Everybody needs somebody sometime. When it comes to business, it's great to have a mentor. My dad looked up to his Uncle Jake. Jake owned and operated one of the largest dairy companies in New York and my dad had worked there as a young man.
There are so many critical turns a business makes, especially when it is intent on rapid growth. Dad had told me how helpful it was to have someone that he and his partner, my Uncle Morty, could turn to for advice.
The good news was that Dad and Uncle Morty had grown the company big enough by the late 1950s that they no longer had to share all the work amongst themselves. Don't get me wrong, they were always working. But now, there were more people to help share the load. And as the business continued to grow, Dad was always finding new challenges that he didn't know existed.
It was around that time that my dad was beginning to spend the majority of his time selling and less time filling all the other positions it takes to keep a young business growing. When he shared this with Uncle Jake during one of his visits, Uncle Jake's advice was clear: "Go out and buy yourself some suits and ties today, and, starting tomorrow, I want you to go to work dressed in a suit and tie each day."
This was a radical change. For years, he had been wearing a service tech's uniform while at work. But to his credit, he never questioned the wisdom and out to the store he went to buy the suits and ties. And he went to work in a suit and tie every day from then on.
Looking back, Dad told me he felt that this seemingly minor suggestion was probably one of the best pieces of advice he ever got. He found that, by showing up dressed in a suit and tie every day, he saw himself as more of a professional. Funny thing was that his employees and his clients did, too.
Yes, Dad could still be found helping to move a boiler or climbing into the dumpster to fish out parts still in warranty. The difference was now he did it in a suit and tie.
Making The Right First ImpressionDad had learned Uncle Jake's lessons well and he impressed upon us the value of making the right first impression. I tried to make the right first impression when I joined the company. For me it was wearing sharp-looking logo Land's End shirts or logo golf shirts. I wore neatly pressed black or navy trousers and a company logo jacket that was different from the ones the techs wore. I worked very hard to differentiate the way I looked from the way my techs looked. They looked great in the professionally designed and maintained uniforms, but I was visiting clients at their homes and businesses and I needed to instantly convey that I was a professional. My appearance set the tone.
My family believed so much that how you dress affects how you are perceived that we created dress standards for everyone. That included the office staff. We eliminated sneakers, blue jeans and sloppy shirts. At first we thought, "Who cares if the customer rarely if ever sees them?" That was dead wrong. It matters because they see themselves a certain way and that changes their level of professionalism. By dressing the part of a professional no matter what they were asked to do, they became that professional. It's a lot like visualization. It puts you in the right frame of mind to be successful.
Today, I wear a suit and tie, just like my dad did, whenever I'm working at a client's business or in front of a class teaching a workshop. Even when I'm at home in my office, I wear my company logo shirt. My friends and family chuckle at this notion but I know it puts me in the right mindset to do my best work.
The contractors I work with today have also chosen to set the right tone at their companies by getting out of the habit of wearing a T-shirt, sweatshirt and blue jeans. They are raising the bar at their companies. Without fail, I get a call that this simple act alone has made a profound difference in how they feel about themselves and, just as importantly, how the staff dresses and performs.
Many of them have taken it one step further by having everyone at their company wear company logo attire. Company logo attire worn by all employees helps solidify the "team" mentality and minimizes dress code issues. Like a lot of sports teams, the company logo attire promotes a "team" cohesiveness and higher work standards.
The other effect of looking and dressing the part is that, when a staff member is at the local deli for lunch or at the dry cleaners, the logo attire is out there marketing your company.
The people I've worked with for awhile will say, "Al, you don't have to keep wearing the tie and jacket when you visit." I thank them for thinking about my comfort, and then explain that I've learned that dressing this way helps me do my best for them.
Try getting everyone dressed right and see what it does for your own success.