The Clean Up
September 18, 2007
One of my favorite “Peanuts” characters is Pig Pen. Pig Pen arrives on the scene in cloud of dust and dirt, messy and unkempt. And it drives Schroeder absolutely crazy. A neat-nick just can’t tolerate a disorderly environment. Pig Pen doesn’t notice his condition or the effect it has on others.
If your company is a pigsty, it won’t bother the slobs who work with you. Maybe you are a slob yourself. Or maybe you have just grown used to the mess. But the neat nicks in your business are going to hightail it out of there if you don’t square things away.
Interestingly, if your office is neat as a pin, it won’t bother the Pig Pens. They don’t notice anyway.
The only environment that can handle all personality types is neat and clean. That’s one major reason for cleaning up your company. One more reason to keep a shop – any shop – ship shape? Sales. When I walk through the front door of a restaurant, I can tell how clean the kitchen is. I know that if they can’t manage to sweep the foyer, the kitchen must be a hellhole.
Just because you are a cleaning professional doesn’t mean your shop is ship shape. And while you may not have customers visiting you at your office, the attitude you take toward office maintenance can subconsciously affect how they perceive you when you arrive at their door. Your customers will make assumptions about your services based on the little things, like if you have a blob of ketchup on your shirt, or if your vehicle is dirty and your company logo is partially scrapped away. Consciously and subconsciously, your customers are sizing you up. If you are taking care of the little things, they know you have the big things handled. If you are a cleaning pro, your shop should be clean.
There’s another much more important reason to clean up your act: discipline.
It starts with you. Communicate who you are by your attention to the details. Maybe you have too many details to manage; streamline all systems. Keep only those items and procedures that help you make money. You may decide that a neat and clean uniform directly contributes to making sales. If you sincerely believe that – I do! – then you have to be willing to fire anyone who refuses to wear the regulation uniform in spit-shine condition.
Back to the little details. Your desk says a lot about you. Is it a sane, functional, inspiring working environment? Or is it disaster on four legs? Certainly, a clean desk can improve your productivity. Even more important, it communicates that you know what you are doing.
Once, I was asked to submit a proposal for writing a brochure for a manufacturing company. I was on friendly terms with the president of the company, and he had asked me personally to take on the project. I put together a proposal and decided to deliver it in person.
When I arrived, the president’s secretary told me that he had left for a few minutes, and suggested that I set my proposal on his desk. I walked into his office and was shocked to see towering stacks of papers and product samples 2-feet deep on top of his desk. Every square inch was covered. Piles had tipped over onto other piles.
I set my proposal on top of this sea of paper, visualizing it drowning before it ever got noticed. After leaving, I called his office and left a voicemail for him, alerting him that I had dropped off the proposal. Later, he returned my call and promised that once he got caught up with a few things, he would take a look and get back to me. He never did. And I didn’t mind. I had no interest in developing a relationship with someone with such a lack of discipline. We wouldn’t get anything accomplished.
I am not a neat-nick. I am not particularly tidy or organized. But I have disciplined myself to be orderly and systematic because I don’t like the consequences of being a slob. I don’t like people to think that I am disorganized and out of control. On the contrary, I want customers, employees, vendors and subcontractors to feel that, by working with me, they have found a sane harbor in a sea of chaos. I also got tired of searching for everything I thought was “right here.”
Take a good look at your office. Be honest. If it’s a mess – yes, even just “a little messy” – clean it! Start with your desk. This is easy to do, but we don’t take anything for granted. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a neat and functional working space.
- Collect the tools you’ll need: a garbage can, a stapler, post-it notes, paper clips, a marking pen, furniture polish or all-purpose cleaner, and a large cup of coffee.
- Lock your door and take the phone off the hook.
- Take everything – I mean everything – off your desk. Empty all drawers and shelves. Set everything on the floor.
- Actually clean your desk - inside and out. Polish it. Make it shine.
- Go through every pile and get rid of the trash. Be ruthless. Out-of-date information? Toss it! A magazine more than two months old? Pitch it! Remember, it is unlikely that you would ever look through your huge piles of stuff to actually find something. If any of this information is available through the Internet or with a telephone call, that is where you should get it.
- Place everything you’d like to keep into “like kind” piles on the floor.
- Use your tools to make small notes, staple corresponding items together, label and sort.
- Put back on your desk only the things you will need to access this week.
- Put back in your drawers only one of each type of office supply item you use.
- Put back on your shelves only the current projects that require your immediate attention.
- Take the piles of like-kind information and file them.
- As each new item crosses your desk, you must take a second and put it in its place.
- Put your mission statement on your wall.
- Even if they are in perfect condition, throw out the bright green folders that you know you will never use. If that strikes you as being wasteful, then donate the folders to the Salvation Army, or the Victory Mission. But do it today, or throw them away.
- Apply these principles and clean the whole place.
A clean desk is no small thing. It is symbolic of your commitment to excellence, fundamental business basics and focused thinking. It is a testimony to your personal discipline. If you can’t keep your own desk clear and your work focused and productive, then who are you to lead others? A clean desk speaks volumes.