For want of a nail

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Broken Windows, Is Business On Its Way Out?

In our school days we would have read the poem for want of a nail

for want of a nail a horseshoe was lost,
for want of a horseshoe a horse went lame,
for want of a horse a rider never got through,
for want of a rider a message never arrived,
for want of a message an army was never sent,
for want of an army a battle was lost,
for want of a battle a war was lost,
for want of a war a kingdom fell, and all
for want of a nail.

Today this poem has evolved the status of a philosophy conveying a very significant message that “broken window” is a symbol of unaccountability. “Broken Windows left unrepaired is regarded as a precursor to Broken Business”. This analysis appears to be crystal clear, easy to champion, and very weak to argue with. Common sense, if you say in simple words or may be uncommon sense better describes this philosophy in business work. We see unambiguous evidence every day in every business across the world that would suggest that a large number of business establishments either don’t believe, over look the broken window or choose not to put into practice this way of thinking.

The theory itself was first used by Police Training Academy in 1980s but is probably more relevant now in businesses as well. The message is very clear and, indeed, simplistic. What you pay attention to determines what you miss as well. If you neglect the minor issues, the neglect of the “small stuff” is a path to organizational demise in business.
Essentially, we are always told in business it is “80/20” that defines the things like 80% of the business is contributed by just 20% of the customers, but broken windows should be accorded attention under the “100/0″ tenet, in other words even small cracks matter.
In all honesty, every organization has “broken windows” in one form or another. They are preordained. Think about coming across in the course of a typical day the likes of “Impolite telephone procedure, poor communication skills, lack of follow through” etc.
Organisation culture demands precision in all operations and warmth in all dealings will minimize the number of their “broken windows” and immediately repair those few which occur.

Many a managers are trained, like sniffer dogs, to mechanically look at spreadsheets, number crunch regularly and improve metrics. Numbers do matter. The emphasis should be to get beyond the numbers, open the eyes, and look, really note the fine points, that you are not missing the big picture which is customer perception.

There is compelling evidence that problems in business, be it small or big, typically stem from lack of attention to tiny details! Unfortunately for business one can be certain that customers spot these lapses every time!

Psychologists and criminologists attached to Police machinery agree that if a window in a building is broken and left un restored, soon thereafter the rest of the windows will be broken—and the perception will build that crime in that neighborhood is irrepressible. The same principle applies to business. Continual attention to detail not only demonstrates corporate competency, but also demonstrates that the company cares about what the consumer wants. A company’s metaphorical “broken windows,” send the signal: that the business doesn’t care and this obviously repels customers!

So what is prescribed to remedy this very serious situation? The advice is fairly simple and routine;

• Deploy decoy punters to dig out shortcomings, first impressions are long lasting.

• Request, respond to appreciate customer feedback.

• Cultivate “the obsessive, compulsive need to find the lapses.”

• Refuse to tolerate employees who are merely existing” and infecting other workers with their “virus.”

• Put out clearly the Broken Window theory to staff along with expected deliverables from them and the role they play in enshrining this philosophy into organisation goals.

• Look out and straight away get on to repair every “broken window” in the company.

Almost everything requires a little (if any) expenditure of hours or dollars.

Google, McDonald’s etc. by integrating the solutions to small problems into a much larger plan, showed that the resulting combined solution can stimulate overall business growth and keep customers coming back for more. It is indeed simple. Experience proves it to be a win-win situation for all stake holders. Why then the hesitation and still we see more organizations not readily embracing this theory? Could there possibly be a knowing-doing gap here? More than likely is the fact.

The “broken window” is a symbol of unaccountability. Consumers will not voice their complaints, but it is equally true that the majority of those who find something wrong will not convey that reading to you- they'll just stop being a customer. If one window in a building is broken and left unfixed, customer is likely to feel that the rest of the windows will soon be broken too.

Indifference could be the biggest “broken window” calling for repair or else Business is on its Way Out.

(Moorthi – Morison Menon)

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