My toilet broke last week and this set me thinking about how best to cope with unforeseen circumstances and variable demand. A strange comment, so perhaps I should elaborate.

The electric shower in my en suite bathroom broke. It was still pumping out water, but only cold water so I gave it a miss.

On inspection of the receipt I discovered that the shower was only 12 years old. Things are not built to last nowadays but I suppose it had been used twice a day or around 8,500 times after allowing for holidays (not for the shower, but times away from home).

To have someone from the manufacturer come out and just take a look at the shower would cost £60. My friendly plumber will charge less than that to install a brand new one. He told me to buy a replacement at a local DIY superstore where it was a bargain at £80.

Back to the toilet. While the shower was broken it meant using another shower – the one the children use and complain about. So five of us, plus visitors, now find ourselves booking times to use the one “perfectly adequate” (my words) shower.

The alternative turns out to be pretty awful. Water trickles out slowly. Best not to use much shampoo as you can never wash it out. The debate over the shower ends after just two days. It too breaks down. The temperature control packs up so the water is boiling hot or freezing cold. So once again no shower.

Two showers down, but fortunately one to go. We have a mixer tap in the bathroom so still no need for smelly Bakers. This shower turns out pretty bad as well. Most of the water comes out of the tap even when the shower is on. Quite nice on the feet, though.

To the toilet again. With a family of five and three guests now down to using the one remaining shower in the bathroom, it means they also use the toilet in there. Now that toilet is the least favoured one in the house and, as if to prove a point, it breaks down on day three. A plastic component snaps through weight of usage. The toilet was also 12 years old.

Salvation is at hand. The plumber fits the new shower in our en suite tomorrow. He reckons he can mend the broken toilet at the same time. He will also quote for a new power shower to replace the shower usually used by the children.

We must buy a new shower for them as they will make life hell showering in our en suite. If you have a family you will be aware just how much the kids can wear you down when they unite in a cause.

So what is to be learned from this tale of woe?

When things start to go wrong, jump in quick and take action. Be realistic, don't hope for a miracle when you know it will never happen. You could just end up with a bigger problem to face.

When demand varies ensure you can cope – have a plan in case something goes wrong. Know where to go for help. Listen to others when they complain and investigate the complaint.

For toilets or showers read computers, staff training, handling complaints, retaining key staff or dealing with fluctuating business. Prepare your own disaster chain and see whether you can cope.

Remember that a crisis, unless controlled, may initiate an escalation of events with the real possibility of loss of control by management. This can result in careful scrutiny of an organisation that goes way beyond the crisis itself and can have far-reaching consequences for a business.

So think about it. What will you do if the toilets in your office suddenly break?

  • Tony Baker is a former deputy director general of the Association of British Insurers and now runs his own independent consultancy. He can be contacted on 01920 465000 or email:

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