I have written frequently about the importance of image in conveying value. For the most part, I meant conveying value to potential clients or customers. But the same principles apply in conveying value to your staff, and perhaps most importantly, to yourself.
I know that when I worked exclusively from home, I didn’t do very well at it. I seem to be the kind of guy who has to get up in the morning, shave, put on a shirt and tie and go to work. (My friend Victor Medina told me a story about a neighbor of his who would get in his car in the morning, drive around the block back to his house and then go into his home office.)
In the same vein, almost all of my firm’s work is accomplished over the telephone or the Internet. We have visits from clients here in the office maybe twice a year. So, if you follow the principle of “spend your money where it touches the client” then I could rent some warehouse space out on Radio Road for a thousand dollars a month (instead of the professional office space I rent for $4,600 a month) and me and my entire staff could wear t-shirts and jeans to work, instead of the professional dress we do wear. (Except for the Internet guys, of course, but there’s nothing you can do about that. You open the door, throw in some Doritos, and hope nothing bites your arm before you can slam the door shut.)
I was inspired by the customer service card that all Ritz-Carlton employees carry: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. I don’t require my employees to carry cards, but I do try to convey the message that we are professionals serving professionals. Our office space and our clothing mean that all of us here consider ourselves professionals on a par with the clients we serve.
In the 1960s a series of famous experiments was conducted by Stanley Milgram at MIT on the subject of obedience. The experiments tested how far people would go in delivering an electric shock to someone they didn’t know, simply because they were told to do so. After a baseline was established, subtle variations were introduced to the experiment in order to see how they affected the results. One of those variations established that if the “professor” directing the experiment wore a white lab coat and held a clipboard, the degree of obedience increased.
Now comes this article in the New York Times, indicating that wearing that white lab coat and carrying a clipboard affects you (not just your clients or employees), if you wear it.