Process development, systems improvement. Team Building & Leadership Expert Michael Cardus

Met some friends for a focus group at a local coffee place. While waiting at the counter for my drink, I noticed something new. On the bar where you receive your food & drink, a staff had written in green nail polish.

“PLEASE don’t place your dishes here!!”

As I read this, I looked around to see where I am supposed to place my dishes. The Bus tubs (the plastic thing that you put your dishes into) are located by the trash cans and are not easily accessible; many people don’t place their dishes into them.

I asked the woman behind the counter, “How is this working for you?”, with surprise in her eyes, she said, “what do you mean?” I responded, “, don’t place your dishes here, is this working?”. She then went into health code violations and why people should not place their dishes on the counter.

My response, “Reading this sign, I would put my dishes here, all I see is the words, Place your Dishes here, and you do not show me where to place them. The only instruction you have is a problem statement and not a solution.” She said, “Maybe you are just mean and would do something like that!” My response, “Well, I would because you are just telling me what NOT to do, instead of what you WANT me to do. Which is place my dishes in that hard to find dirty bus tub over there.” I grabbed my coffee and left.

As I walked away, she went to the other woman behind the cash register, whispered something; they looked at me, and I heard, “What a JERK!” (not the first time, and I am sure it not the last.)

My friends and I sat in the coffee shop for over an hour and a half; I saw;

  • 5 people bring their dishes to the bus tub
  • 8 groups leave their plates on the tables where they were sitting 
  • 15 people leave their plates on the COUNTER! Right on top of the “DON’T PLACE YOUR DISHES HERE” marking!


The woman became upset with me because she thought that her work is valuable because of a little extra effort wasted, and NOW you have nail polish that looks very sloppy on the counter, and the problem is not fixed. The woman is frustrated, and the problem still exists.

Sound familiar? I recommend examining the problem, then creating a solution statement of the Behaviors you want

How can this be a solution statement?

    • Observe the behavior of people who do what you want them to do, i.e., place dirty dishes in the bus pan. What makes them different, how do they know, what is their walking through the store pattern.
    • Place the Bus Tubs in higher traffic areas and create LARGE SIGNS that read “PLACE YOU DISHES HERE.” Creating a solution action step, letting me know what you want to see, as opposed to what you DON’T want to see.
    • Create a stand-up sign that sits on the counter reading “PLACE DIRTY DISHES IN THE BUS TUB —->” arrow points to bus tub.
    • When you hand me my drinks/food, say… “when you are done, if you could please place the dishes in the bus tubs located at x, y, and z locations, I would appreciate it.
    • Create table stands for each table saying something like “YOU ARE AWESOME! PLACE YOUR DISHES IN THE BUS TUBS. Located at X, Y, Z…thank you.”
    • Make the Bus Tubs a BIG DEAL…more obvious.
    • Let people in the shop know that you are handing out random coupons and giveaways to people “Spotted” placing their dishes in the Tubs.
    • Make the counter space one so that I cannot place my dishes on the counter.

Creating problem statements is important, and if you want to change people’s behavior, you have to develop solution statements.