Seth Godin recently posted about uniforms, and the image they present to customers and others. He asks why normal companies don’t have the office folks wear them, and talks about a secret project to begin doing just that at his own company.
As it happens, at my company we’ve been wearing uniforms for more than a decade.
One of the many things that makes QuadGraphics and their subsidiaries stand out from other companies is that we wear uniforms to work. The “Quad Blues”, as they’re often called, are your typical uniform of indestructible polyester, dark blue pants and shirt, logo on the shoulder, with our name on the right side of our chest. Everyone, from the Quadraccis on down wears them.
The pros are easy: Everyone’s dressed alike, so it’s much easier to see everyone as peers which breaks down barriers. It’s also very inexpensive, as the uniforms are a lot less expensive than suits or business casual wear. There’s no choosing what to wear in the morning. Security is a little easier – walk-ins really stand out. So do customers and VIPs. It’s both impressive and imposing to outsiders walking through.
The cons are fairly minor: Folks stop you in the store to ask where things are. It’s pretty intimidating when you’re a new employee, not having a uniform to wear, and you can’t hide your identity 😉 I remember the first time I walked in for an interview, and saw a whole roomful of uniformed people. I swear they were sitting at perfect attention, and I thought to myself “I’ll never make it here – I’ll get canned for being late, or not sitting at attention for sure.” That was over nine years ago.
A while ago we started having Kaizen events as a way of propelling change throughout the organization. There was a strong desire to make participation in those events something to be proud of, so Kaizen participants are given orange (ok, “melon”) colored polo shirts, embroidered with our names, and some info about the Kaizen event. Those shirts can be worn in place of a regular uniform shirt, and are they are to be worn on Fridays when Kaizen teams are giving presentations.
The intent was to make Kaizen participants stand out, and to slowly see the company transform from blue to orange (I mean, melon) on Fridays as more and more employees become involved. It’s working, except for a few people like me – the melon shirts lack pockets, and I’m dead without my PDA 8–) It’s a strange sight because the blue and orange are so striking. Like the Fighting Illini have come to roost.
Overall, they are a good thing and more businesses should consider them.
But, does it help tell the story? Yes, I think it does.