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Want to finally organize your workplace? Here are 4 tips to get you started.

Most managers intrinsically understand the benefits of having an organized workplace—a safer and cleaner work environment, improved employee morale, engagement, retention, and productivity, improved customer confidence (and sales), and better bottom-line results.

However, few managers excel at implementing it. In this article are four tips to help you successfully implement 5S as your workplace organization method.

1. Start with Why

Best-selling author and leadership expert Simon Sinek said it best: "…people won't truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the Why behind it."

By first identifying the result and goals you want to achieve with workplace organization, and then considering how your values or the values of your company align with these goals, you're in a much better position to answer why workplace organization matters to you and why you want to implement a method of doing so with your team.

Let's assume you want a cleaner and more organized workplace to improve the retention of your employees. After all, people want to work in an environment that they find appealing, and exit interviews indicate that those on their way out were far from satisfied with their surroundings. If your core values include the health and safety of your employees, then adopting a standard workplace organization method contributes directly to this core value. Health, including mental health and one's ability to be productive at work, can be a function of their environment.

Full stop here. Do not pass go and collect $200 until you first answer this question: does your Why align with your values? If not, there's no sense in proceeding. It's easy enough for leadership experts, authors, and consultants to regale you with the benefits of workplace organization on the path to operational excellence, but don't proceed if you don't see the benefit.

When you can state to yourself I know this is this right thing to do because…, it's full steam ahead to decide on an organization method (no surprises here—I recommend 5S).

2. Pick the method

Nearly everyone has some method of personal and workplace organization with vastly different levels of efficacy. I'd be willing to bet that your "system" is a compilation of organization lessons learned to this point in your career, rather than a consistent workplace organization method that's predictable, measurable, and repeatable. While this may have worked just fine before you were a manager, now that you're responsible for people, facilities, and the business results, you need a more professional approach and one that your team can consistently adopt.

The organization method I recommend is that of 5S. I've witnessed too many organizations get caught up developing their own "special sauce" for workplace organization. Here's my perspective: if workplace organization is your business and core part of the type of service you provide, then you'd better be good at it. You most definitely need a unique offering to differentiate yourself from your competition. But, for everyone else, go with 5S. It's proven and adopted by hundreds of thousands of companies around the world.

5S was perfected by the automotive industrial machine in post-WWII Japan and had its origins in the CANDO method, invented by Henry Ford in the 1920s. It is an element of lean manufacturing and is a workplace (or home) organization method, applicable to nearly any industry. The abbreviation 5S stands for Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

  • Sort: Identify only those tools and items required to do the job for each workspace. If something is not used for several months, it is likely not needed. When in doubt, move it out!

  • Set in order: Identify homes for all items and return them home daily.

  • Shine: Clean up regularly. It also includes maintenance on machinery (think photocopiers), when required.

  • Standardize: Assign and display all tasks, schedules, and instructions such that 5S becomes routine.

  • Sustain: Engage everyone who comes into contact with 5S to keep the process running smoothly.

Now that you've settled on 5S as your organization method, next up is to consider how your behavioral style can influence the steps you take to implement.

3. Behavioral style dictates the approach

Your behavioral style can influence to a great extent, how you should implement a workplace organizational method to ensure it is successfully adopted. There are four main behavioral styles in the DISC model that generically define your model of personality: dominance, influence, conscientiousness, and steadiness. (Knowing your behavioral style as an element of self-understanding is essential for any manager or leader who seeks to engage with and influence their team positively).

Dominance behavioral style and 5S implementation considerations

If you have a dominant behavioral style, you tend to be outgoing and task-oriented. You're often direct, compulsive, confident, and blunt.

When implementing 5S, you know your Why and have communicated it to your team, and it's your sheer determination and willpower that will drive the change. You'll want to take the KonMari approach and do it all in one go by systematically Sorting, Setting in Order, and Shining your operation one room at a time (followed by Standardize and Sustain for the overall facility). This is a great approach to quickly drive results, though it will consume a tremendous amount of focus and energy. Just make sure you have strong number 2 to back you up when your energy falters.

Influence behavioral style and 5S implementation considerations

People with an influence behavioral style tend to be outgoing and people-oriented. If you're of this style, you're more likely to be optimistic, collaborative, and focused on relationships.

To implemented 5S you'll want to lead by example. You will be able to articulate an inspiring vision of what the future looks like with 5S and how your Why to implement ties in directly to your company's values. Please select an area or team to pilot 5S and then craft and share their story (social proof) about their positive experience in implementing 5S. Use this story to nurture your other employees' curiosity about 5S and use your influence and persuasion skills to create an employee "pull" for 5S before a full-scale rollout.

Steadiness behavioral style and 5S implementation considerations

The steadiness behavioral style indicates the degree to which you are reserved and people-oriented. You tend to be calm, deliberate, and seek consensus.

With 5S, you'll want to try it out first. Your healthy skepticism dictates that you'll want to know that the method is sound before throwing your support behind it. You'll also expect to see the benefits of the method vastly outstrip the drawbacks. So try out the system first in a controlled manner in your garage, personal workspace at home, or office at work. A one-month individual demonstration period might look something like this:

  • (Set in Order) Select 5 items you use to do your job every day and find a permanent home for them. Return them to the same location at the end of each day. Do this for 10 days.

  • (Sort) On day 11, take stock of all the items in your workspace/office that you don't regularly use. Keep the stuff you need, discard/donate/sell the items you don't.

  • (Shine) On day 20, give your workplace a thorough top to bottom cleaning and find a home for a few cleaning supplies for future touch-ups. At the end of each day, spend 5 minutes tidying and cleaning your workspace.

  • (Sustain) At the end of the month, reflect on your efforts. How did 5S work for you? How did you feel each morning returning to an organized workspace?

Conscientiousness behavioral style and 5S implementation considerations

If you're a conscientious person, you may tend to be reserved and task-oriented. Independent, cautious, and diplomatic are also elements of your behavioral style.

Use the 5S audit checklist as the basis for implementation, and feel free to develop a project plan with task owners and milestones that identify what you want to achieve and by when. You'll need to muster a small group of employees (guiding coalition) who share your 5S vision, and it is these folks that will carry out the influence campaign as you measure progress toward success.

Independent of your behavioral style and methods by which you choose to implement 5S, the actions you and your team take over the long term to sustain 5S must be both routine and habitual.

4. Aim for habit

All too often, workplace organization methods are an inconvenient routine. That is, it's something you schedule on your calendar and can easily be put off when other, more important tasks take priority.

Therefore, when implementing 5S, consider which elements you will coach your team. Their actions are routine—a repeated behavior with some prodding—or a habit—an impulse with little or no conscious thought. A combination of both is more likely to yield long-term success.

In James Clear's book, Atomic Habits, he outlines four laws of behavioral change to create a good habit. These are:

  • Cue (make it obvious)

  • Craving (make it attractive)

  • Response (make it easy)

  • Reward (make it satisfying)

In the context of implementing 5S, coach your team to help them make Set in Order and Shine daily habits, Sort and Standardize routines, and Standardize a bit of both.

So how long do you need to coach and encourage your team for Set in Order and Shine before they become a habit? Two months. According to a study published by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, it takes on average 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic, so persevere through these first few months while you see the Set in Order and Shine habits take hold. A clean and organized workplace is an expectation most employees have of their manager and employer. However, it truly isn't optional, and the benefits far outweigh the time and financial costs to implement. Why and how you choose to implement 5S can have a big impact on the outcome and sustainability of this workplace organization method. Using the tips in this article, you're much more likely to realize all of the rewards 5S has to offer.

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