Taiwan was going through a series of education reforms in the '90s. Our teachers started to incorporate new teaching methods inspired by the west in their curriculum. A 5.5-day working week was introduced, where students only had to attend school for half a day on Saturday. It was a big deal.
On the other hand, although the shadows of World War II and Chinese Civil War were slowly dissipating, and people no longer lived in constant fear of invasion and aerial bombing, young men were still required to perform military service for two years once they reached their military age. Military officers would station at high schools to instill disciplines. It was socially acceptable for a teacher to physically punish students when they made a mistake.
When I enrolled in middle school, I had to have a crew cut while the girls had to cut their hair to shoulder-length. Our summer uniform was a black-and-white checkered shirt and short pants. Every year, our homeroom teacher would announce when to change into our winter uniform, which was a white long-sleeve dress shirt and dress pants.
Muji, a large Japanese retailer, just saw its stock price plunge into an historical low amidst a pricing war with emerging competitors. Its overseas chain stores shut down, and profit declined. Tadamitsu Matsui, a former Human Resource and General Affairs manager at Muji, was promoted to head the company and right the ship.
One of Matsui’s proposals when he took over was to compile a 1,600-page manual on standard operating procedures, which he called “Mujigram.”
Matsui was a strong proponent of standardization. He famously noted that there are a hundred ways of doing one thing—if a Muji store manager is the one making all the decisions for their store, when they leave, it would mean the end of their store.
In just two years after Matsui took the helm, Muji was back on track.
By 2007, Muji was posting record sales of 162 billion yen and opened its first North American store in Soho, Manhattan.
Uniforms are the most visually effective way to show that we belong to a certain group. It helps with building our unity and promote our brand. But it is not enough just to wear them.
Before Matsui took over, individual Muji store managers had full control over what kind of store they wanted to run. As a brand, however, Muji was losing its identity. Their long-time customers could not recognize whose product they were buying from—even if the store clerks were all wearing their uniforms.
In my youth, a uniform was a piece of clothing that I wore to school every day. I was wearing what my school and society deemed fitted for a student. But more than a piece of clothing, it was the product of the accumulation of history and culture that took place before my time.
Organizations that understand culture not only have uniforms, they have principles. Principles that permeate through our outward appearance, behaviors, and processes. I am fortunate enough to work for such a company.
We invest in our people disproportionately when compared to the rest of the industry. We train each new hire through a rigorous apprenticeship program, which we pay for, and have continuously improved over the past 10 years.
We ensure every one of our employees share the same set of professional values through our apprenticeship program and know what we stand for.
What do others see when they look at your team?