Over the past several months, my office has had a number of phone calls from cleaning-industry organizations in a hurry to improve their operations and deliver a better product to their customers. The free information we have been giving out has been to encourage operations to benchmark best practices with their organization. Benchmarking best practices is a powerful way for an organization to compare its successes, achievements and problem areas with other cleaning programs.

There are two ways of learning: the easy way or the hard way. The hard way, or “college of hard knocks,” is where most of us have studied at some point. This is costly because we are forced to learn from mistakes. Learning new procedures and adapting to them with minimal mistakes is better for your organization.

Most organizations don’t have any serious attempts to benchmark best practices; they usually just go by their own internal evaluations. This leads to making incremental improvements based on data-free discussions, and can be vendor- and product-driven. The problem with self-benchmarking is that it is very easy to be blinded by what is going on in the organization and not able to see the broader business landscape.

The organizations that I have seen benchmarking best practices all seem follow three specific sets of rules. These organizations have actually been able to improve their programs in a measurable way by benchmarking best practices with each other.

Rule No. 1: Compare your company with similar operations. Try to find other organizations that use the same tools, have similar schedules, similar types of customers and similar types of problems. However, don’t be myopic. I’ve found that many operations resist comparing their practices with anything that seems too different. This is a real mistake because these companies can learn a lot from others that are different, but employ many of the same practices.

Rule No. 2: Make field trips to organizations that you are benchmarking with. It is a lot more valuable to physically see how these organizations have set up their system. There are two ways of visiting a site. One is a physical visit; the other is having a virtual forum or symposium. A forum is a lot more useful, because it allows multiple organizations to compare notes, present data and benchmark these findings with each other.

Rule No.3: Have an outside third-party referee that evaluates each organization. Most organizations like to do self-evaluation. If you don’t have someone from outside evaluate what and how you’re doing, you’ll fall into self-congratulation.

Benchmarking best practices is an effective way for contractors to make improvements in their organization. Improvement does not come from the inside alone. We have to get outside of our own world and take a good hard look at what others are doing successfully and how we can adopt that into our own system.