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broken window theory

Broken window theory: this is its effect in a company

Does the Broken Windows Theory sound familiar to you? It has nothing to do with a test to check the resistance of a glass, but with one of the most interesting sociological experiments of the 20th century, which over the years has served to elaborate theories and apply policies to all kinds of areas, from work environment to administration.

Do you want to know more? Put down the hammer, you won’t need it for now.

The Broken Window Theory was the result of an experiment carried out in 1969 by Stanford University (United States). During said experiment, led by the psychologist Philip Zimbardo (very well-known thanks to the Stanford jail experiment), the researchers left two cars that were exactly the same model and color in two different neighborhoods of the United States.
One was placed in the Bronx, in New York, which is a somewhat problematic and economically depressed area, while the other one was parked in Palo Alto (California), a rich and quiet neighborhood.

Within a few hours, the vehicle parked in the Bronx began to be vandalized. People began to steal all the usable parts of the car, the mirrors, the engine, the tires, and hours later, they destroyed the useless parts. Within a couple of days, there was hardly anything left of the vehicle.

The vehicle parked in Palo Alto, on the other hand, did not suffer any damage. Not surprising at all, right? However, the experiment did not end there, and the shocking thing is what happened next.

The researchers decided to break one of the windows of the car parked in Palo Alto. The result? After a few hours, and just like it had happened in the Bronx, the vehicle was completely vandalized.

As a result of this experiment, the Broken Windows Theory was born, formulated by James Wilson and George Kelling; according to them, if a window breaks in a building and is not quickly repaired, over time, the whole building will begin to be vandalized.

The behavior exposed by the Broken Window Theory is simple but revealing. The behavior of human beings does not depend on their social class or economic situation only. We tend to respect the order of things as long as we perceive that order is being taken care of. If at any moment we detect that there is no one watching or taking care of its maintenance, we tend to alter that order. If the broken window is not repaired, it is because nobody is watching, so you can break another, and another. Not everybody will act like that, but some definitely will.

The Broken Window Theory has been especially applied in criminology and urbanism. It has empirical demonstrations that we can observe just by going outside. If a wall has graffiti and nobody cleans it, soon more graffiti will appear to cover almost the entire surface of the wall. If you leave a trash bag on a sidewalk and it is never picked up, people will soon think that throwing bags is allowed and the street will become a complete garbage dump.

And now you, accustomed, educated reader, may be wondering, what does all this have to do with my company? Well, much more than what it seems at first. Let’s see some examples:

– Not everybody in your company works with the same intensity

Everybody is different from one another, that is an unquestionable truth, and it will be incarnated in the different performances the members of your team will show at work. But there are some limits that shall not be ignored.

Imagine that in your company there is someone who is continuously blowing off work. They are never there when they are needed; they are in a never-ending succession of sick leaves, and end up “delegating” all their work to other coworkers.

You have a broken window and you will have to be careful so that others won’t start breaking too. Allowing that attitude will create a sense of injustice and impunity within the team. They will think that the treatment they receive is not equitable and some of the others will begin to act the same way.

– Your work environment is not tidy or clean.

This example looks much more like the original situation that gave birth to the Broken Window Theory. Imagine that one of your employees develops the habit of eating potato chips at his job. And not only that, but they also never clean what falls on the floor or on the table. Soon, other members of the team will begin to do the same. The environment will become dirty and unhealthy and will probably bother other people with more hygienic habits. You have a broken window.

– The customer service is chaotic.

Now let’s say you have a bakery. You baked delicious bread, it is known throughout the whole neighborhood, so in the morning your establishment is overflowing with people. Instead of making people stand in a well-defined line, you allow them to order their loaf of bread without any sort of system. In a short period of time, some customers will get angry with others, they will start accusing each other of having budding in line, and your bakery will become a fine mess. So indeed, broken windows may also have to do with your customers …

Actually, the Broken Window Theory can apply to almost any part of the business. Allowing bad habits will be harmful both in customer service and in the production process, in the distribution of the product as well as in marketing. It can affect both the customer and your staff, and ultimately, any area of your company.

The solution is not being overly strict with the rules in your company (doing so can be a “broken window” too, in a way), but rather detecting problems and solving them before a harmful habit is generated and spreaded.

What about you? Do you have any broken windows? Have you had any in the past and repaired it in time, before it was too late? Do you know any useful method to detect them? Share your experiences with us leaving a comment down below. Thank you very much!