What do your Toilet Stalls say about your Company Culture?

Toilet stall doors can provide much more than privacy.

I have a confession.  I am fascinated with toilet stall doors.  I know it’s weird.

Recently, I attended an event on Digital Innovation at General Assembly, which is an educational and co-working space for entrepreneurs. As I sat there, a familiar urge arose and I headed to the restroom.  After situating myself, I found myself looking at a rectangular silver plaque with black embossed letters on the back of the door that read:

“Please refrain from flushing paper products other than toilet paper. There are better ways to dispose of love letters to your ex.”

I grinned, delighting in the injection of humor while participating in a universal banal activity. After washing my hands and checking that no one else was in the room, I opened all the stalls, discovering each had a different message.

Although each plaque had the same first sentence:  “Please refrain from flushing paper products other than toilet paper”, much to my amusement, the second sentences varied.

  • “There are better ways to dispose of unwanted phone numbers from callers.”
  • “There are better ways to dispose of old copies of Vanity Fair.”
  • “There are better ways to dispose of communist propaganda.”

These plaques were clever, unexpected and playful which aligns and reinforces the culture General Assembly strives to create for its members while connecting it to their hip brand personality . Entrepreneurship requires being clever and delivering the unexpected.  Grueling is another word that comes to mind when building a company from scratch.  General Assembly has given an unexpected moment of comic relief to its members and guests. Bravo.

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These plaques are what anthropologists call “artifacts.”  Many associate this term with discoveries from archeological digs displayed under glass in museums.  Most common are tools, vases, imprints of cave drawings, jewelry etc.  These serve as cultural clues from a certain time period.

Organizational artifacts  represent any physical object. For example, wall color, what is hung on the wall, how the office is laid out, what the reception desk looks like, the existence of flowers or plants, parking spaces, and  all signs including ones in toilet stalls.  Each artifact and the total collection act as an articulation of a company’s culture and what matters most.  These also represent a company’s identity —both internally (culture) and externally (brand).

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Warning, my obsession continues.

Because I suspect you are already thinking about what to put on the back of your toilet stall doors here is another example.

One of my clients in Northern California is in the utility business.  In the restroom I use most, on the back of their stalls is a taped 8 x 11.5-inch piece of paper with a colored oceanic border surrounding the typed colored text.

“Please, Make sure Seat is Clean and Toilet has Actually Flushed before leaving the stall.”

Although I never checked if they had plumbing issues, this message connotes that this is a conventional, rule-based company that values sanitation. And yes, this is aligned with their foundational culture of safety.

Most recently, I noticed on the outside of one of the stall doors there was a black and white typed 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper which read:  

                  “Do Not Use. Out of Order.”

Maybe it’s the former advertising executive in me, yet c’mon people, you can do better.

Imagine how a customer-service orientated company—be it a customer-care center, a restaurant or a hotel would take advantage of a stall that is out of order. This is what I envision:

 “We apologize for the inconvenience, this stall is currently indisposed.  We will resolve this shortly.

Thank you for your patience.”  

And on the inside of the stalls, placards could read:

Smile.  Make someone’s day. Everyone is important. 

These signs directly reinforce the spirit and behaviors the company wants team members to emulate with customers.

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Below are four steps to help your company take advantage of signage to reinforce the spirit of your organization and build a cohesive company culture.

  1. Become Aware: Take pictures of existing signs inside and outside your building.
  2. Examine Signage: What do those signs say about your culture and what matters?
  3. Enhance Efforts: How might you take your signs up a notch to infuse your company personality?  (E.g.,  at the coffee station: replace caffeinated and decaffeinated signs with fuel up and fuel down.)
  4. Identify Opportunities: Where are opportunities to place signs or plaques to permeate your company identity, brand, and culture?

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An invitation

Please share with the community what you have seen on the back of toilet stalls that made you grin?

This was also published on The Good Men Project

 

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