Leadership Lessons from the Break Room Dishwasher

Dirty or Clean Dishes

“No dishes in the sink!”  This was a reoccurring item on our staff meeting agenda. Commonly, the coffee cups would be loaded up in the sink ready for a brave soul to rinse and load in the dishwasher. Sometimes the dishes would rest over the weekend so they would get extra nasty.

And so on and on it went…

Leading a Mess

I admit here publicly- I was also a culprit. I would bring my coffee cup to the kitchen area and open the dishwasher and then freeze-up!

Are they clean or dirty?

I would look for all the clues. Any coffee stains? Any food on the plates? Often times it’s really hard to tell. Especially if the dishwasher isn’t the greatest. So after a few moments of inspection and feeling unclear on the status of the dishes, I have placed my cup in the sink.

Yes- I am part of the problem! 

In the past we had a magnet that said clean or dirty, but this stainless steel model won’t hold the old magnet.  So what could we do?

Leading a Solution

A sticky note!  Yes- the really small one!  Clean or Dirty is the entire message (with the appropriate message right side up.)

Now we have a handy little sticky note that provides the actual status on the dishes (thanks Krista!). No inspection. No guessing. Immediately you know what to do. The results- no more dishes in the sink! At the last staff meeting, the item was FINALLY removed. Problem solved.

Leading With Direction

So what is the lesson here? Clear direction and written processes are the answer. Here are a few of the benefits of clear, written processes:

  1. They avoid the freeze-up! Decision making takes time. If you provide clear direction, you eliminate this unnecessary time. You move quickly and efficiently. No analysis of the dishes is needed. You immediately know what to do.
  2. They protect you from bad decisions! Some folks are gifted at decision making and some just have a way of choosing poorly. By taking away the options, you are guiding the person to success. No dirty dishes mixed in with the clean ones.
  3. They remove fear! By guiding the next step you remove the fear of making the wrong decision. The responsibility shifts to the process and away from the person. Decision-making comes easy. You are simply following the rules. No worries of peer ridicule for your coffee cup at the staff meeting!
  4. They limit the outcomes! Sometimes even when you follow the rules bad things can happen. In the construction business, we are constantly working with risk. We work hard to avoid it, however, risk is part of what we do.  We know we have chinks in our armor. Strong processes allow us to guide and limit outcomes. Similarly, if someone forgets to turn the clean/unclean sticky note you risk mixing in the dirty with the clean.

Writing It All Out

There are more benefits, but these are a few of the stand-outs. Do you have areas in your business that may need better written processes?

Assembling written procedures are often pushed to the bottom of the “to do” list. For our business they are essential. They provide expected outcomes and keep us out of trouble.

Maybe it’s time for a fresh review of your processes?

Even small changes can have a big impact!  As you can see, even the smallest little sticky note can help solve an ongoing problem!

Do you have dishes in the sink?  Have you been putting off the review of your written processes?  Do you have a success story on processes to share?  Don’t be a stealth reader- click on “leave a comment” and join in the conversation!   


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Joe Passkiewicz

Joe Passkiewicz is Vice President of LandSouth Construction, LLC
He Develops and Executes Leadership, Management and Productivity Strategies
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