Coaching Session 18

Today’s audio is 10:32 minutes long.

office clutter
At work…

Spring cleaning rejuvenates us, even if we do it in the dead of winter. It gives us a sense of accomplishment and pride. We feel good about ourselves and about our newly cleaned space!

A clean car affects us the same way. We feel better about ourselves and our car. It even seems to drive better. How do you explain that? The wash didn’t fix the brakes, or tune up the engine – but still, our newly washed car runs better.

Clutter. It has a negative disruptive power for most of us, except those who suffer a hoarding dysfunction.

We can’t find anything.

Chaos is ramped up.

Our stress soars even higher.

Then, there’s the practical side of things. Our productivity is hindered. We spend time looking for things instead of doing things. We rifle through stacks of paperwork muttering, “It’s here somewhere. I know I saw it just the other day.”

It’s not a big deal necessarily until we drop the ball on something very important. That may prompt a temporary clean up, but how long does it last?

Well, that depends largely on your habits for getting organized and staying organized.

at home, too

Sometimes our work space mirrors our home space. No surprise. It’s pretty rare to find somebody who is fastidious at home, but not at work. Or vice-versa.

True Confession: I value neatness, organization and cleanliness. Part of it is years of running businesses that served the public. A bigger part of it is simply who I am.

You may not be as predisposed to these things. That’s okay. This is about organizational efficiency. At least, in part.

There’s a bigger purpose though. A higher purpose to it all.


There are a few TV shows that demonstrate the power of good housekeeping and solid maintenance. They all deal with business. They’re not shows about being organized or clean. They’re about running profitable businesses.

You thought I was going to mention HOARDERS, didn’t you?

Effective business leaders – the very best ones I’ve ever encountered – understand what urban planners and many civic organizations know about rebuilding neighborhoods. Entire communities fall into disrepair because something happens to lower their pride in their community. Drugs, poverty, elevated crime – they all contribute to make many inner city neighborhoods dirty, cluttered and dangerous.

Sometimes we read stories, or see news stories of community leaders determined to take back their neighborhood. The first thing they do is the first thing you see the hosts of those TV shows do, they do a major cleanup. Yes, it makes the community or business look better, but the power of the cleanup goes much deeper. It speaks to the pride people have in their homes, or their businesses.

Watch any episode of Hotel Impossible or Restaurant Impossible and I promise you’ll see clean up as the first course of action. Every single time!

It’s a universal statement – where there is clutter and filth, there’s a lack of pride. Where there’s a lack of pride, there’s a lack of performance. Guaranteed. I’ve never seen an exception. Okay, maybe in the septic tank cleaning business, but that doesn’t count ’cause you’re not in that business (I can safely say I’ve never worked with a client in that space, but I have worked with some folks who are involved in dirty work…and it’s surprising how even those folks can be properly organized).

In 1982 I was 25 years old and tasked with a turnaround project. It was my first General Manager job. Complete P&L responsibility. Full day to day oversight with the command of the owner, “Do what you have to do.”

I surveyed the operation, a subsidiary of a larger parent company. There was a large warehouse, offices and a retail store. There were trucks and other hard assets. Down the line there would be more stores, but not if we didn’t get THIS store right.

The place was a mess. Mostly behind the scenes, but still – a mess!

I scheduled a clean up party one evening. It was a massive mess. We swept. We stacked. We organized. We threw stuff away. We swept some more. We even painted a bit.

We emptied offices and repainted. We reorganized files. We vacuumed. And vacuumed some more. We threw stuff away. And more stuff.

We cleaned the break room. The refrigerator was a biohazard, but we cleaned it anyway.

We cleaned the bathrooms. The women’s bathroom was worse than the men’s. Neither were fit for animals.

In my initial survey of the place I knew from experience and instincts that nobody had any pride in this place. One could have easily concluded, “Well, how can they? Look at it.” My conclusion was different. Their lack of pride, I concluded, put this place into this shape. If don’t fix it, they’ll never have any pride.

I didn’t jump on sales performances. Or profit margins. Or inventory turnover. Or accounts receivables. Those were all important, if not urgent matters, but they didn’t matter as much as a complete lack of company pride.

From the inside out we cleaned, we painted, fixed broken things, replaced burned out light bulbs and brought the place back to life. Back to a place we could look at with pride.

I’ve never done anything as powerful. And I have replicated this act many, many times in my career. In all sorts of spaces. As they say in the restaurant game, I’ve done it in “the front of the house, and in “the back of the house.” It just works!

It’s one thing I can say works 100% of the time.

And I still simply call it what it is,

cleanupThe Clean Up

Look around your place. Are there spaces that show signs of “no pride.” Every organization has some “no pride zones.”

Do you have a friend – maybe a family member (I hope it’s not YOU) – whose car is always a wreck. It’s a mess, inside and out.

There’s trash all in the floorboard and under the seats. The seats are filthy. The windshield hasn’t been cleaned in who knows how long. The “check engine” light is on and they say, “It’s been that way for a few weeks.” They don’t seem bothered by it. And it’s not an old car. It’s only 2 years old.

They take no pride in the car. If they buy a brand new car, within months it’ll look just like this one. These people just don’t have any sense of pride in their car. Odds are, their houses are in similar condition.

A life with no pride is a low performance existence. 

It’s true with our cars. It’s true in our neighborhoods. It’s true in our personal lives. It’s true at work, too.

You can’t elevate performance – not as a long term, sustainable culture – without first elevating the pride of your team.

That’s why every turnaround situation I’ve ever managed began first with an assessment of the physical facilities and invariably, a clean up. It’s also why every episode of those business shows mentioned begin with the host snorting at the owners for failing to have a clean, well kept place. First thing first.

The Bible says, “Pride goeth before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18) That pride is arrogance. The pride I’m talking about goes before higher performance. It’s the pride that drives us to keep our cars well maintained and clean. It’s the pride that compels us to take good care of our health. It’s the pride that inspires us to produce consistently good work!


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