Conquering Unrealistic Expectations In Cleaning

The past two months have been somewhat of a blur for me. I’ve been living out of a suitcase, teaching classes, walking through cleaning operations during third shift, writing reports and eating off of the hotel’s late night menu. Last week, while I was exhausted and half way through my 11:00 p.m. club sandwich, I realized that I have set some pretty unrealistic expectations for myself — and that I need to do a better job of defining my capabilities.

Perhaps it was a moment of clarity, or better yet, enlightenment. Either way, it was a moment that reminded me of management challenges we face in the cleaning industry.

One issue I see, almost universally, when getting started with new clients is that many have ultimately become professional firefighters. They’re always running from one emergency to the next, sometimes working 10 to 12 hour days, which can come at the expense of managing their department.

Often times, the emergencies they’re responding to come from one or two frequent complainers in the building. These people have, intentionally or not, hijacked the custodial department. And the result is a very real and troublesome scenario.

My favorite example of this is the emergence of people whom I refer to as “the potato chip people.” They’re the ones who drop a potato chip under their desk or work area and start the countdown to see how fast the custodial crew can respond. After a week, they call you to complain.

If not dealt with in a quick and effective way, the potato chip people can end up unintentionally setting an unobtainable expectation for you and your custodians. Furthermore, the potato chip people may end up receiving special treatment from custodians, in an effort to appease the squeaky wheel.

I was actually called in as an outside consultant once because of a potato chip person. A department had, prior to this person joining the company, reduced their cleaning frequencies in personal work areas. Not knowing this, she tested the cleaning services and, finding it insufficient, filed countless complaints until they were heard by upper management. I was called in and labor hours increased because of process changes. In the end, the potato chip person caused an expensive headache that could have easily been avoided.

Most frequently, this happens when we fail to effectively communicate our role. Instead, we allow those outside of our department to set the cleaning expectation for us.

Overcoming this takes a little planning, coordination and gusto, but it is the first step to taking your cleaning program back. Develop a simple and clear communication plan to educate the facility and the occupants about the areas you clean and, more importantly, the tasks you perform.

I once worked with a client that would post an explanation of what occupants could expect in terms of custodial services each day. The message was displayed in common areas and was clear, concise and positive — void of language such as “Your mother doesn’t work here…” This simple act effectively educated occupants on what services the custodial team was budgeted to provide. And soon, occupant behavior changed from somewhat hostile to helpful.

The bottom line is, never underestimate the power of positively communicating the very important function that your department serves in the building — or the enlightenment that comes from the late night room service menu. 
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.