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Excellent post. They say that truly well turned out people do not wear bad socks and underwear. So it is too with organisations.


But watch your context. This past weekend my family visited an outlet mall. EVERY store greeted us warmly and enthusiastically when we entered. Clearly someone had been around and given some stern advice. It was nice the first time, by the third time it was annoying and after that it was creepy, like we'd entered The Stepford Outlet Mall.


I took an MIT quality management class from a Deming Prize winner. The program involved a number of visits to manufacturing plants and distribution centers. Before our first tour, the professor gave two pieces of advice:
1. pay attention to how the floor workers greet you. it is a good sign if they wave from across the room or want to show you their area.
2. pay attention to the bathrooms. if management respects employees, they will be clean and well stocked.


I like the idea that one or two metrics can be used to make some assumptions about the whole organization. One of my favorite examples is David Lee Roth's "No Brown M&Ms."

His shows had so much technical equipment that needed to be perfect. As a measurement, he embedded "No Brown M&Ms" in the pre-show checklist. That way, if he walked into the Green Room and there were brown M&Ms, he knew that the equipment crew had likely shorted the set-up elsewhere too.

Bret Simmons

Love the point about dirty bathrooms. When I was a lowly manager for McDonald's Corp. they taught us to pay attention to these and other details, like dirty baseboards and dirty HVAC intake vents. Business that don't pay attention to things their customers see probably also have "dirty kitchens"



Thanks for a very insightful post.

See this Office Depot's case study for a similar [or the same] practice:



dan markovitz

The dirty bathrooms reminds me of the legendary contract rider for Van Halen, which demanded that the concert promoter remove all brown M&Ms. The band's thinking was that the presence of brown M&Ms indicated that the promoter hadn't read the contract carefully -- so it acted as a leading indicator that there might be trouble. The dirty bathrooms seem to operate in the same way. Read about the rider here:

Michael Ciszewski

Some really great, common sense measures.

And, I couldn't help but catch the irony in a conversation about "descaling bad behavior" which includes having clean bathrooms.

Bob, I am assuming you're familiar with the research of Zeynep Ton, who studies retail at MIT and was formerly at HBS. She focuses on retail staffing and compensation, and has some pretty excellent examples that cutting staffing may cut costs, but harms profitability more (and investing in staff can increase profitability).

A store that is understaffed will not take time to greet people, or to clean the bathrooms.

regards, John

Sam Whiteman

Bob - I heard a similar story about the CEO of Greyhound re bathrooms and cleanliness. I think the old CEO used to hold his staff meetings (it might have even been his annual investor meeting) in a Greyhound Station bathroom to highlight how serious he was that if the bathrooms weren't up to scratch then neither was the whole station.



These are great metrics for any business. Management and staff that work at an organisation with dirty disgusting bathrooms are lazy management and disengaged. If you allow your company's facilities to fall into disrepair, the company will be soon to follow.

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