How to Express Professional Image Concerns to Your Employees

Lately it seems that almost every day I hear from a human resource professional who is struggling to talk with someone in their organization about their image. Personal image can be a very private, personal, and difficult thing to talk about, after all. Who among us wants to find out that our interpretation of the dress code was wrong or that our image is not a positive reflection of the one the boss envisions? While it can be a delicate matter to have this kind of conversation, I always advise the human resource manager that it is really no different than addressing an employee who comes to work late or whose work is not up to standard. It’s just that many employees who have a strong work ethic, great performance, and an energetic “get it done” attitude have never really learned the how-to’s of creating a top-notch professional image. So that’s when the organization’s human resource team calls to seek my professional advice.

I always make sure that in discussing the individual I find out specifics about how he or she does not best represent the corporate brand in terms of a professional presence. It’s important to understand specifics, not broad generalizations, and I’ve heard them all. Inappropriate dress and grooming essentials, poor table manners, ineffective email communication skills, a lack of rapport, deficient inter-office communications and platform skills, a lack of office etiquette – the list goes on and on.

Typically during the course of the conversation I find out that the employee in question is a highly valued employee and company asset. Of course they are! Otherwise why would a large organization seek out a consultant and coach for professional advice on how to deal with that employee’s personal image?

It’s never easy, of course. I often revert back to the many conversations I had with different levels of employees during my days as a senior executive with Macy’s. After each of those conversations I always felt relieved that the discussion was behind us so that I could begin to see how the employee was going to respond and work to solve the issue at hand. Now that I work as a consultant with organizations I am able to offer tips, advice, and my executive coaching skills -before, during, and after these conversations.

It’s always an eye-opener for the employee to hear this type of constructive feedback. But after our first session they realize how wonderful the organization was that it was willing to seek an image coach to give them the specific skills and tools they needed to enhance their image. I’ve never yet worked with a company that did not feel that a positive shift or change happened, once the individual understood how their image represented the organization and I had an opportunity to coach them to bring out their ultimate potential.

We have also found that these valued employees remain with the organization for a longer duration of employment and feel very positive about the organization and their workplace experience. They appreciate that their company enlisted an experienced outside consultant to help them polish their professional development skills.