BooksPractical Leadership

“Leading Leaders” Book Preview: Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

In life and in business neatness counts, and attention to detail is important.  Its both an indicator of the quality of the work the team is doing, and the quality of the team members themselves. In any case, the leader can tell a lot by the little things, and little things that may require his attention. Work area cleanliness is sometimes a good indicator whether the staff is organized and motivated. When you walk into a place of business or an office of some sort, no matter what your personality type, you make judgments about the effectiveness and productivity of an organization by what the area looks like. Of course there are the practical considerations of health and safety, but teammates and customers are certainly judging you by your workspace! A personal story about workplace cleanliness comes to mind. 

Back in the 1990’s (when computers were much simpler), I did a lot of the work on my own machine, fixing problems and upgrading the hardware was a hobby. Occasionally, there would be a problem I couldn’t fix myself, so I had to go to a professional to make the repairs. I was always looking for a bargain repair shop as opposed to taking my machine to one of the “big box” electronic stores for the repairs, which in those days meant small one or two person repair shops. I found a small shop that was recommended by a friend, and walked in with my home-built 386sx computer. The shop was a mess, with computers in various states of disassembly amid papers, coke cans, chip bags, electronic components, and empty boxes. There was no one at the unfinished wooden counter, so I waited for a moment to see if I’d be helped.

I was about to leave the shop when the young man working there that day came around the corner and beckoned me back to the counter. Reluctantly, I placed my machine on the counter and explained what was wrong, he looked at me with little interest, then handed me a form to fill out. At the bottom of the form was a damage waiver.  “What’s this for?” I asked. The bored young man replied that it was a “standard form” and that it covered the company in case they did cosmetic damage to my computer while it was in their shop. “Like what?” I asked. “Oh, like scratches or dents to the case,” he added hastily, “but that never happens,” I looked around the shop again. It was a disaster area. Making up my mind quickly, I said, “Uh, I don’t think so,” then gathered my machine up and left. 

Would the shop personnel have taken care of my property? Perhaps. Maybe it was just a bad day in the shop, maybe the young man who waited on me was tired or had some other personal issue that prevented him from being more customer oriented. The net result of all those “little things” however, was that in the space of just a few minutes I had lost confidence that this shop was capable or qualified. In fact, I was pretty sure they were going to give my computer back to me with scratches and dents. They lost my business because of the little things. Additionally, they not only lost my business, they also lost the business of all the people to whom I subsequently relayed the story. It had nothing to do with their actual professional or technical ability, training, or certifications. It didn’t matter to me that they were not the most expensive shop in town or came highly recommended by peers.

My negative opinion was based on a single employee and a single policy for the potential that my property would not be respected.  Is that unreasonable?  Was I applying “military” appearance standards inappropriately?  Maybe, but my experience taught me that when a person is unwilling to do the little things like keeping their work area in order, they were probably unwilling to take care in other facets of their work.  The “standard form” just put an exclamation point on the matter for me.

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