Trust starts with the right business attire

8/30/2016 - Willie Ehlers, COO of Monocle

There’s no arguing that the opportunity to wear more comfortable clothing and express some small sense of personal style boosts team morale – improving productivity and mitigating some of the disillusionment employees can feel, as more than just a number at a desk. FNB demonstrates that rather effectively, by encouraging its staff to wear their rugby jerseys on rugby Fridays, a simple device for bringing its staff together under one banner – a nation in love with rugby. So, I’m not against Casual Friday, albeit with a proviso.  

Banks and insurance companies are balanced on an incredibly intricate array of processes and carefully determined risks, making them challenging to run at the best of times. Now imagine yourself to be the CEO of one of these august organisations, all of whom must navigate potentially debilitating market fluctuations, regulatory changes and a transition away from legacy systems. Would you trust me with operational success of your bank if I were to arrive in washed denim and sandals?  

When working in an industry faced with constant disruption, as consultants do, we are at battle with a world that fundamentally resists change. It’s our job to guide clients to a brighter future, but I’d struggle to arrest the inclination to shy away from the current ebb and flow, if I came across as someone they couldn’t depend on. I want to represent myself as capable, professional, trustworthy and a cut above the rest. That can be downright impossible in casual attire.  

Speak and dress are crucial in the world of consulting, where we’re presenting ourselves as the brand; in consulting, we are the product. That happens a lot more effectively when my colleagues and I work closely with our clients, promoting integrity, transparency and instilling a peace of mind, for which we need to look the part. It’s essential, then, that Casual Fridays do not come at the expense of professionalism, even if it’s only perceived as such.  

I’m certainly not against casual attire when the occasion calls for it. From the onset of every relationship, we make it clear that Monocle is not an island, having always strived for a united vision among its shareholders, employees and community. We’re passionate about comradery, because we’re a results-focused consulting firm for one of the most challenging sectors in South Africa, and we need to function as a unit to produce stellar results. Casual Fridays are one cog in the machine to achieving that, but like everything we do, we need to be smart about it.  

To distinguish myself from both competitors and clients, I focus on my work, as well as my overall appearance, to project an aesthetic of confidence and certitude in my work. My job isn’t just to liberate companies from system inefficiencies, the risk of a liquidity shortfall or to ensure data governance, though that is certainly a part of it. My job is to assure and persuade. So, for me, casual means business casual – that I can still wear a jacket and be smart.

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