Have you heard of “The Broken Windows Theory”?

This theory relates to leading indicators, safety, job performance, planning, equipment quality, customer satisfaction, company culture and ultimately a company’s success?

It’s a sociology concept that showcases human behaviour.

It was developed by sociologist Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist in 1969.

He had two cars to spare and decided to conduct a small experiment. He arranged to have one parked with its hood up, open doors, without license plates, on a street in the Bronx, NY — a place that was poor, dangerous, and full of crime.

The other one was parked on a street in Palo Alto, California, like any other normal car, with its hood down and license plates intact.

It looked like it belonged to somebody. The car in the Bronx was attacked by vandals within 10 minutes. After three days there was nothing of value in the car and it was totally wrecked.

While the car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week.

Then, Zimbardo got bored and decided to intervene.

He smashed a window of it with a sledgehammer to add some fun. Thus, the car went from being in perfect condition to showing signs of abuse and neglect. A few hours later, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed. Just like the first one.

In the 1990’s Rudolph Giuliani was mayor of New York and at the time that city had the highest violent crime rates in the world. They applied the broken window theory and became the lowest violent crime city in America.

What was involved? They focused on broken windows, graffiti and subway fare jumpers among other small petty issues. Because they focused on the small details ,they created a culture where the bigger issues stop happening.

In organizational culture, business culture, broken windows are all the small minor issues from uniforms to prospecting phone calls to how you unload equipment, maintain discipline with invoicing, safety leading indicators and more.

Many people confuse the focus on those details as insignificant but those are the broken windows that either create a professional disciplined culture or just another fly by the seat of your pants company.

Positive leading indicators predict success but broken window leading indicators are the opposite – they predict failure.

It’s the people not participating in safety, it’s not wearing a company’s brand, it’s scrambling to organize a job last minute when you had 4 weeks to prep, it’s not red tagging damaged equipment, it’s letting office maintenance and tidiness slowly slide.

If you focus on our broken window issues, big issues always seems to disappear.

Think about your role or your department – what are your broken windows?