One of the most powerful things you can do with broken windows management is to empower your employees to fix their own issues whenever possible.” (p. 35)
In his fifth business book (seventh overall) Dr. Tom DePaoli takes broken windows theory and combines it with liberal doses of lean methodology and his own no-nonsense approach to process improvement. While this is not a long book, just 70 pages long, it is a working book. This is emphasized by the pages at the back that are specifically designated for “Doodles, Notes, and Ideas.”
Broken windows theory is an approach to establishing and maintaining urban stability by addressing minor crimes and disturbances. Simply put, the idea is that if you fix the broken windows, the effect that has on the environment will lead to reductions in larger scale crimes. Introduced in 1982, broken windows theory has been applied a number of times, perhaps most notably by Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Chief Bill Bratton in New York City. It was also covered by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point.
Dr. Tom takes the theory and focuses on the role it can play in empowering employees by working with them and through them to improve an operation. As he wrote, “The more you fix problems, the more employees will trust you.” (p. 9) But while these changes may be minor in the grand scheme of things – access to food/drink, better parking, conveniently managed supply inventory – the reason for all of it is improved team cohesion and results.
There are two ideas that I particularly like:
“Instead of having maintenance people wait around and wait for something to break, encourage them to seek out issues that bother employees and work with employees to improve them. This is beyond preventative maintenance, where you maintenance workers team up with the employees and find out the real issues that can make their quality of work life better.” (p. 31) This is a great application of broken windows management. It signals the importance of time and effort, and positions every member of the team as a valuable contributor. Since no situation is ever perfect, there is always an opportunity to make improvements. Allowing employees to make decisions about how to use that time leverages their unique perspective and sets the expectation that everyone be productive at all times.
“Clearly identify the process-cycle time, delays, handoffs, and any inventories, and try to differentiate between non-value and value adding steps.” (p. 19) One of the areas where Dr. Tom’s lean experience really shines is through process discussion and improvement. And as detailed as these processes can be, teams should understand the different kinds of steps that make them up. Not all steps add value – but not all steps need to add value. By understanding the difference, management teams can focus their attention and measurement efforts where they will generate the best return.
If you are a hands on manager looking for a way to improve the performance of your team and operation, this is a great book to pick up over the summer. It is deceptively thought-provoking and actionable for its short length and will help you restore focus to the little things that are really the big things.