So, I’m in the process of moving office and I’m clearing out paperwork around my desk. I came across something which made me reflect, and have a giggle…and I thought I’d share:
We moved into our current building about four years ago – approximately 100 people, with only one urinal in the men’s toilet.
It all started with an email which read something like this…
“Would the men please stand over the urinal before doing their business.”
The motivation for this email? Well, let’s just say that there was a fair bit of ‘dribbling’ going on, creating ‘puddling’ on the floor…and (unsurprisingly) some of the male toilet goers weren’t particularly enamoured with their colleagues’ failure to aim…and neither was the cleaner!
So that email should have sorted it all out, yes?
The next email was more direct, dropping any attempt at politeness.
Then, a hand-written sign was put above the urinal. The author’s aim was clearly to insult the culprit(s) – the phantom dribblers.
Finally, the cleaner refused to mop the male toilets.
Action was required…and this came in the form of a mop and bucket of chemical solution, bought for us men, and installed next to the urinal.
Another ‘direct and to the point’ email was sent around informing us of the ‘mop and bucket’ purchase, and what to do with it!
Things quietened down for a while. I definitely detected that a little mopping was happening. A change, but nowhere near perfection.
We then got an email about the mop. Apparently, mops left in chemical solution ‘all day, every day’ quickly dissolve – we were going through a mop head every week! We were now instructed to take the mop out of the bucket once we had cleaned up.
I observed (through my natural toilet visits each day) that the mop was being balanced in all sorts of weird positions – often not making it out of, or falling back into the bucket (splashing chemicals over the floor).
Taking a different approach
It was at this point that I saw an opportunity to experiment.
Emails operate at a point in time, far from the gemba – the urinal in this case! And those emails were clearly proving to be ineffective.
Question: When does someone most need instructions, and/or prompts?
Answer (Hypothesis): At the time and place that the ‘action’ occurs (!), in a format that they can understand and (importantly) accept1 and relate to.
Proposed Countermeasure: Create a clear (and non-judgemental) poster and put it up on the wall, by the urinal.
…and so I did:
…and every time I went to the toilet I observed the condition of the urinal2.
So how did that go?
Miraculous! The toilet floor was virtually always mopped clean (it was still shiny from the last fella passing through)…and the mop was always balanced nicely on the bucket.
Hilariously, I found myself regularly reading my own poster and checking the floor and mop3 – I was altering my own behaviours.
The floor stayed nice and clean for many months and I became bored of reading the poster (my words were annoying me)…and so I wanted to perform another experiment – what would happen if I took the poster down? And so I did.
Did the wheels fall off?
Well, no, not really.
I’d say that the floor doesn’t stay quite as clean as it used to…but, in general, people will mop up, and best of all for Mopsy, he remains nicely balanced on the side of the bucket, away from those harsh chemicals.
- clear, practical and non-judgemental visual controls at the gemba really work;
- …emails telling you off, and/or telling you what to do, don’t!
- new behaviours can become habitual (hence why the poster could be taken down4).
I know that there are loads and loads of far more meaningful examples of the enormous power of visual management…but I thought that I’d introduce a little bit of ‘toilet humour’ into our office move process…and now my fellow male office dwellers5 know who wrote the poster 🙂 .
A serious point to end
My editor for this post (thanks Paul) made the most excellent comment:
“It’s interesting that when something is not good then we behave with ‘blaming’…
Asking ‘why’ over ‘who’ is better. [Whether we do this] must be something to do with the environment!”
Paul is calling out that:
- we so easily jump to blame, looking for the WHO…and think that by naming and shaming, we will force things to improve;
- we can achieve so much if we look for the WHY, and then do something meaningful about this.
The emails and rude notes were aimed at people.
The mop and bucket, and visual control, were focused on the activity.
1. Acceptance: All those emails (and rude signs) were deficient because, just like cars, no-one believes that they are a bad driver. Unless you are presented with direct evidence of your deficient behaviour, it’s always somebody else!
2. Analysis: Don’t worry, I didn’t set up a formal measuring regime and/or start making deliberate trips to the toilet. For the benefit of any hard core researchers reading this post – my observations can only be described as anecdotal.
3. I’m not saying that I was ‘the phantom dribbler’! I just felt compelled to share the burden and have a little mop up 🙂
4. Taking down the poster: I’m not suggesting that visual controls should be taken down after a period of time. I am suggesting though, that they should be regularly revisited to be refreshed – to keep people’s attention, and improved – to make things even better.
5. …and the females around the office are either disgusted (not having known that some of the males were ‘dribblers’) or pleasantly surprised (that males can change their habits!)
7 thoughts on “Toilet Humour”
My wife is making me read a book about what we can do about our kids’ behaviour (she’s freaking out a bit, not entirely unnecessarily but somewhat…….I digress……)…..My point is really just the obvious parallels, since most behavioural theory is one and the same; it’s all human behaviour, and I chortle reading this book I’ve been instructed to read, (aimed ‘sexistly’ at mothers… I’ll get over it), when the same basic principles are what you are describing and always have, and are equally applicable to ‘corporate culture’ and the apparent learned executive children that pretend to know what they’re doing.
Love your work Squire. Always will.
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…so it’s a good book then?! 🙂
Interesting story with simple but important substance. Just the way I like it. Thanks for the write-up once again!
But when does subtle blaming serve a common purpose, make things better, never? 🙂
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Love this, Steve. Not long ago on one of my many podcasts, another solution found to the problem of male urinal aim (this time in a school with presumably smaller children but you know… not sure) was a target. A small target right where you’d expect it. Worked brilliantly.
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Nice, another countermeasure to experiment with – those urinals will be awesome!
Personally, I like the one’s where the target is a sticker of a house fly…but I suppose that you won’t have seen these in the female toilets 🙂
I enjoyed your post very much, truth be known I enjoy many of your posts. But on this occasion I think you could do better
Try the bottom half of this post.
Hi James. Thanks for adding a comment. You write that “on this occasion I think you could do better”.
I’m pretty sure that I (and probably everyone) can always do better…but then that’s basically the point of my blog – a constant desire to reflect, learn and grow.
Some thoughts on your comment (and the link that you provide):
– yes, having ‘peed’ on a pretend house fly many times in my life, I am aware of this proposed countermeasure to the male urinal problem (and this ‘target’ point was raised in comments above);
– the purpose of this post (and all others) is not to attempt to ‘tell people the answer’ (as if there were such a thing), but to ‘ponder a point’. In this case, my attempted point was about the futility of sending emails blaming people and that experimenting with a countermeasure ‘at the gemba’ would be the way to go;
– the ‘fly as a target’ is another example of an experiment at the gemba. Yes, it might very well be better than a visual control about mopping, and yet – given the specifics of each environment – it might not be.
– applying both countermeasures may make things even better still…but not perfect;
– I expect that there will continue to be advances in the ‘male peeing’ process for many centuries to come….but not from emails blaming people.