Ben Walker

There's a noticeable shifting demographic in cleaning leadership. By and large, I'm finding the new cleaning manager comes with an excellent managerial background, usually from other sectors. Their experience runs the gamut from former military, human resources, hotel and casino management, public service, engineering and more. But they often ask, "What makes up the best custodial managers?" Here are my thoughts.

The best custodial managers understand that managing cleaning means managing safety. Cleaning work can be hazardous. It is among the highest injured working demographic in the country. Prioritizing a culture of safety in your department includes understanding ergonomics, simplifying work assignments, encouraging the reporting of near misses (and good catches), and enabling worker feedback on potential hazards. In my experience, the safest cleaning operations are also usually among the best, which leads to my next point.

The best custodial managers benchmark best practices. Who has the best cleaning operation in terms of safety, efficiency, training, budget planning, change management, etc.? How did they get there? Networking.

Networking is an opportunity to examine factors in other operations to compare and improve yours. It creates a safe space where you can see how others may be doing things better — and then apply their situation to your own experience. These opportunities not only help you institute meaningful change but also see it through.

The best custodial managers aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. Went to law school? Business school? Congratulations, you're a janitor now. Chances are you're going to have to put on a backpack vacuum, run an autoscrubber, haul trash or clean a restroom at some point. Don't know how to do it? Ask one of your veterans to teach you. It's a great way to gain a critical perspective on the daily rigors of cleaning.

The best custodial managers treat their crews like professionals. Take a look at your carts, your equipment, uniforms, signage, break areas and storage spaces. Is equipment broken or duct taped together? Do you cringe when you see the cleaning tools and equipment? If that's the case, your crews probably do, too — and if your teams do, patrons aren't far behind.

The best custodial managers use the phrase "let's go see" often. This new tool doesn't work? "Let's go see." The custodian hasn't picked up this Cheeto from under my desk in a week. "Let's go see." This restroom is always filthy. "Let's go see."

This isn't because the best managers are also annoyingly cynical. It's because the best managers know that if they don't go see for themselves, they may end up spending a lot of time validating human error and misunderstanding.

The best custodial managers show up. This can be participating in 5:00 a.m. training with the crew, waiting for them at checkout time to thank them for a job well done, or even showing up to help clean during a shift if a crew member calls out sick.

Finally, the best custodial managers are never finished and always look for ways to improve. Whether it's keeping the team engaged, fine-tuning processes or performing micro-experiments with different tools, the best managers are always looking to avoid homeostasis in their operations.

These are the seven characteristics I usually encounter in high-performing cleaning managers. If you're looking for some new tools, these are my suggestions for a starting point.

Ben Walker is COO at ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. He can be reached at