One time some years back I took over a company which had best remain nameless. We had some 250 people I think – not for long though, it was an utter disaster area and I’ll tell you about that another day. But it was making losses at an accelerating rate and no one cared. Now I have to say it was a pretty ‘sick’ company in many ways.
What I wanted to do was take a look round the main site one night before I took over, so I was let in about 10pm just to feel the culture of the place. Of the many big surprises were the washrooms. Not just the ones ‘inside’. But the ones off the reception area which customers and visitors might use. They were a disgrace. So I inspected the washrooms in other parts of the building, and they were also dirty, badly maintained. And I did this with both Gentlemen and Ladies.
Look, not all offices are ideally suited for welcoming visitors: if that’s the case, you do what you can and put on a friendly and welcoming face. First impressions are important and as they say, you get one chance to make a first impression. Customers don’t need a fantastic reception area, but friendliness, respect and an offer of a drink go a long way.
After I joined, I organised a health check: the bacterium for Legionnaires disease was present in one washroom.
But how did this help me run the business? Well it helped me avoid a potentially deadly disease killing my staff of course. But just from this I knew it was going to be a big cultural war with behaviours I was not used to seeing. There were other clues about the lack of pride and sheer neglect of both management and staff.
On the third or fourth day after I took over I removed in one stroke most of the senior Manager and Directors. Now you won’t find those procedures in an HR handbook but this was going to be more like hand-to-hand combat than running a business. I then stood on a desk and spoke to about a hunded pretty shocked staff.
I said ‘How could you let your management get away with this? Where was your own pride and your own sense of what was right?’ And I asked everyone to look in the toilets to remind themselves before I had them redecorated and cleansed by experts.
I had to ask, how could people who cared about their company present this face to customers? And that was the answer. They did not care, but that changed, and I did find enough people who wanted to change, and to help make it better. I had to let a lot of people go, and not because there was a recession, a lot of these thoroughly deserved to lose their jobs, and in a couple of cases I am not ashamed to say it was a real pleasure.
What I had realised though was this: customers or prospects pretty well NEVER came to the main site, because the company was increasingly irrelevant to them. This company was dying. The washrooms told me a stack about many of the management and people who worked there, and i did not have to spend any time talking to anyone to understand.