If you’re a consultant, how do you want your potential clients to see you? Does that change if you’re more of a facilitator than a consultant? And do either of these change if you mostly work remotely?
To what extent is it Clean to match a potential client’s metaphor for “business consultant”: to what extent is it Cleaner to be “authentically oneself”?
I’m not generally interested in clothes – I try to minimise thinking about them as much as I can. I’m all in favour of the wear-the-same-thing-every-day idea.
In the last few years my working wardrobe has settled into a particular style: it’s comfortable enough for standing all day, shifting boxes and furniture when needed, carrying luggage or running for a train – and at the same time hopefully smart enough that people don’t regard me as “too scruffy for this company”.
And, this week it was gently suggested that Steve and I need to get some pictures taken and put online which show him in a suit, me in “female equivalent”, in order to increase our chance of winning the meetings that could lead to doing more of the work we love to do, helping to create the conditions for teams to collaborate by using Clean Language-based approaches.
The request came from someone thoughtful and intelligent who understands the subtleties of what we do and would like to introduce it to some of his key clients: it’s not thoughtless cookie-cutter advice from a random “business coach”.
I wasn’t sure what kind of outfit I was looking for, so I asked for practical advice from my online network. It wasn’t quite what I expected!
The majority of people who responded said that dressing in a way that was true to myself, being “authentic”, was more important than dressing to fit any client’s expectations. Space suits and feathers were amongst the ideas proposed 🙂
That gave me a puzzle to work on. One of the things that’s authentic for me is a Clean (or at least Cleanish) philosophy: to put the client and the client’s desired outcome at the heart of the interaction, reducing the amount of the attention being paid to the facilitator. And clothes are an important part of that, especially in a first encounter – whether that’s in marketing materials, an online conversation, or a first face-to-face meeting.
We also know there’s plenty of research about how people respond differently to people in different clothes. “White coat syndrome” is an actual thing.
A lot of Clean enthusiasts take the view that low-key, dark-coloured clothing is appropriate when in the facilitator role, with brighter colours and more distinctive styles when “presenting”. “Training” falls somewhere in between.
In a typical in-organisation engagement, perhaps my clothing should probably start by matching the client expectation for a sales meeting (in this case, “smart”); then match the group’s expectation for “trainer” and then, as the group takes more responsibility for their own process, fade to “facilitator”. Pace, pace, pace… then stop leading.
That leaves another challenge, of course: predicting what a potential client would want to see their potential consultant wearing. The consensus in the UK and Europe is that business dress is much less formal nowadays than it used to be. It’s perhaps not so true of the US, apart from the west coast, or in Asia.
And that, of course, is why people invest in style consultants.
Meanwhile, I’ve ordered a navy trouser suit…
- What do you think? Should a consultant or facilitator dress up or down? Turn up in pyjamas? Please comment below.