Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.”
- George Kelling and James Wilson, from Broken Windows published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1982
The quote above is from a study by George Kelling and James Wilson in which they posit that major crime in cities escalates when small crimes go unchecked. According to their theory, while small crimes - a single broken window, some litter on the sidewalk, a lone panhandler - don’t pose a threat to society, the fact that these small crimes are permitted to persist indicates that no one cares, and major crimes soon follow. Major crimes can be prevented if these smaller crimes are controlled. This has come to be known as the “broken window theory.”
How does the broken window theory apply to continuous improvement?
Stop small problems from escalating
Show that someone cares
If there are small problems in your organization and you don’t create an environment that allows employees and managers to do anything about them, what signal are you sending? Sure, your employees probably aren’t going to vandalize your business with a sledgehammer… but they’re not going to respect it, either - and they certainly won’t exert discretionary effort to improve it. Asking your employees to identify and fix small problems in your business sends the signal that you care, and will prompt them to care as well.