Applying the Broken Windows Effect

Small Things Can Make a Big Difference

We often hear that it takes money to make money. This actually means that it takes big money to make big money! Only when we have unlimited resources do we think it is possible to achieve great things; but very few companies or individuals are that way. Because of a lack of funds, you may feel helpless to make a significant change.
If you are a manager or an entrepreneur on a shoe string budget and want to hatch a project that would make a big difference, what should you do? Fortunately there are that can accomplish results far beyond the proportion to their cost. One such strategy is an idea I recently discovered that could be applied to this problem: the “broken windows effect”.
Essentially what the “broken windows effect” says is that tolerating minor violations set the stage for committing graver offences. The example cited the case of broken windows caused by vandalism in run-down crime prone neighborhoods being a precedent to worse crimes. What’s interesting about this idea is that in many studies, it was shown that stamping out the minor violations (like the broken windows) also decreased the major problems.
In the business setting, there are numerous cases where the lessons of the broken windows effect can be effectively applied. This positive effect does not only include disciplinary matters but other acts that affect productivity or your company’s image. The possibilities are endless; but here are a few to stimulate your thinking:
Crack down on personal use of office supplies. This may seem petty to some but small things do add up and those who are lenient may soon find out that larger items are missing. Monitor office supplies usage diligently. This will not make you popular, but better this than creating a culture of dishonesty.
Fix broken equipment as soon as there is a problem. Promptness in repairing faulty equipment will send a strong signal that you want everything to be in good working order. Performing maintenance on the scheduled time is also part of this task. Allowing the continued use of a machine as long as it can still operate is a dangerous practice. A machine in good condition is capable of more output and at a better quality.
Repair broken signage, cracked counters, vandalized walls, and other items visible to the customer ASAP. These are of urgent concern because these have an immediate effect on your company’s image. Customers will automatically think that your neglect of how your business looks also applies to the quality of your operations.
Do not tolerate disrespectfulness toward customers. While customers are not always right, there are ways of handling an unreasonable client civilly that is within the bounds of proper behaviour, and there are actions that cannot be allowed. Consistently impressing upon your frontliners that they cannot treat customers poorly will radically improve customer service.
Be strict with tardiness, long breaks and other time wasters. The long term effects of a lax policy on lateness are worse than most would think. If left unchecked, there will come a time when hardly anyone would bother to be on time. Long breaks and other similar misuse of working hours also have the same tendency to worsen when unchecked. However, it is sometimes not sufficient to just penalize these time wasters. There may be deeper reasons besides slack implementation since consistent tardiness or time wasting is often a sign of lack of motivation. You must also tackle other causes if that is the case.
Recycle whenever possible. There are many things you can recycle especially usable paper. If people see that the company is serious in fighting wastage then you will help develop a mindset that encourages savings. Besides the profit motive, your company will also be doing its share as a socially responsible enterprise.
Lack of resources must not prevent you from maximizing the means that you already have. Small things can indeed cause large changes. Just like repairing broken windows as soon as possible, the resulting benefits of such small efforts may well exceed your wildest expectations.

*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.
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