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Posted: October 24, 2013

Leaving the office better than you found it

The Scouts’ principle delivers more than cookies at work

Laura Cook Newman

Every dwelling has those annoying yet necessary household objects that create a lot of strife in an otherwise harmonious home.  You hear a lot about it in the busiest room in the house – the bathroom. 

Marriages have ended over commode seat placement.  Children have been grounded over blue streaks of Crest in the sink.  And everyone within earshot feigns ignorance when the accusation “Who didn’t replace the TP?!?!” is hollered.

It exists at the office, too. The sly kitchen elf who pours themselves the last cup of coffee and neglects to brew another pot. Or the tricky troll who runs 6,000 copies, depleting all the ink from the Xerox.

Pro kitchens aren’t immune either.  If you surveyed a group of chefs and asked what their biggest pet peeve about their job is, do you know what they’d say?

Long hours?  Hot kitchens?  Cuts?  Burns?  Inflating food cost?  Angry customers?

Plastic wrap.

Commercial kitchens rely on this more than business people lean on PowerPoint.

What’s the beef chefs have with plastic wrap?  In addition to being bulky and often MIA, like an office printer, it often gets jammed up.  There’s a delicate threading mechanism to dispense the clear film so that it spins freely for hours of wrapping delight.  

Due to the frequency of use, the plastic wrap often gets off track and requires a re-do.  Want to see a chef go all “Gordon Ramsey”?  Jam up the plastic wrap and leave it for the next victim.

Happy campers are familiar with the Leave No Trace guidelines and act accordingly by extinguishing their fire pits, hiking on marked trails and packing out their trash. 

Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide scouting movement took LNT one step further.  Not only is he credited for the Boy Scouts motto Be Prepared, he also said “Leave this world a little better than you found it.”

We defend ourselves with “I was in a hurry!”, “I’ll fix it later” or “I always brew more Folgers, but so-and-so never does.”  Once that attitude starts, it’s a rapidly spreading epidemic that even the CDC has never seen the likes of. 

Besides selling Thin Mints to your colleagues on behalf of your daughter, how else can we inject the Scout’s “do good” culture on the job? 

Ever seen those signs that read “50 days without an accident”?   Let’s borrow a page from the OSHA playbook and apply it to an office, pro kitchen or home bathroom.

Praise your employees and family for consistently doing the right thing. No need for an office memo to address culture change.  Just make your own “accident free” sign:

 “6 days of pristine bathroom conditions”

7 days of full coffee pots”

8 days without an abandoned paper jam”

9 days of smooth sailing plastic wrap”

It takes 21 days to form a good habit.  In just three weeks, a little positive encouragement will help create a culture of people leaving things better than they found it.  Scout's honor.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

Marcia, I've been with people who say it's "crazy" that I straighten things up in a hotel room prior to check out. Thank you for supporting my special kind of crazy. I like the thought of applying this to communication and interactions with people. Nice. And Mark, maybe you could install a "I messed up the plastic wrap" jar attached to the box. Employees can either opt to fix it, leave a dollar, or an IOU. At the end of the month, use the money and take the staff out for a beer. By Chef Laura on 2013 10 29
Enjoyed this article very much, Laura! Synergistically, as I read this WWOZ is playing Alain Toussaint's song that references, "make this land a better land than the world in which we live" -- "Yes, We Can Can" By Terri Maize on 2013 10 24
If I got $1 for every time I have had to fix the plastic wrap in the kitchen, I would be a very wealthy man. There are two types of people in the kithen... those who fix the plastic wrap and those who just find a new plastic wrap. It shows your character. By Mark Stussi on 2013 10 24
Laura, once again, you brought a smile to my face. I was introduced to the Boy Scout motto (though I didn't know who originated the thought until I read your article), in my college years from someone who insisted that a hotel room be left better than you found it. I've taken that advice to everything I do, including communication with people. I always try to leave them better than I found them, with a kind word, a compliment or encouragement. By Marcia Noyes on 2013 10 24
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