The Signs

There are signs everywhere.

Literal signs.

Stop signs. Directional signs. Yield signs. For Sale signs. Parking signs.

You get the idea.

Signs are everywhere, so much so that you may not even notice how cluttered our spaces have become with signs.

My favorite signs to observe are in workplaces, because they are typically aimed at someone’s behavior that someone else is trying to correct.

“Please clean up your dishes in the sink, we are not your parents.”

“Keep this door clear.” That has morphed into, “Keep everything away from this door, boxes, carts, and supplies.”

These signs are sending messages. Messages about expected behavior. Messages about who you are as an organization.

I see these signs so often that sometimes their messages simply blend into the background noise of life.

Two signs recently caught my attention, but for different reasons.

Sign Number One: The Sink is Still Broken

Yes the sink is still broken

An example of a perfectly helpful sign: the sink is broken. However, I have now witnessed this sign for over a year. This issue and the sign have been here for more than a year now.

The message: We know something is broken, but we are not fixing it. Our solution is for your to do a little more work, but clearly we are not about to fix the problem we both can see.

Sign Number Two: Who Cleans City Hall?

Who cleans city hall?

The message: We take pride in what we do, enough to tell you that we are actual people who are cleaning up this heavily trafficked building. If you are not happy with the level of service, you know exactly who is responsible.

Take a look around your organizations.

Where are the signs?

What messages are those signs sending?

Hard Choice Ahead

Hard Choice Ahead

(Images created on

The interview went well. They answered the questions. They were hired. After a few months their performance begins to fade.

You hear from a few people around the office that deadlines are missed. Others are covering the work that is not getting done.


A few of your peers come and talk to you about the issues and what you are doing to correct the problems.


Your boss sends you an email asking about your department’s performance.


There were signs.

Looking back you may be able to see them.

Unfortunately, signs don’t always show up along our journey with bright colors and with enough repetition so they cannot go unnoticed. Failing to see the earlier signs prevented corrective action.

Maybe it was a relationship. Maybe it was a project that has not taken off. The specifics are yours to fill in.

Missing the earlier signs tends to result in one final sign: Hard Choice Ahead.

The choice won’t be easy.

But it needs to be done.

The choice will have consequences.

But it will bring the resolution.

Maybe next time we will become more attuned to watching for those earlier signs.