The Broken Window Theory

In today’s post, Paul Azad, the founder of ServiceTree talks about The Broken Window Theory.


The idea behind it

Although the broken window theory has nothing specific to do with an MSP, or actually to do with any business, it’s actually got something to do with everything we do. The broken window theory is around the idea that when you let somebody break your window, or if you let somebody that has broken your window, get away with it, and you do nothing about it, that others will see that as you accept it. 

The idea behind it, or the reasoning behind it is that if you were to live on a street, and somebody threw a little rock at your window, and it smashed it, and you were to look at it, go out and do nothing to fix it. And you left it like that for a couple of days, a week or two, what you’re really telling your neighbors and everyone else, including the person that threw the rock is that you’re okay with that, you accept it, you’re fine with it. 

Now, when you think about it, that’s a very powerful message you’ve actually portrayed. What you’re saying is – I’m okay with the broken window. And you know what? I’m not going to do anything about it. What does that mean? Well, there’s a good chance that the person that throws it things – Guess what? I’m going to throw another one because obviously, the person that owns this property doesn’t really care too much about it. 

It’s the same reason why, when in public transport, or in public areas that there’s graffiti, it’s the best thing to do is to clean up straight away. Now, it’s the most expensive thing to. But it’s the best thing because most times somebody that graffiti that building is doing it to get the attention. So if they were able to tag something, and that tag was there, and they could get a lot of other people to see it, they feel like they’re achieved something. But if it’s wiped off the next day, or cleaned up the next day, then they’ll find someone else to tag it and graffiti because this place is taking care of this organization, this building, they care too much for it to be left there. 


The Broken Window Theory in an MSP

When we talk about the broken window theory in an MSP and how can destroy your business, it means that, if we’re allowing our people, either 1,2,3 or all of them do things that we do not want to, if we keep letting that happen, we’re sending a message to our team and our organization, that we’re okay with it. Now, it’s not always possible, it’s not always financially achievable, that you can always action something straightaway. But you can always do something to mitigate it, or at least, to show that you do care about it. 

An example of this is our team and what we expect them to do. If one of our team members rocks up, just on time or a few minutes late, they do once and you don’t stop them, and they do it twice, and you don’t stop them, they’ll keep doing it, instead of being one or two minutes late, I’ll be three or four or five minutes late. 

Now for the rest of your team, it’s sending one of two messages, number one, that you don’t care in general, and that they can do it too. Or the second message it could be showing is that you know what? That you favor this person and therefore, this person can get away with it. And it’s not uncommon for someone else to try, so if the first person has been able to get get away with it, other people will try and see what happens, is the second person will get told off? Or is the second person going to be okay with it. Now, you can imagine that you can really have the best culture, the best people, but this will definitely destroy it. Because not everybody is going to put up with it. And unfortunately, with your culture, what you’re saying to your people is you’re okay with people cutting corners, you’re okay with people doing things that are not part of what you want to be doing as long as an organization. 


Sending the Wrong message

That in itself is sending a very, very bad message to your team. 

I can tell you in my MSP there was one of those learning experiences many years ago, I didn’t see it at the time, but I can definitely see it as clear as day now that I let it happen. I let somebody rocking a little late here and what I didn’t really realize at the time was it was setting a really bad message on everyone else. And it wasn’t like I favored this first person, but when I started to do it, it used to tick me off quite a lot. And I didn’t see it at the time. I think that the reason the original person that was doing it, although they would be late coming in, they would all stay back half an hour, 40 minutes and they would finish what they were doing. And to me in my head, it was well because there might be 10 minutes late, but they’re staying 40 minutes. So it’s okay because they’re doing the amount of work. 

