I came across an article on CNN’s site that lays out all of the usual advice on the appropriate attire for work, including the statement, "Boardroom attire screams ‘I made it’ to the outside world. Boardroom attire is made of the most luxurious fabrics, the best fit and the most exceptional accessories. It’s standard for CEOs, and adopted by many second-level executives who hope to ‘dress for the job they want.‘" It goes on to describe ‘boardroom attire’ as "only the highest-quality wool suits with pleated trousers and superior white cotton business shirts with straight collars" and "the highest-quality suits in wool or silk, as well as the highest-quality silk blouses". It seems to me that if you actually "made it" you could wear your pajamas to work if you wanted to. I wonder who is it the CEO is trying to impress with the "highest quality wool suits" and "superior white cotton business shirts"?
Instead of "I made it", that look screams to me, "I never go in the factory".
Another article I came across in some Human Resources publication decried the tendency to leave the HR pros out of strategic decision making. I recently had a chance to meet one of those HR professionals. She was wearing shoes with heels (not particularly high, but heels nonetheless), a very nice skirt and a long sleeved, very, very white blouse. She may well have been dressed for the boardroom, but since it was apparent that she had no intention of going into the factory, I suspect there was little she could tell them in the boardroom. Anyone who avoids the manufacturing floor as if it were some sort of leper colony has little to offer in the way of strategic advice. This was a manufacturing company after all, and HR advice that is not related to and integrated with the manufacturing floor is of little value no matter how ‘strategic’ the HR pro might think it to be
Have you ever had an occasion to ask someone from Accounting or HR to go out into the plant with you to look at something, or to talk to someone? Do you always have to stand around waiting for them to find all the safety stuff they need to go out there? Who is Accounting trying to impress? Nobody from outside the company comes in to meet with them very often. And who was this woman in charge of HR trying to impress? If she meets with anyone, it is a job applicant, who should be trying to impress her.
There is a restaurant here in Tucson in which a guy uses a big pair of scissors to cut off the tie of anyone who walks through the door wearing one. They should hire him to set up shop with his scissors at the front door of GM World Headquarters. That might send the message to the folks working at the largest manufacturing company in the world that they should at least look like they might go find a factory and stroll through it from time to time. Really, for whom are Rick Wagoner, Bill Ford and the execs from the Fortune 500 dressing to impress? Not the customers – they aren’t impressed by tailored suits. The suppliers? Not hardly. Their employees? That’s a laugh. Obviously they dress the way CNN says they should because that is the official uniform of Wall Street. The fact that it is wholly inappropriate for their factories sends a pretty loud and clear message to the whole company that they have no intention of going into a factory.
All of this gets at the culture of lean manufacturing. In most companies you can tell by looking around the staff meeting who the manufacturing people are and who has an office job. The office folks are wearing the finest shoes they can buy at the local mall, while the manufacturing people are wearing the finest shoes they sell from the back of the safety shoe truck that comes by once a month. The rims of the manufacturing people’s glasses, if they wear them, are the most stylish you can get with lenses at least 1mm thick to comply with the safety regulations. No matter how clean the factory is, the manufacturing people will not be the ones wearing white shirts to work, and they most certainly will not be the ones wearing the nicest suit in their closet to the factory.
In far too many companies, the manufacturing people are dressed for manufacturing, while the rest of management is ‘dressed for success’, whatever that means. Most of the lean literature gets after the top people for their failure to spend enough time on the shop floor, with good reason. But in most companies, the failure to do much ‘gemba walking’ is hardly limited to the senior manager. In meetings, the manufacturing people often have to dumb down the discussion for the rest of the staff. You can’t just mention the CNC Vertical Machining Center. You have to stop and say, "It’s that big gray thing to your left from the Coke machine." Suggest that the offices be torn down and the staff be given desks out on the factory floor near where the work is actually done and the bleating and whining will be so loud you would think a herd of sheep had stampeded through the company. A 6′ X 6′ cubicle next to the door to the men’s room in the office carries more status than anything in the factory.
While the problem extends much wider than the CEO, he or she certainly sets the standard. As the CNN article said at the outset, the other gang wearing the boardroom attire consists of those "who hope to ‘dress for the job they want’." That HR manager was not dressing to do her job – she was dressing to demonstrate to the CEO that she is big time management material. She can rub elbows and put on a fashion show with the execs, unlike those manufacturing rubes with their clunky shoes and hair that has been mashed down under a hard hat all day. A ‘monkey see – monkey do’ mentality prevails in the management ranks. Once the monkey in the CEO’s chair starts dressing like he works in a manufacturing company instead of a bank, and begins to spend a chunk of his day in the factory, the rest of the management monkeys will fall into line and start doing the same.
I have been knocking around manufacturing for better than 25 years. Thanks to my book and to Superfactory, I can’t keep up with demand for my on-site lean management course, which puts me in a lot of manufacturing companies all over the world. In nine companies out of ten, I can walk into the room and, without anyone saying a word, pick out the manufacturing managers from the staff folks. In those companies, I know that every module of the course is going to be a struggle with someone in the room. In that tenth company, where they all seem to dress and look about the same, I know that every module is going to exciting, because a lean culture is already well on its way.
If you work for a manufacturing company, dress for success means dress for the factory no matter what your job title is. Save the wool suit for weddings and funerals; ditch the designer shoes and get in line when the safety shoe truck rolls in, and, even before Labor Day, white is always out of style.