A Standford psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, performed social science experiments back in 1969 that provides some key insights into the human condition and how people respond to their environment. Zimbardo performed experiments involving what is now referred to as the broken windows theory.
Zimbardo took two similar cars and parked one in the Bronx, NY and one in Palo Alto, CA. The car in the Bronx did not have a license plate and the hood was propped open. In less than ten minutes people began to remove parts from the car and in less than 24 hours all valuable parts had been removed and the car was stripped and virtually destroyed. Conversely in Palo Alto no one touched the car and it was left alone for about a week. Zimbardo then made one change to the Palo Alto car, he smashed part of the car with a sledge hammer and all of a sudden the same thing began to happen to the Palo Alto car as had happened in the Bronx, it was stripped of all its valuable parts in less than 24 hours.
Little things matter!
When people perceive that something is not being cared for, they begin to take liberties and do things that would not normally do in certain circumstances or in a certain environment.
Rudy Giuliani famously applied the broken windows theory to the tactics of the NYPD to clean up the streets of New York City. He flipped the script and instead of just focusing police efforts on major crimes, such as rape, murder, assault etc. he focused on cleaning up the streets literally. Giulani cleaned up the graffiti and trash, focused efforts on removing the drunk, disorderly, pan handlers and prostitutes from the streets. He literally cleaned up the streets and what happened? Overall crime incidents began to drop, people took pride in their city and he literally created an environment that rivaled crime rates in much smaller cities and turned around the urban decay in NYC.
So, you’re thinking, this is a great discussion regarding how to combat urban decay or improving police tactics, what does it have to do with business?
As a leader in your organization or as a business owner does the state of your organization reflect that all things matter? What is the cleanliness of your operation? Are things broken and take a long time to fix? Do you and your employees pick up the trash as they are walking the operation?
If as a leader you’re not taking care of the little things, can you expect any more from your staff?
Take the time to show that your operation is important and invest in the cleanliness and functionality of all parts of the business. You’ll find your acts will be contagious and will drive a higher level of pride and ownership within your organization.