I have a theory that you can tell a lot about an organisation from the state of its toilets, especially if you look in the ones on the shop-floor. I think I could audit shop-floor toilets, give a score, and without looking at any other part of the business I would get a pretty accurate idea on the state of the whole organisation. Furthermore I’m confident it would correlate well with any longer, in depth, assessment tools.
So why am I so confident that this index would work? Well the most obvious reason is learning from experience. The best organisations I have seen have good toilets and the worst have awful toilets.
Most readers are probably aware of the 5Ss (copied from the Japanese, the 5Ss are a system used to keep a business clean and tidy). I think, however, that most organisations miss the point of the 5Ss. The idea of a smart looking shop-floor and office space is not just to impress visitors and potential customers (although that won’t do any harm), it is about ensuring that time is not wasted looking for tools, parts or documents (even files on computers).
Equally important, it is about being able to walk the line, or look out into the office and being able to see, in an instant, if everything is running smoothly. Or, to put it another way, if there is something non-standard, out of control, or even just a bit unusual going on you’re likely to be able to spot it. If the place is in disarray you probably won’t be able to see these things quickly. The 5Ss is one of the foundations of a lean organisation. It won’t make your organisation lean, but I don’t think you can’t create a lean organisation without it.
So, what of the toilets? Well on a text book level, I can mention Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; which suggests that if you haven’t got the basics, like a roof over your head and clean toilets, then you can never move on. Your workforce can’t be aiming for ‘Self Actualisation’, if you haven’t got the toilets sorted.
The Royal Navy has an excellent process to ensure that the ‘heads’ (toilets) and all the other areas of the ship are always clean and tidy. Now we might suggest that health issues are more likely to occur on board, if this is neglected, but you could argue that clean toilets don’t win wars. I think the counter argument is that pride in the team, pride in the ship and the resulting ‘esprit de corps’ do help win wars and your unlikely to achieve that if you can’t be bothered keeping the toilets clean.
So I think I’ve got a winning formula to assess businesses. All I need now is a catchy abbreviation, maybe Process Excellence Examination System (PEES) or Lean Operations Overview Score (LOOS).