Where is Your Angélica Principle?



The initiative was a good one. Paper recycling. Everyone in the office typically threw their paper in the common dumpster. Well, the office employees didn’t actively throw the paper in the dumpster, it’s just that without a formal recycling program (conception, awareness, signage, bins, constant reminders, etc…), that was the default mode of operation. The cleaners came after hours and all garbage went to the same place.


If not recycling paper is a sin, then this was a sin of omission. No one was promoting a paper non-recycling program. But without a recycling process for the office – a plan of action – the reality was that paper didn’t have a chance of being recycled.


Then an employee took on paper recycling leadership. Emails went out. Cardboard bins appeared all over. These bins were labeled very visibly and appropriately “Paper Recycling.” Marketing lent a hand with emails of crying Native American Indians. Jack Johnson’s “Reduce Reuse Recycle” pop ditty from The Curious Monkey Movie was played every day.



Things started to change. The paper recycling bins were overflowing. Paperless Office? Not bloody likely.  Shocked at the amount of paper discarded daily, employees starting using less paper. Not much less, but not more.


Motivational stats were made up and emailed to the office, “Thanks to your efforts, we have now saved the equivalent of 4.82 Amazonian Rain Forest Hectares.”


Employees were happy. The small individual efforts of a team produced meaningful results. This was nice.


A year or so after the Paper Program began, I found myself working late. This is when I learned The Angélica Principle.  The Angélica Principle states this: The effectiveness of any initiative involving more than 1 person rests upon effective communication through the entire process of the initiative. 


Essentially a communicative version of The Weakest Link paradigm; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is, a failure to communicate clearly at any point in the chain of command can ruin an initiative.


Angélica was a member of the janitorial staff. She was a petite Latina who grew up outside of Mexico City. She was a mother of two young children and worked two jobs. From 8 am – 5 pm she worked as a kindergarten teacher. From 6 pm – 1 am she cleaned our office building.


We chatted when our paths crossed. Angélica didn’t speak English. And as I found out, she didn’t read much English either. At least not the English on the Paper Recycling cardboard bins.


That evening we chatted while she went cube to cube, dumping the small garbage cans into her one large garbage can. The professional large garbage can, with casters on the bottom and holsters on the side to hold Windex and the like.


My eyes grew wide when she took the Paper Recycling bins filled with 8.5 x 11 ivory white paper and dumped it into her mini-dumpster on wheels.


Whoa! I informed her of the Paper Recycling program, the crying Indian, and Jack Johnson and his monkey. I informed her of the Amazonian hectares and everything else. I slowly mentioned… how… long… we’ve… been… doing… this.



This was all news to Angélica.


Nobody told her. “What about your boss – can you check with him?” I asked.


Nope. Nobody told him either. Angélica informed me her boss didn’t speak English either. Maybe that was the issue?


Maybe. Maybe not.


So… can you recycle the paper?” I asked. “Starting now?


Sí. Claro. 


Every other floor has a recycling program.” she said. “We can do what they do. Easy.



The Angélica Principle applies to situations without the English-Spanish language barriers too. When it’s all said and done (or not) – it’s just Communication. It may be good, it may be bad, it may be non-existant… but it’s all Communication.



Do have any Angélica Principle scenarios?


Do you have any initiatives underway that deserve a second look with The Angélica Principle in mind?




Bradley Hartmann is founder and el presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a Spanish language training firm focused on the construction industry. 

Categories: Jobsite Leadership

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