Is a Dress Code Needed for Exceptional Job Performance?

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Sep 24, 2014

Golf is a game of stretch goals.

While some of these are fairly common, such as scoring a birdie, others are more elusive. The most famous of these white whale goals is the hole-in-one.

Imagine, then, being able a check a hole-in-one off of your golfing bucket list, and doing so in Scotland at the home of golf, St. Andrew’s. For many golfers, it’s the stuff of dreams.

Losing sight of something exceptional

For my friend Scott, it was a dream that became a reality last April. However, what made Scott’s experience unique was that he was wearing jeans, which is a well-known violation of golf’s widely accepted dress code, especially in the game’s birthplace.

Shortly afterwards, Scott shared a photo of his exciting achievement on social media, as is customary. Interestingly, while some folks that commented congratulated him and shared their excitement, there were others that focused solely on his choice of clothing.

By focusing on the fact that he was wearing jeans, they lost track of the fact that he had done something exceptional.

Taking this story to the business world makes for an interesting discussion. Of course, achievement is everyone’s top priority. If performance and formal dress were mutually exclusive, everyone would choose success.

It’s not about what you wear

Historically, though, the assumption is just the opposite – you have to dress for success.

Scott’s achievement is one such exception to that rule, but others are picking up on the fact that skill and achievement aren’t dictated by what you wear. Notably, HR consultant Sharon Lauby recently argued that you shouldn’t recruit based on attire. Illustrating this point, the White House announced in August that their coders are no longer required to wear a tie to work.

All of this taken together, it appears that the winds of office dress code change are truly blowing.

Still, we should be careful not to go to far with this reform. While it is clear that you don’t need to dress for success and that employee performance is really the priority over what they wear, there are still situations where you will need your employees to dress for the occasion.

The problem — and a solution

Despite their new-found attire freedoms, even the White House coders wear a suit and tie to meet with the President. The problem here is that, unless your boss is the leader of the free world, it can be difficult to define what those occasions actually are.

Short of the most obvious of occasions, the line marking appropriate occasions can be hard to find. However, since even the White House has caught on that dress code can be a factor in attracting the best talent, setting reasonable, contemporary expectations for attire is important.

Here are a few rules of thumb to consider:

  • Your comfortable clothes shouldn’t make any of your co-workers uncomfortable.
  • Customer-facing employees should dress to or slightly above their customer’s standards in face-to-face meetings.
  • Formal dress should be the default for public appearances, meetings with public officials or foreign dignitaries, or meetings for new business opportunities.

Set a few ground rules

Setting a few easy-to-understand ground rules will give you peace of mind, and you’ll still be likely to project a culture that won’t get in the way of recruiting and retaining the top talent. In most cases, your employees will form their own reasonable consensus dress code if left to their own devices just as you would expect any group of adults to do.

In the end, just be happy when your employees hit holes-in-one, and don’t worry so much about what they were wearing when they do it.

This originally appeared on the blog

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