The Wrong Trousers: When Image Trumps Effectiveness

Most organizations want to convey a particular image to the public, one that signifies quality or professionalism or contemporariness. And organizations that put thought, care, and resources into crafting their image want it to be consistently upheld by all employees.

From time to time, though, the focused pursuit of a consistent image can create unforeseen consequences and get in the way of the effective pursuit of a business’s work goals and the execution of its tasks.

Case in point: I was chatting with a building super for a property that is owned and operated by a national real estate management company. The company had recently changed its selection of required work uniforms. Originally, the work pants, polo shirts, work shirts, caps, etc. had come in a range of styles that building employees could choose from.

Dressing for the Part

Now, the company’s management wants its employees in this particular building to look like the employees at its flagship location. So the local guys can no longer wear the carpenter-style pants that they prize for the extra loops and holster-type pockets for tools down the leg, which let them carry a few crucial work tools at all times, ready for a quick repair job or to help a tenant out.

Instead, the employees are required to wear regular plain-leg slacks and they have to carry their tools by hand in a small case — inconveniently — or to try to shove the case itself into their ordinary front pants pocket.

Of course it’s possible that numerous considerations went into the decision to change the uniform. Perhaps too many tools went missing in the fancy flagship building, or maybe the plain pants were significantly less expensive.

But even if there were many mitigating factors, the super had never been informed about them. So he filled in the gaps with the logic of his own perspective. His takeaway (paraphrased) was loud and clear: “They care more about looks than what helps us get the job done. They don’t care how inconvenient it is for us. Who needs fancy when they want something fixed? Tenants don’t like to wait for us to go back to the building office and get some tools. They just want the thing fixed right away.”

Think twice before you get between the workman and his work. Good-looking may have nothing to do with fashion, and a lot to do with how close the lights, heat, bathrooms, elevators, and air conditioning come to 100 percent uptime. Beauty, in a case like this one, is in the eyes of the tenant who sees a repair underway.

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