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Is Dressing for Success an Outdated Concept?

28 Apr


With what I am observing in organizations today, it appears that employees are increasingly caring less and less about their appearance. To put it a little more bluntly, it seems like “dress down Friday” has become “dress down Monday thru Friday” in many organizations. This trend got me thinking about what would happen if John T Molloy’s top selling book in 1975, Dress for Success, were to hit the bookshelves today? Would it still be the bestseller that it was back in the late 70s? Would organizations actually change any of their dress codes? Most importantly, would the author’s message gain any traction and cause individuals to change the way they dress? Being pessimistic, I don’t think Molloy’s book as written in the 70s would even get considered a “must read” among today’s office workers! But why is this and why the pessimism? And what has changed in the past 20 or so years that made “dress own Friday” “dress down Everyday” in most workplace settings?

Well, for one thing the social notion of personal rights has been extended to how we dress in our workplaces. I have been told, as probably you may have, that dressing according to your own taste is your personal right. Furthermore, I think a kind of revolution erupting out of the 90s against the wearing of ties, suits, dress shirts, skirts and just about anything pressed in the workplace, has created a kind of “anti conformity” or redefined cool when it comes to dress. Ironically, nothing could be more conformist than today’s dress down climate! And, while most organizations seem to be okay with the notion of “casual dress”, few have been successful in defining where to draw the line between just plain ugly and casual.

But consider this, have you ever been overlooked for a promotion or have not been given opportunities to take on challenging and visible assignments within the organization? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then perhaps it’s time to look into the mirror.

Please don’t think I’m suggesting that dress is essential to being successful. However, try being successful without dressing well! Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that you dust off Molloy’s book either. Rather, what I am suggesting is your choice of how you dress signals an attitude that influences how others think about you. Why else do we dress up for a job interview?

No one has said anything to you about your dress? That’s not surprising.  In today’s politically correct atmosphere, where there is a heightened sensitivity to anything negative, bosses and colleagues are most likely not going to say anything for fear of hurting your feelings or infringing on your sacred “personal rights”. So, rather than take a risk, it’s easier for them to say nothing at all.

One thing is for sure; don’t think that poor dress is going unnoticed. Sounds a little over the top? Well, think about this: if you subscribe to the idea that a cluttered desk equates to a cluttered mind, then what’s the corollary to someone who dresses in a careless and sloppy way?

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

A New Position? Some Tips for Getting a Head Start Toward Success

16 Feb’ve just accepted a new position in a different division within the organization you have been working in for the past few years. Even though the company goes by the same name, from your point of view it might as well be a different company because all the players are pretty much unfamiliar to you. In fact, the only familiar link you have to this new environment is your new boss – and you barely know her. She’s the one who personally approached you about the job. She impressed you as someone you could easily get along with and the job responsibilities fit well with your competencies. One critical factor in accepting had to do with a lesson you learned from a mentor awhile back – he urged that the best way to “reset yourself” is to leave your current job. Your desire to hit the “reset button” reached a critical point when your husband put his foot down and said you can’t keep going at the pace you’ve been running. Up until this point, traveling was a constant, as was putting in 65-70 hours a week. On weekends, you were moody and glued to your laptop. Rather than argue with your husband’s forceful so-called “request”, you agreed. So now you’ve made the grand leap to change jobs and bring some balance into your life. To make sure you get off to a successful start while resetting yourself to a more reasonable work schedule, here are 4 tips to keep in mind:

 1. Secure Some Quick Wins

Remember, at the start of most any job there’s an implied honeymoon period where you have a little extra time and leeway to make things happen; so, take advantage and use your time wisely. One way to successfully position yourself to identify some quick wins is by interviewing all the key people you support. Ask them, as one successful manger did, the following question – “What is one thing that’s within the framework of my role that I am in control of doing that would be of greatest help to you over the next 30 days?” Write down what they have to say and remember to reconnect with them when you have fulfilled their request.

 2. Don’t Be Too Quick to Draw Conclusions

In your effort to get up to speed in a new job, it’s not uncommon for us to jump to conclusions about what the issues may be only to find out later that we misread what was happening around us. Don’t fall into this trap. One manager, who recently started a new job, avoided that tendency by deciding to keep a daily log that chronicled his observations about people and issues. Each day he would write down his thoughts about the people he needed to support and work with. He also had a separate section that identified pressing problems and potential longer-term issues. As a word of caution here: since this diary reflected his candid thoughts, he felt it was best to journal his ideas at home – just to keep on the safe side! Each week he would summarize his thoughts. To his amazement, he found that many of his initial conclusions about people and issues were totally inaccurate or had to be modified. Explore whether using an approach such as this may prove to be helpful for you. To be successful, you need to accurately read the work environment.

 3. Be Aware of the Expectation You Set in the Eyes of Others

If you demand perfection in everything you do from the onset, others will come to expect that level of performance from you all the time. Is that the reputation you want to create? By no means am I suggesting that you slack off or do mediocre work. Rather, you want to discriminate between when you need, want to, and have the time to go beyond what is required and when you can get by with simply meeting expectations. Use your time wisely and assess carefully the priority you assign to each task. The ultimate control lies with you – so take care to focus your energies on what counts regarding the success of the organization’s objectives as well as your own objectives

 4. Manage the Number of Hours You Work Each Week

In most cases, success is based on results, not long hours. Gaining some insights into what success looks like in your new role may be something you can and should clarify with your boss. You might even consider having a similar discussion with those individuals you support. It’s about reading the culture of your organization that can be important. For instance, is there a culture of expectations that includes responding to emails after work hours or over the weekend? This is something to address early on with your boss, peers, and staff in an effort to keep from being surprised on Monday morning when your boss or team says, “We didn’t hear from you regarding the home office request for budget cut ideas.”

