The word image as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary is a mental image or picture of something. Some people work very hard at an image while others just allow it to happen. These images are all around us, famous people often come to mind when we think of images. When you hear the name Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan, you often think of misguided youth or young adults who do not feel they should follow the same rules as the rest of society. There are also many celebrities who have more positive images. I often think of people such as Samuel Jackson, Will Smith, and Cindy Crawford and so on. So, let’s discuss the 10,000 pound question. If I am dressed professionally, will I be viewed as being professional? The answer is, “Yes”, the way you dress does play a part in your image, but it is not the only piece that does so. There are many things that add to the image you have and I hope to get you thinking as much as I am. I remember when I first became a manager; my boss sitting down with me and explaining to me that I should always dress for the position I want, not for the position I have. As times have changed that same formula may not still hold true, but the people that work for you and around you are watching and, if you look the part, there are far fewer challenges.
We have broken down the at work image into six categories: Dress, Tone, Approachability, Presence, Listening and Positive (see model). These categories all play a pivotal role in the workplace image you have. Below we have broken down a just a few of these categories for your thoughts:
Tone- Voice Inflection- Volume- Speed is all part of Tone when we speak. When I have a conversation with my nine-year-old daughter, the tone in which I speak will have a large impact on the outcome. If I am loud and speak quickly, I can have the image of being mad. Whereas when I speak at a reasonable volume with just the right speed, it will give her a completely different image. After spending years in the corporate restaurant world, tone played a major role in the image and also the success you would or would not have in the business. If you speak too slowly, it sometimes gives the image that you are talking down and are more intelligent than your audience. If you are speaking too fast, it can give the image that they are not that important at that point in time. By setting the right Tone you can give an image of confidence and security to the employees that work for you.
Approachability- As a managing partner for a restaurant chain we were tasked like all business during the late 90’s into the new decade to reduce turnover. As the economy grew there was a push to maintain staffing levels and lower the turnover rates. The average for turnover in the restaurant industry in 2003 was 176%. With a number so painfully high and a growing market and shrinking levels of employment candidates we were tasked to find a way to lower those rates and maintain the staffing levels. During a brainstorming sessions with managers and key employees, we discussed everything from higher pay rates to vacation time to changing the hours of operation. After much frustration and stalling, an employee began to tell a story of “John” a manager who had left the company a few years back. The story the employee was telling involved how funny he was and how the employee had recently seen him in a grocery store and discussed in full length the family he now had. As we digressed back towards John it became quite evident that John had an image of a professional, hard-nose and at the same time truly caring about the employees’ well-being. He was approachable. So although every manager sat at the table and discussed how they were approachable, we dissected what it means to be approachable.
Positive- In our daily work lives it sometimes becomes very difficult to stay positive. But just as important as Approachability being Positive plays a large part in your workplace image. As you look at the Workplace Image components above, they all tie together in one place. If you are Approachable, even negative people will try to be more positive. When you look at Positive, it is not just the battle cry on a busy day that can get it done, but also it encompasses how you feel about the people you work with. As leaders we are all trained to look for what is wrong and fix it, as we discussed in an earlier article. Being Appreciative and Positive will change your image.
Your workplace image is something that does not become carved in stone and never change. You can change your image with a little work. With focus and attention, your image can be anything you want it to be. Some Workplace Image changes will take time while others can be very easily shifted. As you look at your image it may be important to explore the image that the employees see and want to see. Is what you perceive your image to be the same as what the people you lead to be?
Craig is the primary facilitator at Priority Learning, he is responsible for conducting an array of leadership series offered and consulting assignments from communications to team development in organizations ranging from the service industries to finance, manufacturing and more. Having extensive experience at balancing the business needs with the wants and desires of people are Craig's strongest assets.