Visual Controls, Spider-Man, and Do Hotel Chains Really Care About Saving the Planet?

In many ways, visual controls are a 24/7 mirror of leadership’s competency and credibility.

That’s pretty scary if you think about it.

It’s like voluntarily living in a fishbowl. Not that everyone truly understands the gravity of that.

It reminds me of the Spider-Man quote (allegedly borrowed from Voltaire or someone before him), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So, with the application of visual controls comes great responsibility.

Effective visuals are a universal, self-explaining, unapologetic proclamation to anyone within eyesight and possession of some basic (lean) thinking, that this here, taken together as a system, is our current process health and level of process adherence and sufficiency. This is the established standard, providing insight into one or more of the what, why, where, when (timing, sequence, conditions), how much, how long, who, with whom, targets, and trends. It necessarily highlights the abnormal condition(s)…and prompts correction.

Of course, a lack of competency is belied by visual controls that are tool-driven. We’ve all seen the hodge-podge of stuff  - disconnected visuals that are not part of a system and not applied within the context of a lean management system.

Silly “eye candy.”

Or the visual that is not, as it’s supposed to be, worker-managed…and thus is not maintained, or not maintained consistently, or not maintained properly…and leadership doesn’t seem to care.

So, no one cares.

It may be because the visual control is not sufficient. Or it’s an adherence issue. Or both.  Or perhaps, when problems are identified, no one knows what to do next.

Problem-solving, anyone?

Either way, it turns out to be a leadership competency AND credibility thing.

Naked, for the world to see.

And, the world judges.

The world, whether it’s customers, community, associates, managers, or executives eventually come to a conclusion that lean doesn’t work, the company doesn’t care, leadership doesn’t know what they heck they’re doing, the folks don’t have any discipline, etc.

This leads me to the hotel towel thing.

I'm sure most folks who have stayed in a hotel have seen the rather ubiquitous sign or placard that says something about saving the planet. The verbiage, however clunky, seeks to appeal to our sense of social (and environmental) justice.

Yes, washing towels needlessly is MUDA!

So, I always hang them up after each use.

And, about 80% of the time, housekeeping takes the towel away (and presumably washes it)!

So, I judge the hotel and its leadership. They don't care about saving the planet!

Make me cynical.

Not a very lean feeling.

Related posts: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining, Visual of the Visual?, Ineffective Visual Controls – 9 Root Causes

There are 3 Comments

markrhamel's picture


Excellent point and challenge. No, I have never brought this pet peeve of mine up to hotel management. I don't have a very good excuse other than past complaints (about other stuff - like room temperature) have been typically only dealt with superficially. I guess as a frequent traveler, I have gotten cynical and numb.

If the hotel had a robust lean management system, leaders would be required to to perform some SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust) within the context of layered leader standard work, whereby they check to see if folks are adhering to standard work and whether or not the standard work is sufficient. It requires time at the gemba, discipline, the application of 5 why's, coaching, and problem-solving.

Best regards,

Panu Kinnari's picture

I always cringe a little when I see these signs, as it is not the amount of water that is the enviromental issue here. What hurts the environment is when laundry needs to remove that water from the towels after washing. This is done mostly with fossile fuels. And the process is quite inefficient when it comes to energy use.

When it comes to water consumption, modern industrial washing machines use as little as 2,5 liters of water per kg of soiled linen.

Dale Savage's picture


Thank you again for your insights. Concerning the towels being taken when you have hung them up when you plan on using it again, have you ever mentioned this to the hotel management? If not, does it really bother you? If yes, what has the response from management been?

Another aspect of this is, does the management even know that the rules are not being followed? If nothing is said, how are they supposed to know if housekeeping is following the rules? Are they supposed to follow the housekeepers around as they do their job? We all know that during an audit, everyone follows the standardized work just as they are supposed to. Feedback from the production associates to management, even management that goes to the gemba often, is critical when rules are not being followed.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.