Andy McKay

Mar 18, 2007

The big bang theory of household cleaning

Every couple of weeks my wife and I have a fight. A bit of shouting and maybe a slammed door. Over something as trivial as cleaning the house. I'm not a huge freak about having a spotless house, unlike say my mother. But after one month of the recycling piling up, or as it is currently we can't use the microwave because of all the recycling piled in front of it, a fight normally ensues.

Curiously we don't (well with one or two very rare exceptions) have fights about other household chores like washing the dishes or doing the laundry. These are tasks that get done regularly and we keep on top of them. And inevitably we get into a discussion where I point out that if we tried to tidy occasionally every other day or so and kept on top of things we wouldn't get into this situation.

But who get's praise for doing minor tasks regularly:

"I really cleaned the house for two hours, doesn't it look fantastic?" as I get in through the door.

"Yes it does, good job."

No-one ever praises the continual slow grind of minor cleaning.

In several businesses I've been in (and worked with as a consultant), there is an obsession with big bang development and projects. Often it will go something like this. Action X is a mess, it's slow and full of problems. We need to get in process Y, this will fix it up. This process addresses every problem and will make us better (replace process with product).

What the ensues is something that makes business managers and accountant's happy. We'll spend this much money doing Y and this will lead to a return of Z over a few years. A clear win and something good for the business and its all good. Once it's implemented the manager get's patted on the back (or sometimes fired, but good managers are like politican's do anything to deflect the blame).

My house will be beautiful and clean and worthy of royalty for about 1 day. Then it's back to normal.

Sure enough before long similar problems will remain. This leads people into a paralysis, we've tried X and Y and it didn't work we just ended up back where we were. The real answer can often lie in the day to day actions of people and the way work is done. I know they are dirty words but things like culture and process are often the problem.

If your co-workers all do things differently, if no-one writes anything down in a place others can use, if management doesn't support initiatives from people trying to make improvements, if no-one tries to improve everything they get involved with, then things don't change and it doesn't matter what you do. Do your big bang and you'll stick be stuck there in your problem again soon enough.

Rather than big bang changes to your organisation, continual tinkering, changes and improvement can make all the difference. It won't show up on the balance sheet in one chunk, it will take time. No-one will pat you on the back for doing a fantastic job, but things will improve and that's what matters. Even worse this approach requires discipline and continual attention, but I believe it can be worth it.

Or we could just spend 5 minutes at the end of every day cleaning a few things up, one day doing the recycling another the compost. Fortunately at home, I'm often reminded I'm not the boss. The little 3 yr old, not only wears the pants, but has us all well trained or as she says with a grin "I'm a bossy boots"... and yes we had a fight yesterday which made me think about this.