Direction road signs

Signage is important for new employees and visitors to any building, business or area.

Signage is important for new employees and visitors to any building, business or area.

Today’s challenge is to look inside and outside your organization at your signage. I’m guessing many of you would give yourself a low score, if you’re looking at your place of business as your customers do.

About a decade ago, I arrived at a new university as dean of the business school. While I wasn’t a customer per se, I sure did have a hard time finding different rooms in the business school building. Why? There had been a renovation and addition to the building immediately prior to my arrival. While each of the conference and team rooms, faculty and staff offices, and classrooms had been numbered, they had not put up a directory anywhere in the building. And there were no directional signs.

I’d been there about two weeks and asked my associate dean to take a walk with me. While this was a fairly large building with multiple entrances, I took him to the primary entrance. Standing there I said, “I’m a new student looking for the Management Department. How do I find it?” He had a befuddled look on his face as he, obviously, knew where to find the department. But I reminded him that people who hadn’t lived in the building for years would have a hard time. Once I mentioned there was no directory, he got it. We had directories at all the entrances within a week. And we put up directional signs, as well.

About a year later, I was walking across campus with the interim president, who had served the university for over 30 years. I asked him, “If you were new to campus and didn’t know where the business building was, how would you find it?” Again, he had that puzzled look on his face. As we got close to the business building, I pointed out that the only exterior signage was on the side of the building that faced a large green space. We then walked around the building. On the side fronting the street, there was no sign. I reminded him that he knew where all the buildings on campus where, but that we have to think about newbies and visitors. Within a month, we had a sign on the street-side of the building.

Lest you think that particular organization is the only one that forgets everyone doesn’t know where things are, just do some shopping. Good retailers have excellent signage. But I’ve been in many stores where you either waste a great deal of time looking for particular departments or items or have to ask.

We could go on and on. Visit airports, hospitals, elementary schools, universities, or office buildings and you’ll see what I mean. When we’ve worked at an organization for years, it becomes like our home, and we don’t see the issues that visitors might.

My business building at the University of Mary Washington had a previous purpose and was renovated for the business school. To some degree, it’s like a maze. The building numbering system made little sense and we didn’t have directional signs helping people navigate when we moved in. So within a couple of weeks, we created simple signs to help people find their way. It’s the little things sometimes, you know?

My challenge is for you to walk around your organization and pretend you’re seeing it for the first time. While there are many things you will probably notice that need to be addressed, for the purposes of this challenge, please focus on signage. Are important units in your building easy to find? If your building is large with many wings—an office building or hospital, say—can you easily find the restrooms?

Once you’ve identified any opportunities for improvement, I hope your next step will be to address them. Post a directory (and if you have one that’s outdated, update it). Put directional signs in your building. Your customers will thank you.

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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.