Toilet Humour

Welcome to what amounts to Episode 4 of ‘Bad Performance Measurement on Tour’.

(Other titles subsequently suggested to me on Twitter include the hilarious ‘Cisterns Thinking’, courtesy of Ian Gilson, as well as the brilliant ‘Check – Pan – Loo’, by Rob Wilson).

Stooping to new lows for material, this post examines the underlying assumptions behind those charts you sometimes see in pub and restaurant toilets that record how regularly they have been cleaned, and by whom. At face value, they would appear to be a transparent method of demonstrating that the company cares about keeping their facilities clean and hygienic. Nothing wrong with that is there?

I’ve seen a couple of contrasting examples of this type of thing recently; however I am not in the habit of lurking around public toilets taking photos (despite what you might have heard in the press), so I’ve re-created them below. Here’s the first:

This sort of thing is pretty common, but what does it tell us? Well, it may not be obvious at first but it suggests to me that the management here don’t trust the toilet cleaner. It also suggests that the management like to measure the wrong things. Measuring inputs in this way (i.e. the number of times the toilets are cleaned), rather than whether they are actually clean, misses the point.

The rigid cleaning schedule reflects inflexible policy and the imposition of a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that is not properly understood by management. This approach ignores variation and is rooted more in a desire to micromanage the poor toilet cleaner, rather than achieve purpose from the customer’s perspective. By understanding predictable demand, it may well be that an understanding is gained of when the toilets are actually most likely to require cleaning.

Furthermore, 30 minute intervals are totally arbitrary. Taken literally, strict adherence to this schedule introduces waste into the system, as cleaning will be unnecessary on some occasions. You will see that at 8am and 10am, the toilets weren’t cleaned. Who knows why? In any case, the world didn’t end. Conversely, there is nothing to say that they couldn’t suddenly become ‘messed up’ more than once during one of the half-hour segments. In addition to this, a lazy or dishonest toilet cleaner could quite easily sign the sheet without doing the work. If challenged about the condition of the toilets, he or she could quite easily claim that, “They were okay when I checked them 10 minutes ago”.

What I’m saying is that there is no advantage to maintaining such a contemporaneous public record of cleaning. If the toilets are dirty, they are dirty, whether or not they were last cleaned on schedule. If they are clean, they are clean, whether or not the cleaner signed the form. What matters is that the condition of the toilets is monitored and the cleaner does his or her best to keep them clean. Managers counting inputs and requiring the cleaner to report back on routine activity is misguided and superfluous to achieving purpose. Just let the cleaner do his or her job and use the right measures to assess performance.

This brings me to the other toilet sign I saw recently. Here’s a mock-up:

Now this, in my opinion, is much better. It’s adaptive to the customer and focused towards purpose. The person responsible for checking the toilets will still do so, but is afforded the latitude to clean them when they need cleaning, rather than at the behest of a regimented schedule. The notice also conveys to the customer that the company cares about the condition of the toilets and will respond if they need cleaning outside of one of the arbitrary 30-minute segments. There is no unnecessary bureaucracy of reporting back confirmation of routine activity, and no managerial obsession with controlling the cleaner through counting inputs. If the toilets need cleaning, they get cleaned – if they don’t, they don’t.

About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I dislike numerical targets and unnecessary bureaucracy.
This entry was posted in Systems thinking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Toilet Humour

  1. Richard B. says:

    I feel that another reason that management supports these micromanagement techniques is because it provides them with a warm safety blanket when fielding complaints. In your example with the toilet, if a customer complains, all management need do is check their little chart. Management can then fall back on the same excuse the cleaner would use and say it just cleaned x minutes ago. By keeping the chart in plain view I suspect they hope it would diffuse any complaints as a reasonable person would view the chart and summize the same conclusion that the toilet was just cleaned.

    As you, I suspect management doesn’t really care about how clean the toilet is, but rather that they have a defensible position if challenged as to why the toilet was unclean.
    I would suspect, and I speak from experience, though not as a toilet cleaner, that if a complait was fielded by management about the cleanliness of the toilet, regardless of when the toilet was last cleaned, the troubled toilet cleaner would have been trained or counseled on proper cleaning. Discipline disguised as training.

    Thank you for a most interning blog. I can relate all to well these scenarios you blog about and sometimes feel we may work for the same employer.


  2. Dave Hasney says:

    Reblogged this on Dave's Bankside Babble and commented:
    An illustration from Simon that shows managers how; counting inputs and continually requiring workers to report back on routine activity is misguided and superfluous to achieving purpose!

  3. Pingback: Simon Says: learning a lot from toilet humour « Dave's Bankside Babble

  4. A step before toilet humour comes food hygeine. Have a look at this site:

    It took me a while to work out what this performance measure meant, but I’m very reassured to see they consistently hit 100%.

    Some other intriguing KPIs as well. A KPI for the % of ‘relevant’ land with ‘unacceptable levels’ of dog fouling? Well intentioned, of course, but accompanied by a raft of counting rules on what ‘unacceptable levels of dog fouling’ look like.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s