“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
- Peter F. Drucker

In today's tough economy, leadership is more challenging than ever. Creating a productive and effective company entails setting standards and limits. One item that comes up often is image. The professional image of not just your physical environment, but the image your staff projects as well. This is a good time to review the importance of presenting a polished company image at every level, from CEO to receptionist. Each and every employee will make a statement about your company in how they present themselves to clients and prospects. Even in this economy, it’s possible to project an image that promotes confidence and trust in your company:

1.Create the professional environment and image you want by setting clear and simple limits for employee dress. A professional image consultant can help you set those guidelines and ensure they are appropriate to your industry. The way your employees represent themselves in the workplace or in the field speaks volumes about your company. Customers and potential customers make decisions about whom they want to do business with under the premise that they are choosing a partner. They are looking for harmony with your business and signs that you have the same type of work ethic and dedication to success. If you can convey this, you have a better chance at securing new business.

2.All companies are different. Some industries are more casual (i.e., advertising agencies, IT firms, entertainment, and creative industries) and some are still very formal (banking, law, and pharmaceutical firms). IT companies are often very casual work environments, which means downward limits must be set; casual can be professional without being sloppy or offensive. An advertising agency may want to encourage a more fashion-forward dress code to emphasize their creativity and youthful drive. A financial services firm will want a more conservative dress code, and to warn employees against displaying too much affluence to potential clients in this economy. When employees understand how their professional image can affect their careers and the company's success, they can begin to take ownership of that image and take pride in it.

3.Regardless of industry, neatness counts. Whether you’re wearing jeans or a suit, make sure that they are clean, wrinkle free and appropriate for the setting.

4.Business casual dress codes need to be clearly defined in every company. It is widely understood that business casual was created so employees could enjoy the freedom of dressing more casually in the workplace while remaining professional. This will mean something different for each company. There are some places of business that see clients infrequently, and managers can relax the dress code with the understanding that when clients are in, everyone dresses more professionally. It is still important to maintain neatness, and to avoid clothing that does not enhance productivity and a professional work environment. A software design firm may have a very casual dress code, but a revealing blouse or a tee with an offensive message hurts productivity and attention to the work at hand. Having simple guidelines in place makes it easy for employees to understand what to wear to work. Clothes you would wear to the beach, a baseball game, or a party are not appropriate for even the most casual workplace.

5.Even companies or divisions with internal rather than external customers need to be aware of their image. Departments that dress much more casually, or display an abundance of personal wealth, may be a source of envy or discord. Thoughtful attention and a planned “brand image” displayed for even internal customers makes a big impact. The right image can smooth interactions between groups working within the same company, and helps maintain a sense of corporate unity.

6.Additionally, for most companies, it is also prudent to downplay extravagance in the workplace. In this economy, it’s best to not alienate others by displaying opulence with dress in the business environment, especially for companies such as financial services or luxury goods firms where they must find just the right tone between projecting success and avoiding ostentation.

The image you and your employees present at work affects your success at a very basic level: A client or potential client looks at everyone he or she comes into contact with and thinks, “Do I want to work with this person? Do I want to work with this company?” Your employee image and your company image can make a client feel comfortable, confident, and welcome. Today, more than ever, every advantage you garner can make a difference in whether you and your company succeed and thrive.

Author's Bio: 

Patty Buccellato, AICI, CIP, is president of Refined Images, a company specializing for more than 15 years in image and personal branding. Patty holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Fashion Merchandising from Western Michigan University, and is a Certified Professional Member of the Association of Image Consultants International - a distinction earned by fewer than 100 consultants across the U.S. To learn more, visit www.refinedimages.net