Measuring the cleaning that is being done and identifying opportunities for growth

I had a teacher in high school that wore many hats. He taught physics, advanced calculus, trigonometry, he coached both the lacrosse and the soccer teams, and he was also Dean of Students. It goes without saying that he was spread pretty thin. So in an effort to work smarter, he had come up with a foolproof method for giving and grading exams. At the conclusion of each exam, he placed the key in the back of the room and had the students grade their own tests. Magically, no one ever got lower than a C grade.

It’s not that the class was full of cheaters — I studied hard and was very honest when grading. However, some of my peers didn’t mind taking a mulligan on a couple of answers to get a more acceptable score.

I don’t necessarily condemn my teacher for taking this route, but rather I think it illustrates a point about self-evaluation. It’s human nature to want to think of ourselves in a positive light. How many people stretch the truth about their diet, exercise or hygiene, only to have their blood work, weight or exam results contradict?  
The professional cleaning industry really isn’t much different. It’s not uncommon for custodial operations to have detailed descriptions for how their programs should be run. How that performance is evaluated, however, has been a nebulous industry trend for years.

There are several methods to measure the way in which a cleaning operation is truly performing. The cleaning function is typically the biggest third of an overall facility budget, so it is a good idea to understand how yours stacks up against the other departments.

External auditing is by far the most thorough — and sometimes the most painful. It usually takes the form of hiring a third-party to evaluate your cleaning program. A good auditing program will evaluate your policies, HAZCOM program, daily custodial function, workload balance, training function, daily chemical and supply usage, customer satisfaction and quality program.

If you choose to go this route, be sure that your auditor provides a final report of areas for improvement, benchmarking with similar custodial operations, and a roadmap that contains recommendations for a continuous improvement program.

That being said, be wary of auditing programs that anyone offers to do for free, especially if that offer comes with a promise of discounted supplies and equipment. There are supply companies out there with good reputations, who perform this service for a charge, but if you’re getting it for free and no reporting that addresses the above factors, keep looking.

Internal auditing, on the other hand, can be great if you’re following a prescriptive approach. Most of the time, the audit criteria comes from different sources like peer benchmarking groups, trade associations or standards development groups — and are used by many different custodial operations.

The only drawback is your potential for subjectivity. This will be most successful when it is done by someone outside of the custodial operation, or someone who is higher up in the management structure. It’s even more useful if you’re using it to prepare for an external evaluation based upon the same criteria.

The most important factor to auditing is how an operation chooses to use the data from an evaluation. Ideally, it should be used to benchmark against other similar organizations. This is a very important step to ensuring that the custodial department maintains its stature in the eyes of its facility cleaning manager. Committing the department to doing a thorough evaluation annually is a commitment to continuously improving your custodial program. 

Ben Walker is the Director of Business Development for ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA’s best selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks.