The famous Major League Baseball Manager Casey Stengel once said, “The secret of managing is to keep the guys that hate you away from the guys that are undecided.” He probably meant it in jest, but it carries some truth.

Janitorial supervisors face many challenges while managing their operations. On any given day, a supervisor may be acting as a purchasing agent, frontline worker, hiring manager, trainer and, often, mediator.

Mediation is frequently required when the janitors who are “lifters” complain about the janitors who are “leaners,” or vice versa. It’s simply impossible to keep them apart. The challenge is how to maximize productivity when the supervisor has both lifters and leaners in his or her crew.

Lifters are employees a supervisor can usually count on. They may not be the most forthcoming with ideas and suggestions, but they have many positive attributes. The supervisor will know a lifter by the amount of work he or she does without complaint or prompting. The lifter will often recognize a task and tackle it before being assigned to do so. Lifters can be depended upon to diligently take care of regularly scheduled tasks, and they use their ingenuity to proactively accomplish tasks without specific instructions.

For example, the supervisor can tell a lifter the kitchen needs to be deep cleaned. A lifter will go get it done, but he’ll also be proactive and do things like find out if overhead filters have already been cleaned. If they have not, he will run them though the dish machine. He’ll inspect the grout and determine if it needs deep scrubbing — he’ll then do it. He’ll follow up by recommending a daily cleaner with enzymes or nonpathogenic bacteria to keep the grout clean. He’ll inspect the grease trap and suggest a monthly service to be added by the contractor. In addition to all of this, he’ll clean all the remaining surfaces in the kitchen. This is just one example of how lifters operate in the workplace.

Leaners, on the other hand, are those employees who call in sick more often. They may complain more than compliment. Of course, you also can count on a leaner to offer lots of advice and question just about everything. They cause the supervisor problems and generate the most complaints when they neglect customer focus areas — failing to inspect and refill dispensers, empty trash cans, and dust.

Leaners perform best when assigned regularly scheduled, repetitive tasks, such as daily dust mopping and scrubbing. Forget about assigning a leaner to go deep clean a kitchen.

Aside from assigning repetitive daily tasks, how can a supervisor gain more productivity from a leaner?

I’ve found success involving the leaners, along with the lifters, in a process to convert generic procedures into site-specific procedures. This can be done in a number of ways. The process will create tremendous benefits and may uncover some negative, even risky procedures that should be corrected. Another big benefit comes from both the leaners and lifters discussing the best procedure to accomplish tasks, then everyone agreeing and understanding the need to use one best procedure.

I’ve found this process is very educational, motivates lifters and, in many cases, turns leaners into lifters.

Skip Seal is a trainer and consultant with more than 30 years of management experience in the cleaning industry. He is a LEED Accredited Professional and a Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) ISSA Certification Expert (I.C.E.). Seal and his team offer support across the country with sales and operation analysis, new market penetration and sales training. He can be reached at