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« Broken Windows Theory of Management – Part 1 | Main | Is ABI Planning to Harvest Distributor Profits? »

Broken Windows Theory of Management – Part 2

OK, for those with a short memory (like me) you might want to review the previous post on broken windows.  I was discussing how the same processes which drive the theory behind the crime fighting strategy of broken windows can also be applied to the management of your organization.  Although I prefer to take credit for these earth shattering insights ;-), in reality this is of course true since the entire theory is based on social realities… on the very nature of how we interact with other’s and our environment.

Remember that we are powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us.  We are acutely sensitive to even the smallest details of everyday life… whether we know it or not.  Rather than being a passive player in how these interactions take place and there influence on your employees, you can consciously work to manage this… you can consciously work to shape then. 

Consider change in your organization as attempting to start an epidemic… perhaps a “positive” epidemic… a positive emotion that jumps from one person to the next until everyone is infected.  You can do it and you can control it.  One of the rules in this is that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many smaller movements first.  Small, tight knit groups have the power to magnify the positive impact… and spread an epidemic of success.  That tight knit group is you and your senior management team.

A recent client complained that his organization has a terrible habit of attempting change but having it just fritter out… nothing seems to stick.  A symptom of broken windows.


Another has a culture of a sense of entitlement… a broken window.


A culture of old beer, an acceptable amount… a broken window.


A culture of minor theft… a broken window. 


Solving the same problem over and over… a broken window


Not being able to make a decision… a broken window.  Remember that action is always better than inaction… action gives you feedback.  Even if you are going in the absolute wrong direction, you will know it.  Staying in one place and doing nothing tells you nothing since you don’t receive any feedback… and a year from now you will still be in the same place with the same information.


Don’t believe that others can drive our behavior?  Let’s think about a simple situation I bet we’ve all been in.  You and your lovely (or handsome) spouse are visiting a new city and are out taking a stroll to see the sites.  Being a fine, upstanding citizen (and in no desire to end your life on the hood of a taxi) when you first walk up to an intersection you wait for the cross walk to come on and then cross.  But then a person comes along… clearly a local yokel… takes a look in both directions and crosses the street against the light.  The light changes and you continue your stroll to the next intersection.  Again you wait for the light but LOTS of people just cruise on through against the light.  How long before you are doing the same thing?   When you’re standing there and 30 people jay walk, pretty soon you’re doing it with the best of them.  In a matter of a few minutes the behavior of total strangers has completely changed your behavior.


That was the situation in NYC with jumping turnstiles on the subway.  One person did it, then another and another and pretty soon you had middle aged guys in business suits jumping the turnstiles… remember the Chump School of Management I discussed in previous blogs?... well these folks thought they were chumps for paying the toll… just like sooner or later you think you’re a chump when everyone and their dog is ignoring the cross walk signals… or not taking a case or two out of the warehouse… or showing up on time… or ???


As a side note, this power is one of the reasons that your children’s peers are so important.  Modern research states that who your children hang out with will have a much more profound impact on who they grow to be than any impact a parent might have… why?  Because ALL behavior is contagious, it acts like an epidemic… it can be caught.  Help chose your kid’s friends very carefully.


Think about it in your business… how you treat your equipment determines how your employees will treat it.  It the warehouse is dirty, do you really think employees will go out of their way to ensure things are kept up?  You send messages and contagious behavior through your actions… make certain they are what you want.


Here are some “minor” things that cause incredible damage to your organization:

·                      Having the owner (or anyone) consistently showing up to meetings late… this is not a little issue, it is a huge deal.  You just don’t see it.

·                      Holding employees to different performance demands.

o       a driver who always is late.

o       office staff who gets away with disruptive behavior… as a side note, the office is almost always the least managed of any department.

o       I’d guess most of you have been on some sort of team in your life, a sports team or academic team.  You have a feeling for the dynamics of those that work and those that don’t.  If you want to destroy a team, hold team members to different performance standards.

·                      BS.  I always remind owners and managers that people generally have pretty good BS meters… they can tell when they are being fed a bunch of BS.  One of the most damaging behaviors you can spread is untruthfulness (don’t think you are so slick they won’t know, they will)… and if you do it, it will spread.  Companies violate this one all the time…

o       Quality is job one – yeah, until it costs the company some extra money to live up to it… remember your people are ALWAYS being influenced, whether they know it or not.

o       Customer service is number one – yeah, until it interferes with some senior person’s day

o       The list is long… don’t violate your own stated beliefs… it is FAR better to just never state these supposed beliefs than to state them but violate them when they don’t fit your immediate desires.


Take these ideas to heart.  Put them to use today.  Put them to use tomorrow.  Look for broken windows… in every management meeting.  As you walk around the warehouse or office.  And most importantly, when you look in the mirror.  Implement a high performance and high demand company.


None of these things are difficult… you just have to do it.  They don’t cost money, in fact in most cases there is not cost.  Focus on those things you can actually control… and ultimately the primary thing is your organization… make it the absolute best you can.


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