Bob’s Red Mill, an employee-owned organic-foods mill, store, and café in Milwaukie, OR (yes, that’s the right spelling) is a phenomenally run operation. But don’t take my word for it. Look through its windows.
They’re so astoundingly clean that I thought, sitting inside Bob’s café for half an hour, the windows were actually open (which would have been a strange situation in the rainy cool of the Oregon winter). It wasn’t until I looked at the building’s exterior that I realized no windows were open. They had just been cleaned to the point of utter invisibility.
Clean windows, of course, don’t create customer or operational excellence. They’re more of a marker for it. Because, to have windows this clean, in spite of entropy, customer noses, and plain old dust (it is a mill), requires:
• Care: This one is obvious.
• Awareness: Employees can care, but if they don’t have an awareness of details (the broad psychological trait called “conscientiousness,”) mere caring is not quite enough.
• The resources — sufficient time, manpower, money — to keep them clean. You can try to care and have an awareness of details, but by themselves these aren’t enough. Operational and customer-focused excellence require enough time, people, and money. Think of poor Amtrak, endlessly resource-deprived, with frustrated employees and decaying physical plants, and it’s no surprise there is such a clear contrast between the sparkling view in their “See America at See Level” marketing and what you actually are able to see through the scratched and filthy windows of their passenger cars.
These three factors — care, awareness, and resources — matter in all aspects of an operation. But if you want to quickly size up a company without taking a backstage tour, take a peek at the windows.
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