Friday, May 29, 2009

Employees promoting competitors!

A reader asks:

“Our company’s dress code isn’t that stringent. So effectively employees can wear business casuals to work and shifts to formal business attire when needed (like a client visit). We leave it to them to exercise discretion. We have however noticed that far too many employees wear/carry stuff from their previous employers to work! At times, it’s from our direct competitors! Can we include a line in our dress-code policy that prohibits employees from wearing/displaying stuff from competitors? How do we avoid this happening again?”

Appreciate that you’ve let employees decide what they wear to work, as long as it conforms to business needs. However, your employees are taking their dress-code freedom for granted. That’s really bad.

Here’s what could have happened, there’s Joe who likes that blue-shirt he got at his previous company. It matches his favorite trouser. He doesn’t mind that the shirt has your competitor’s logo on it. For him, the combination looks good & the bigger picture gets dwarfed. He then walks into the office and obviously other employees notice. Some of them like it and the others don’t. The ones that liked it might go back & scour their wardrobes for stuff they got from their previous companies. If they find something they like, they’ll wear it to work. Or will display stuff at their desks, like coffee-mugs, awards, calendars. Or use their previous company’s back-pack. The one’s that don’t like it think it’s not for them to correct the others. Had you stopped Joe and asked him not to wear that shirt, the others would not have followed. That’s the risk with setting precedents. Before you know it, it’ll snowball into a messy issue. Employees will feel you are controlling there wardrobe! Really.

Common sense is a rare commodity. So you’ll need to go that extra mile in letting people know they can’t wear/carry/display stuff that could promote competitors. Yes, you can add it in your company’s dress-code policy. But let’s be honest, just how many of them will even read it. You might get some responses in the initial few days. After that, it’s back to old ways. Also, if you haven’t interfered in the way your employees manage their desks, such as displaying personal things, then trying to disallow that immediately (without notice) will backfire.

So, here are some options that you could try.

- You cannot demand loyalty. You can only earn it. So have patience. Make your company's brand worth sporting on one’s attire.
- Communicate to all new employees during induction. It’s a good start-point. At least you’ll not have to worry about them.
- For existing employees, send out mails which tell them that you have noticed this and your stand on the issue. Tell them why you are doing it in the first place. A client visiting your company could notice an employee displaying competitor’s stuff (deal breaker) and that not an image you want to project.
- Most important is that you avoid setting further precedents. The policy is applicable across the company that includes senior management too.
- Yes, popular fashion brands are ok, so are sports-brands. Unless off course they are direct competition to your business.
- I understand that budget could be a constraint, but if you can manage, there’s nothing like giving out stuff that has your company’s logo!

Yes, employees have a choice of what they want to promote. But if their loyalty is still with your competitor, then that’s where they should have remained!