk look the same in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt. Which is why the CEO's are the last to want dress up era to end. How else is anyone going to look at them and know they are important?

Do you think your granddad was respected doctor because he dressed nicely or was a really good doctor? I highly suspect the latter. It is very unusual to see a doctor in a suit and tie today. In his day, perfectly normal.
mferrari123
50%
50%
mferrari123,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 7:56:50 PM
Re: some implementation details
I completely agree. My grandfather, a respected doctor told me that wearing a tie and a suite to work and being presentable is a way to demonstrate respect for others in a business environment. 
Lorna Garey
50%
50%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2014 | 5:18:36 PM
Re: Mixed Feelings
I think that lack of investment in people is so true -- employers seem to feel that if they pay for training, empoyees will then use those skills to find new gigs. And that may be true in some cases, but it seems like if a company treats its people well, there is still some loyalty left in the world.
Todder
50%
50%
Todder,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 4:56:39 PM
Re: some implementation details
Communication skills are declining in new grads because 2ndary education is failing us. The pressure to pump out srtudents is systemic in North America. Add in the social network and media which pervades most under-30 lives and it exacerbates the shortage of skill. U-30s live in a tweet world. Short bursts, phasors on stunned. I've reocgnized the poor knitting of words, sentences, paragraphs in my own kids and others.

Attention spans are minimal. The art of conversation (which leads to more enlightened writing) is pretty much absent now a days. Go to any restaurant for business or family meal, and watch the dynamic. Texting is short-burst comms, it prevails.
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 1:06:16 PM
Re: some implementation details
Shallowness. Excellent choice of words. Looking like you should know what you are doing and actually being good at what you do are two different things.

Unless you face external customers who actually drive your revenue, who may just be shallow but you'll still take their money, dress should be irrelevant. I can talk to an IT person for 10 minutes and tell you if he is any good, even if he is sitting in his (or her) underwear.

Now communication skills, that is a whole different ballgame. That is a critical skill in IT. And pretty much any other job unless you are a low level, head down data entry type person. For example, whether my A/P clerk has communication skills is probably not relevant. But funny thing is, most of them are fine communicators anyway. :-)
TechNoSeattle
50%
50%
TechNoSeattle,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 12:25:38 PM
Re: Mixed Feelings
Norris1231, I just don't think there's any causality between attire and training.  Attire is changing because tastes are changing, in the 70s seeing a guy with a moustache and sideburns was unremarkable; today Will Ferrell makes millions satirizing it.  IMHO, the emphasis on training is going down because the emphasis on people is going down, we've convinced ourselves that investment in people is not "cost-effective" in the same way investments in capital improvements and technology appear to be.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
InformationWeek Elite 100
InformationWeek Elite 100
Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Government, May 2014
Protecting Critical Infrastructure: A New Approach NIST's cyber-security framework gives critical-infrastructure operators a new tool to assess readiness. But will operators put this voluntary framework to work?
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Audio Interviews
Archived Audio Interviews
GE is a leader in combining connected devices and advanced analytics in pursuit of practical goals like less downtime, lower operating costs, and higher throughput. At GIO Power & Water, CIO Jim Fowler is part of the team exploring how to apply these techniques to some of the world's essential infrastructure, from power plants to water treatment systems. Join us, and bring your questions, as we talk about what's ahead.