I’ve heard that refrain many times from building managers over the years:

"I don’t understand why it’s so hard for you to get it right. We had two missed wastebaskets last night and office 1433 wasn’t locked after you cleaned. If you can’t get it right, we’re going to rebid."

OK. I understand. We’ll try to do better. We’re bringing in a new supervisor who we are sure will turn things around.

What is going on here? Cleaning isn’t brain surgery – so why is it so difficult?

Well…maybe cleaning isn’t brain surgery but it isn’t falling of a log either. In chaos theory, the more variables there are, the greater the tendency toward chaos. And there are many variables in cleaning — the layout of the rooms, the placement of the doors, the number of entries and exits.

I’d like that building manager to clean one area for just one night. It would transform her. I bet she couldn’t learn the route that night. I bet she couldn’t keep up with our employees. I bet I’d get complaints the next morning on the area she cleaned. I’m sure she wouldn’t do it for $6.50 an hour – and come to work after her day job.

Most of the workers in the building make more mistakes every day than our crew. Take our complaints as an example. Two trash cans and one door lock. It’s a 21-story building with more than 100 wastebaskets per floor. Last night’s efficiency report would be two errors out of 2,100 trash cans, or 99.9 percent; doors were 99.99 percent; everything else was perfect. That’s restrooms, entrances, vacuuming, dusting and projects. But I have to take this as a service lapse.

I went to an airport McDonalds the other day. This is a company that is highly rated as providing a consistent service and product, while using the same wage scale and employee base we do. I ordered the California Cobb salad with grilled chicken and a diet soda. It’s a pretty simple order: Put together a salad in a plastic container with a packet of salad dressing; put the drink in a cup with ice and cover. The next step: put the entire order in a special bag that advertises the salad. They had run out of the bag, so I had to wait. When I opened the salad, there was batter- dipped chicken rather than grilled. A nine-component order with two service defects. That’s 77 percent accuracy. We beat McDonalds.

People don’t realize what goes into cleaning. There are a number of variables that most people don’t consider. When you think of all of the wastebaskets, restrooms, restroom fixtures, paper receptacles, floors, carpets, entryways, stairs and glass, think of all the variables that are required to cleaning them properly. 99.9 percent doesn’t sound so bad when you add all those variables together and consider that they have to be completed in a regular shift.

Of course, I probably won’t be able to wave this article under the nose of the nice young building manager that we work for in the 21-story office building…but it would be fun.

John Walker is a veteran building service contractor; owner of ManageMen consulting services, Salt Lake City; and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.