When taking a new position, the idea should always be to move from something to something. Using these tips will help ensure that your new career moves in an upward direction to something even better!

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

Promoting Open Communications in a Team Setting

3 Feb

In any team environment, people need to feel appreciated. One meaningful way to let team members know they are valued is to create a setting where people feel that what they have to say is listened to. So, whether as the leader of a for-profit work team or a volunteer team, if you are desirous of promoting open communications within your team, the following ideas are worth implementing or following:

  •  A team leader’s role needs to be clear, understood and accepted by the team. Team leaders have a choice as to how they approach leading the team. They can take the lead and utilize a “team-driver” approach where they take an active lead or they can function more in a “team coach” role where team members are accountable to one another. Regardless of the approach, the leader’s role must be clearly understood.
  • As the leader, determine when to criticize the team as a whole, or individual team members separately. A good rule of thumb followed by many team leaders is if the issue involves three or more team members, then it’s acceptable to bring up the issue to the entire team. If the issue involves only one or two team members it’s best to address the issue(s) one-on-one.
  • Create a team atmosphere for the acceptance of criticism by establishing team run rules or guidelines for criticism. Such rules should include:
    • Avoid public name-calling.
    • Throwing someone under the bus is not acceptable.
    • Openly admit mistakes.
    • Assume positive intent of the giver of criticism.
    • Don’t criticize by email.
    • Do not shoot the bearer of bad news.
    • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Team leaders cannot assume that merely stating the goals of the team equates to acceptance by all team members. To ensure that team members are committed to the stated goals of the team, it’s best to ask. Start off by meeting individually to promote an open and candid conversation. Leaders can’t afford a “go along to get along” mentality.
  • Establish a process whereby team members assess how well the team is functioning.
  • Show leadership by admitting mistakes.

Today’s teams are complex.  For teams to be successful, leaders need to go beyond the superficial. Instead of just talking about “open communications” leaders need to work to bring this dynamic to life for the team.

Using the Matched Relationship Expectations Package

24 Jan

Any meaningful relationship, whether in the workplace, with friends, or at home, has as its foundation a clearly established matched relationship expectations package.

A matched relationship expectations package is a negotiated agreement between two or more people in which the important expectations of each have been expressed and essentially harmonized.  Building a matched expectations package goes beyond simply talking and involves engaging in an open exchange for the purpose of establishing a mutual understanding. By engaging in a meaningful exchange, each party gets to know what the other wants and needs in an effort to work effectively, directly, and build a trusting relationship

Besides defining the employee’s job in relation to organizational (and personal) goals, a matched expectations package will also include a discussion of the work relationship between manager and employee, as well as an identification and validation of unspoken expectations.

Both managers and employees benefit when expectations are clarified at the outset. Job performance is heightened as work gets done accurately and with quality, energy is positively directed, and there is a greater willingness to be more open and honest on the part of both manager and employee. When mutual expectations are kept, ironically, there is less of a need to criticize. Expectation packages are the architect’s blueprint to building strong relationships.

Get on the Same Page-Get in Tune with Others

20 Jun

While at work, you get a call from your mate. The call isn’t unusual, but what you are hearing is: Your mate has just been offered a great deal on a new car. Immediately, your mind races as you reply, “You know I hate SUV’s and don’t care for leather seats.”   Your mate responds by saying, “But sweetheart, this is such a great deal. I don’t want to turn this one down. Let’s talk about it later.”  Suddenly, you hear yourself saying “OK” and hanging up the phone.

Your day isn’t over yet. Several days ago, you asked a peer in the sales department to give you some sales projections on a couple of products, and he has failed to get back to you. You’re really feeling pressured, because these numbers are to be incorporated into a larger budget report. He explains that he’s almost finished, and by late afternoon he’ll have everything ready. You say fine, but you think to yourself that his lateness is going to put you under the gun, because you really like to proof things carefully before sending them on to your boss. Afternoon arrives, and he hands you the sales projections. After glancing at the figures, you notice that he gave you projections for one, two, and three years in advance. You feel a tinge of anger run down your spine as you explain that all you needed were figures for a single year in advance. Besides saying he’s sorry, he tells you, “I thought you would have wanted to see some more figures. One year seemed inadequate, and I thought that more numbers would be helpful. If I had known, I could have gotten this to you a lot sooner.”

When you recover from that incident, you decide to check your e-mail messages. To your surprise, you get a short note from your boss with an attachment. You go to the attachment, only to find out that one of your customers contacted your boss directly about a matter that you were in the process of handling. Once again, you feel your stress level rising as you ask yourself, “How could my customer bypass me and go to my boss without telling me?”

What do these three snapshot scenes have in common? On the surface, what’s going on appears to be a communications problem. If we look more deeply, though, it becomes apparent that the expectations of the parties involved in all three situations are unmatched. Unmatched expectations span the spectrum from simple, everyday exchanges to more persistent or extensive matters. We all have expectations for ourselves and for others; expectations exist in our relationships at work as well as in our relationships with family and friends. Strong relationships are always rooted in matched expectations.

Big or small, important or insignificant, whenever expectations are unmatched, frustration levels rise and desired outcomes are put at risk. Being able to “move” forward is difficult. So what’s needed first is to listen for and pay attention to expectations that are matched.

Even though you cannot have total control, you can pay attention to and watch for expectations that are matched- prior to taking what happens around you.

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