Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: "by a man's finger nails, by his shirt cuffs, a gentleman's calling is plainly revealed". Counts for women, too, of course - it's just he was writing as Victorian sleuth Sherlock Holmes and equality wasn't one of the Victorians' strong points. It's what Disney refer to as the notion that "everything speaks": the small details are quite often what make a big difference, however, where it gets a little technical - and in my opinion really interesting - is that these differences quite often happen at a subconscious level.
Members of my Insider Expert members club will know that a key principle I spend a lot of time reinforcing is the understanding that we all have the ability to create lasting impressions. One of the real secrets to instantly influence those lasting impressions, helping to ensure they are positive, is ensuring that everything in your organisation really does speak.
Always sign your letters yourself and if you can't, never have someone PP them - have them either forge your signature or interpret it.
Ensure your voicemails and auto-reply emails are personalised and provide contact details for someone else people can contact in your absence, where possible.
Check yourself close-up in the mirror: ensure your shoes are clean (including mud around the soles); your clothes are pressed; your hands and nails are clean and tidy; your hair is neat and well-groomed and your clothes actually fit. It's not excessive to look at websites of smart clothing retailers to get an idea of style and how clothes should be worn properly. I spent a few days with a tailor to truly understand how to dress correctly. After all, these people really are specialists in the art of dressing correctly and well. Now, many of you will read this and think I've gone mad - I'm not suggesting you spend time with a tailor as you can get an idea by looking online - however, these tiny details, which may well seem imperceptible, are picked up on by those interacting with you. They notice if you're scruffy; if you're well-dressed; if your clothes are ill-fitting or threadbare and if your hands are clean. The reason it's so important is because you can't get first impressions back. The true art of creating lasting, positive impressions is understanding that everything speaks - everything. You are your greatest marketeer - if your sales team have a great reputation in your industry as being sharp, knowledgeable and professional, all of that can be undone when you enter with your scruffy, muddy shoes, hair in need of a cut and plastic watch.
I'm a bit advocate that your cleaning staff are as important as your CEO for the simple fact that a dirty environment is picked up on quickly, but a clean one isn't necessarily. If you go to a hotel and the carpet is dirty, there is dust collecting around the edges of the room and some of the light bulbs have blown, you'll notice that. You'll pick up on it and you might well comment on it. Conversely, if it's tidy and clean, because it's expected, people largely don't comment - or notice. A good cleaner has as an important a job as any Director when it comes to helping convey a story of positive impressions in your customer or service users' mind.
Anything with your logo on must be clean and readily visible. I've lost count of the number of business headquarters I've seen whose signs are covered in algae, obstructed by weeds or damaged. Your branding says everything about you and your logo is the most important part of your organisation. This is why I struggle with people handing me their business card when it's crumpled or the corners are damaged where it's been tucked in their wallet for months on end, the sad victim of commuting. Buy a business card holder or put them somewhere they will stay clean. If you're going to print your logo out for a poster or sign, for example, do it either professionally (quality printing is extremely cost effective from a local printer) or ensure you set your printer to the highest setting you can, to get the best final effect.
Tidy, clean and well-organised working areas do have an impact on those working within them, however, they have an even greater first impression and lasting impact on visitors and customers. If those areas can be seen by visitors, ensure the first impression you offer them is of an organised, professional, slick and efficient organisation, rather than a jumbled, clumsy stock room which people are tripping over boxes of paper and - please no - lunch scraps, to work in.
If you went to stay at a luxury hotel for a weekend away or a special treat, your expectation is of luxury. If the bathroom fittings were all white plastic and the door handles were plastic, for example, it wouldn't fit with you expectation and the lasting impression is certainly not one of luxury. However, you might not necessarily be consciously aware of what it was that didn't make the hotel feel luxury. Change those handles to chrome or brass - or gold! - and you've got a very different look, feel and lasting impression. It's the tiny things that have a really big impact. One regular example I see of getting this wrong is in doctors surgeries, post offices and local shops. They literally swamp the doors, windows and every available space with information posters, a sign with opening times, a pull or push sign, a sponsor's advertising poster, local events, a circus poster three months out of date and a missing cat poster that's faded probably in direct proportion to the poor cat's life.
Something as simple as the pen you use "speaks". Although you may not think twice about your doctor using a cheap 30p biro, you certainly would notice if he was using a nice, expensive Lamy, for example. All of these things are a part of your overall story: they are tiny details that help tell your story and can influence the impression people leave you with.
At home, I'm most comfortable in jeans and a casual t-shirt. That's because I'm nearly always in a suit when not at work. I don't have to be: many speakers wear casual clothes and most wear an open collared business shirt and suit. However, one of the lessons I learnt from the tailor was that if you put two people side by side, people subconsciously give more attention to the smarter of the two. Furthermore, scientific studies have shown that we trust people in a uniform over someone who isn't. I always wear a suit, shirt and tie and nearly always wear a waistcoat, too. My shoes are always clean and I'll wear my best watch when I work. That's my uniform. Because although if I worked in casual clothes, I would still deliver the same messages and create the same memorable impact, being smart in my appearance helps to ensure that those I work with feel confident and secure in my ability and messages. It all speaks.
Take Walt Disney World as an example. How do they create the impression that they do? When you're on Disney property, do you see the rubbish on the paths or overflowing bins? Do you see their staff (or "cast members" as they refer to them) smoking on their break? Does the paintwork look tired? Are there broken or unused items left laying around? No, of course not because Disney don't want you to go away with the impression of Walt Disney World being a dirty, rubbish-laden, shabby, untidy place, where people who don't care work. Renovations, maintenance and upkeep is done throughout the night in the Disney parks, so that there is no disruption to visitor (or "guest") experience. You don't have to have Disney budgets and work through the night, though, to ensure everything at your organisation speaks and says the correct message.
The real secret is to keep on it: schedule weekly reviews; staff reminders and involve members of your team, so that they all play a part in spotting for the cracks or where things aren't up to scratch. An entire review of your organisation can take some time, however, when I do this for my clients, I set a very clear deadline and metaphorically divide the organisation up into manageable areas to assess one at a time. It's often useful to hold a meeting first with everyone to define what "everything speaks" means and fully explain how you intend to implement it into your organisation and what it means for individuals.
Offer examples as I've done here, so that they understand how the tiny little things, unnoticeable by many, have a really big impact, all-be-it sometimes subconsciously: show them what happens in their brain every time they experience these things for themselves.
Member since: 6th June 2013
Jez Rose is an internationally renowned Behaviour Change Consultant, professional speaker, award-winning entrepreneur, author and media personality.
Despite being the “go-to” guy for memorable and behaviour-changing...