Footprint in the toilet

For a long time, I was involved in projects for the implementation of ERP systems, in the role of a technical lead (then it was called “technical project manager”). There are many industrial enterprises in the Chelyabinsk region, and often I had to go to negotiations accompanied by a very experienced woman manager.

Once she said: when you come to the enterprise, you must first go to the toilet. It is from the toilet that you can understand a lot about the leadership and its attitude to business. First of all, about whether it thinks in the long term, whether it sees itself here for a long time, or just cuts the loot in a quick way. In those still a little crazy years, perhaps, there was some truth in the “toilet acquaintance”.

The ritual was strictly observed. The manager came to the meeting and said that first you need to “powder your nose.” She visited the toilet, examined, formed a primary opinion and went to negotiations.

Recently, quite by accident, I remembered this tradition. An old friend invited me to visit the IT company where he works. The stated goal is to help understand what is wrong with their development and strategy. Before leaving for him, I climbed to top up omyvayki, and a bit izgvazdalsya. Arriving, first visited the toilet.

And he struck me.


There, of course, there was no space, the robots did not wipe their asses, but in general it was very comfortable and practical.

The first thing that caught my eye – several ways to dry your hands. Here you have a dryer, and a dispenser with towels, and paper towels in rolls. Choose what you like.

Next to the washbasin is a bookcase, all the shelves of which are lined with all sorts of useful things. Hand cream, disposable handkerchiefs, clothes cleaning rollers (I never saw them in offices at all), sponges for shoes, a portable speaker with a playing radio, etc.

And this, I emphasize – in the men’s room. Which, by tradition, should be a masterpiece of minimalism.

The cabins are immaculately clean. It was during the day – obviously they clean it more than once a day. There is an abundance of toilet paper, two types – a hefty roll (I don’t know what it’s called – like at airports) and a couple of small, cozy, homemade three-layer ones.

If you believe the theory of a female manager, with the development in this company, everything should be fine. Why did they call me then?

It became terribly interesting. I went to listen.

Development concept

The company existed on the market for a long time – about 10 years. It started with a few specialists, now it has grown to two hundred people. While there were few people, the director was engaged in all development. As a rule, it was development out of necessity – plugging holes caused by growth.

Well, there, it’s like renting a bigger office, buying or updating computers, making a brand book, bungling a website, etc. As the need arises, so they do something. Without a long-term strategic vision, be it amiss.

However, with the growth of the company, the director was forced to delegate development. There was not enough time itself – as inefficient effective managers say, “the operating system ate it.” I read books and the Internet, consulted with friends and subordinates, and came to the expected conclusion – it is necessary to hire an individual to develop the company. Director, or at least a development manager.

No sooner said than done. Actually, my friend’s story was built around these development managers and their activities. For there were several of them, and each trace left its own.

The first

The first manager laid the foundation – the structure and processes of change. He divided development into two principal streams: strategic and democratic.

Strategic – these are long-term goals and, accordingly, long-term development programs. What cannot be done quickly, but it is impossible to do without it – the future will not forgive.

Democratic – these are all kinds of collections of proposals from employees and their implementation. He honestly said that they were of no use, but the “electorate” should feel their own ability to change the company for the better. Otherwise, he will refuse to play long-term, well, or he will quietly sabotage.

The same, the first development manager, conducted a thoughtful analysis of the problems of the company, which must eventually be overcome. If enlarged, then this is staff turnover, poor (almost none) development of specialists, disgusting salespeople (with good and even growing sales), a general consumer attitude towards the company.

Without thinking twice, we decided to take up the routine. We looked up the interview protocols upon dismissal, and immediately saw the reason – not the highest salary. It is not depressingly low, but clearly less than the market. Programmers came to the company, mainly to get starter experience and move on to where they pay more or at least normal.

The development manager, of course, made calculations, coordinated their results with financiers and economists, and, it seems, it turned out in all respects – the salary can be increased quite significantly. Came with an offer to the director. What did you hear? I’ll think about it while you make other changes.

Other changes were from the “democratic” list. They concerned mainly common areas – toilets and kitchens. At that time there was not even a hand dryer. Oh, and coffee machines. After comparing the cost of both units, the manager chose a dryer.

So the toilet got a little better.

With the decision to raise wages, the director pulled. Politely at first, then aggressively – sort of like “leave me alone, we somehow lived without it, we have a different concept.” The manager waited, waited, said “fuck you,” spat and left.


The second development manager also wanted to start with an analysis of the problems – they gently refused, they say, we already know everything. They issued the structure of the development plan – strategic and democratic lists, and ordered to train specialists. To become systemic, constant, manageable and tangible.

Everything in life was like that. A person comes to work in a company, he is handed a training course of his own design. Quite short – one month. This course covers the main issues of the software, the implementation and customization of which the company is engaged in. I draw your attention – it is the questions of work, and not refinement and development. In other words, how to use it.

The demand for both the product and services for its implementation/maintenance was quite high – both before and now. This demand dimmed the eyes of both companies and specialists (if you can call them that). Formally, people came to become programmers. But programming and consulting services were paid the same. With a high demand for consultations, almost all specialists did not program at all.

As a result, the salary grew very quickly – consider that a month has learned, and you are already raising money normally, because the product is simple. You sit for a year or two, and only then do you understand that there is a ceiling and how you rested your head against it. It seems like it’s time to start programming, but the experience of all the predecessors said that you will drastically lose money.

Having collected all this information, the development manager went to the director and said – it is necessary to change the training system. At the same time – and the rules for the distribution of tasks, so that there is more programming. You need to either buy ready-made courses or develop your own. Yes, you will have to significantly reduce the profitability from specialists in the first months of work. But in the long run, it will bring very serious dividends.

What did you hear? I’ll think about it while you make other changes. So in the toilet there was a dispenser with paper towels.


The third was ordered to take care of the salesmen. As you already understood, there were no problems with sales due to the successful choice of the product – someone was once very lucky, or the seer really worked. To sell the product and services of the company, it was enough to be able to speak.

The problems started after the sale. Any conflict situation introduced the sales manager into a complete stupor, with the only possible answer to the client – “I’ll figure it out and call you back.” Nothing could be figured out. Calling back was scary.

The result was disappointing. First, among sales managers, the turnover was higher than among specialists. The average tenure of a manager is less than six months. Secondly, the poor safety of customers. Selling the product worked well. Implement, accompany, develop – disgusting. The threshold of “one year of cooperation” was crossed by a few percent of clients.

As you already understood, the training of sales managers was zero. It felt like everyone was simply raked into these positions, at a nearby public transport stop or at the labor exchange. Perhaps they were taught how to present a product. But they did not explain the principles of providing programming services.

The third development manager, of course, came with a program on how to “make friends” of programmers with managers. Both systemic and structural changes in departments and processes were required. There is no need to be seven spans in the forehead to understand that after the market is saturated with a product, the company will face serious problems. The market is growing at a slower rate.

What did the director say to this development manager? I’ll think about it while you make other changes. So in the toilet there was a bookcase with paper towels, hand cream, rollers for cleaning clothes and so on.


Now the company has a fourth development manager. As I understand it, he is looking for ways to overcome the general consumer attitude towards the company.

I wonder what conclusions he will come to?

And what will appear in the toilet this time?

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