But what it was actually doing was telling my team that either I was taking this person as favorite, or B, I wouldn’t care. In my head, I was thinking to myself – well, I’m getting about another half an hour to work out this person, so that’s okay. What I didn’t really think, consider, or take into perspective was that this person wasn’t just doing that to get into work, they were doing it for everything they did. So everything that they did just was not as accurate. They’d come in late, they would go to lunch, whenever they felt, they’d come back, instead of a 30-minute 45-minute lunch, it would just be longer. It just got worse and worse. It wasn’t hours late, but it was always very inconsistent. And I didn’t really see it at the time, but the rest of my team was really frustrated with that. They didn’t take advantage, but I definitely set the wrong tone for quite a few years. 

There were multiple staff that I had come in there that way in the beginning, right on time, very organized, very structured people. But what happened day started to pick up this bad trait, and they started to become those people that were not on time, that would do things a bit later. And it was just like a domino effect. I really didn’t consider it at the time. But it’s something I sort of say now, if you’ve got people in your organization today that are not achieving what you want them, that is not ideal in what you want, don’t think that hiring somebody that’s got the eye, that the perfect person is going to fix a problem. The chances are much higher, that the new person is going to fall into the bad habits of your old team members before the old team members hit the new team members’ standards. 


Trying to fix the problem

If you’ve got 567 people, and overall you’ve got a cultural issue where people are not doing things according to what they’re supposed to be, not following process, not tracking their time, running late, and all that kind of stuff. Don’t think that hiring an eighth person that is super organized, that is going to fix a problem. You really need to put in the measures before you even bring in that ninth person or the eighth person, a 10 person, you got to put in measures to show the organization, the rest of the team now that that’s not acceptable that they’ve been able to suppose get away with it until now, but that is not accepted.

It’s a hard thing to do, it’s a hard thing to change, and that’s why as an organization, we really want to be clear. And we’ve got to be very clear about the process and their strategy of what we’re trying to achieve. Because bringing in great people, when the rest of our team or our restaurant culture, isn’t that great is not going to help you. It’s not going to bring the culture up, it’s gonna pull your new person down. 


Back to The Broken Window Theory

You’ve got to make sure your team understands what is not right, is not right, before you bring on somebody before you try to take a new step. Don’t think that something’s going to just improve itself on its own. You’ve got to make that hard decision, make that hard call, and work on resolving that first. 

Of course, it’s not easy, but if you’ve let him get away with it, it’s on you. You’ve got to be able to say that yourself – Hey, team, this isn’t actually been what I’d like to achieve. You’ve got to be honest and you got to make sure you get the buy-in from them. Don’t expect that after letting them get away with it for 6, 9, 12 months to three years, don’t expect that there’s going to be –  Okay, the boss will just change and fix it up. It’s going to be a hard sell, you’re going to have to do a lot more than just tell them.

A lot of MSPs, are going to try to take the black-and-white line and just try to snap them in place. It’s not gonna be that simple, expect that they’re going to rebel, expect that they are not gonna be liking it, and expect that there’s a good chance you’re gonna lose people, if not lose customers. 


How do you stop that from happening?

Make sure you don’t let your team get away with things that they’re not supposed to. Don’t be one of the organizations that accept a broken window. Because as I mentioned, if it doesn’t destroy you, day one, or day two, or day three, it is got a very, very strong possibility that will bring your team down, they’ll pull anything you’ve done with it or bring your culture down. And it’s going to lead to customer loss. 

From the beginning, or as soon as you realize that, you know, you’re allowing windows to be broken. You’ve got to be able to step in play, take initiative, take charge, and make sure that the organization and your team know what is right, what’s not right, what you’re accepting, what you’re not accepting, what is success for you and the organization as a team,  and how does that help them and help you achieve your goals as well as their goals? 

Make sure it’s not all about you. Because you know what? Yes, as an organization, and as a business owner, we take the biggest risk, and we also should be taking the biggest reward. But you’ve also got to ensure that your team is there and getting rewarded and see the value and the benefit of being on this journey with you. 

The broken window theory, don’t let it get to you, and ensure that you work with your team to make sure that it’s not going to be something that pulls your organization down.

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