Loo’s, trains and board games

train toiletI think one of the most common mistakes people make when they put in new measures into any business is underestimating the intelligence of the people they are measuring. I saw a strange example of this in the papers a few weeks ago, regarding the refit of trains for Southern Railway. They have decided to not have toilets on the new trains (bizarrely defending their position by saying the 66% of their trains will still have loos – if I’m on a train with a 5 year old who needs a pee – the train either 100% does or 100% does not have a toilet!). This seems like a strange decision, until you look at the justification. They talk about increased capacity (makes sense: more fares for no extra rolling stock or operating costs) but there’s also the reliability measures, a loo that goes wrong can take a train out of service and of course removing the loo means that maintenance and cleaning costs go down. So some pretty sensible measures – fare revenue, capacity, reliability and maintenance costs have resulted in a decision that seems totally nuts.

How does this happen? People are great a playing games. I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense. It’s no accident that people love playing chess, Modern Warfare 2 and the rest. People are very, very good at taking a set of rules and making sure they get the outcome that is personally important to them. There’s a whole organisational behaviour dimension to this, and I’m not even going to touch that – but it’s worth thinking about the implied rules that you impose when you start to put measures, KPIs and targets into a business.

It might just be better to look at this as if you were writing the rule book for a new board game.




  1. Neil Smith says:

    If you are in a monopoly situation with nominally 100% capacity utilisation and an incomplete set of KPIs then everything would drive you to remove the toilets. In the 21st century no-one builds a house with an outside loo or a hotel room with a shared toilet bacause no-one would buy such a thing. Unfortunately on the railway there is no choice for customers to vote with his/her er.. feet. This is where a senior manager or Director at Southern Rail should have said we don’t have to provide a toilet but we will because we have certain values – your rules! But if I was being really cynical maybe they don’t want children, people of advanced age, etc. etc. travelling on their busy trains!

Speak Your Mind