People always laugh over here at Zweig Group when I launch into a tirade about a guy who worked for us long ago. This fellow was a consultant – an engineer with an MBA – and every time we went to a seminar or industry conference he would put on his black jeans, wraparound sunglasses, and yes – a black leather fanny pack. Drove me freakin’ nuts. Here we were – supposedly a “classy” and “hip” Boston-based consulting firm to the design industry – and we had key people with zero sensitivity to what would be an appropriate “look” for the clients we served.
Then we had another situation recently where one of our junior employees insisted on wearing his keys on his belt. Sorry, but that makes you look like the building janitor and not the building owner. Not cool! And you shouldn’t have to tell people “don’t wear your keys on your belt.” If they had any powers of observation or sensitivity to the environment around them they would notice and adjust without being beaten over the head by their supervisors.
You’ll see a lot of stuff like this in firms just like yours, too. People don’t know how to dress – they don’t know how to look – and even worse, they don’t know how to act. I’m not going to say there’s nothing you can do about it but there is a little something you can do. I have taken people to men’s stores more than once to outfit them with the basics of a decent wardrobe but you cannot make these people wear whatever it is you buy them unless the occasion is now and they’re going to wear it out of the store. People will do what they want to do. It isn’t always a case of not knowing better or not having the funds to dress better.
When you have these situations, the first thing you have to ask yourself is whether or not it really matters. Maybe that person won’t ever see anyone and the fact that he wears the same Black Sabbath T-shirt three or four days out of the week may not be the end of the world (unless it stinks – then you have to confront him!). On the other hand, if you have someone who insists on parking their “lifted” Dodge Ram Dually – flying a six-foot-long rebel flag from a pole in their bed – right out in front of your office every day, you may have to say something to them.
The second question you have to ask yourself is, “Does this offender know what they are doing? Or are they ignorant?” If they know what they are doing is wrong/inappropriate/inflammatory and yet they insist on doing it anyway, you may not be able to tolerate it. This person is deliberately causing problems for you. If it is ignorance that enables them to do what they’re doing, it’s your duty to educate them before taking the next step.
In any case, it sure makes sense to pay attention to these things when you are first hiring someone. Certainly you can get surprised later on but usually the signs will be there. Look carefully at how someone dresses and communicates with you. If they do something wacky in an interview, they’ll probably do it later on.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.