Is That a Squirrel in Your Pocket or..?

Accountability Organizational leadership Purpose


Key Point: We all wear a uniform at work, explicitly or not. What does your “uniform” stand for regarding you and/or your organization? Do you know? Do you care? Why should you?

I had a great lunch with a couple of colleagues last week and one told me a great story about a very prosperous science center in a small Canadian city. As part of the science center’s culture, each employee must wear a blue lab coat to remind all, especially the person wearing it, that they are “scientists” at work (credentialed or not). To take the concept further, the lab coat also was a reminder of key values and attributes the person donning the blue attire was to continuously emulate. One of the values was to be an “ambassador” of the science center. Another was to be an “entertainer.” It was actually highly encouraged for employees to have some entertaining science gizmos to pull out of the deep lab coat pockets to excite and humor guests… Or, even a live squirrel… Hence the title… What’s more surprising than a live squirrel? The science-like and compelling behavior of all employees was fashioned by the uniform and vice versa.

This Monday I presented to nearly 75 of the top cops representing a large Canadian city. And as you can imagine the uniform worn by many in attendance represented a set of police service department values and personal discipline. In fact, if the officers weren’t in traditional uniforms, they wore suits… The message was integrity, buttoned-down and true north.

I was living in the Seattle area many years ago when Microsoft just started up. I remember being in a Bellevue, Wash. restaurant when a bunch of jeans and t-shirt wearing, longhaired, boisterous people gathered around a table. My lunch-mate immediately noted, “gotta love those kids from Microsoft.” All of them from that 1989 lunch now are likely bizillionaires :). Their “uniform” let us know who they were.

Character Moves: 

  1. Understand what your “uniform” represents in your organization. For most of us this is not as distinguishable as the above examples. However, the organization we work for likely has some key values and/or attributes that are reflected in what we wear and how we act. Be clear what you are. If not intentional, well then I guess anything goes. In my view that’s sloppy, ambiguous and probably vanilla… Just like the offering of others in the same market.
  2. Most of us never get the chance to outline the value and underpinnings of a real or virtual uniform across an entire organization. But almost all of us can influence a small group or team. And frankly our “uniform” often tells others what we stand for and believe. What does your personal “uniform” say about you?

Wear your uniform in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I’ve always expected to and respected wearing a suit to work. Part of me wishes I did. But I live in Los Angeles, where you’ll seldom see one in my industry. In fact, my boss likes to say, “If you wear a suit in LA, you work in a department store.” Because, truthfully, on any given 2 p.m. weekday, the unshaven, mesh-shirt wearing, skinny jean doting latte drinker may be producing that next multimillion dollar grossing indie film. You. Just. Never. Know… Dress doesn’t define status here. But REAL uniforms: Police officers, military members, sports figures… Those all represent a lot more than just the individual wearing them, and when you see those, there’s a pride glowing off that fabric… Does it always matter what we wear? No. But, whatever you shimmy on in the morning, act as though your values are visibly printed on the back. People are reading it.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis