Facility Cleaning Managers Benefit from Self-Assessments
It’s never easy admitting mistakes, showing weakness or flat out failing at something. But if a cleaning department doesn't have a strong program in place, success will be an uphill battle. To be successful, it’s imperative to establish a baseline for departments to build from.
At Cosumnes River Community College in Sacramento, California, that baseline was found after testing and implementing the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges program. This program is designed to create a benchmark for cleaning departments looking to improve their processes by making incremental, positive and measurable improvements.
It’s a great way to make sure the facility cleaning program is noteworthy for the right reasons.
Starting the program is simple. It takes only a couple of clicks to sign up, and you will be on track to begin. I won’t lie to you, though, there will be challenges when it comes to getting the program off the ground. The good news is, you're on the facilities side of things, so you are likely accustomed to managing multiple projects on a small budget and an even smaller staff.
Given how valuable our free time as managers can be, I found that incorporating this program helps make the most of what the department has, and it’s made a big difference. It offers a way to take control of your free time and start something that will have a lasting long-term impact on those you are in charge of caring for: the students, staff and, more importantly, your custodial team.
After getting signed up, you’ll want to start with a self-assessment. There are a couple ways to prepare for that. You can make sure all your ducks are in line before going through the standard, which might take time, but will give you a realistic baseline score. Or you can move ahead with the self-assessment using the information you have available, knowing there is a probability that some points will be left on the table and the final score might be a bit off.
These competing approaches are referred to as the avalanche and snowball methods, respectively. In the first approach (avalanche), you did all your work and you have a reliable score. You can plant your flag and announce that score.
Using the second method (snowball), you might not have all the details in place, but you start with taking the assessment to see how you score. You grab the initial low-hanging fruit and easy successes to help you and your team make the program capable and build on that as time goes on.
When I signed Cosumnes River Community College up, I already had a good idea of the program details, as well as our strengths and weaknesses that needed to be addressed. The assessment evaluated everything from analyzing the products being used and the custodial staff to getting the program going in the direction I wanted it to go. It included questions such as: Do you perform indoor air quality and lead testing; or are any of the following ingredients part of the hand soap in the restroom? If I didn’t know the answer — which was the case for many questions — I simply chose “I don’t know.”
At the conclusion of the evaluation, I had scored in the high 30s: not very good. I realized that there was still much to learn about my department and these questions were a good place to start, regardless of whether or not I was going after the certification. I chose to act on what I have to improve and used the program to help make progress. I also learned that patience is something to embrace when making changes to long-standing practices.
Changing the Culture
After completing the self-assessment, you’ll receive a written report on where your program falls. It’s a great way to identify if the program is strong, weak or just not working. As the manager, you can make appropriate adjustments from there.
Of course, not everyone is going to be on board. I’ve found that those who want everything to be perfect before changes are made are often the same people who prevent those changes from ever happening. The good news is, there is no limit on how many times you can take the self-assessment and adjusting the baseline it provides can be your tool to working with these individuals as you progress toward improving the program.
Another benefit to building a cleaning program around the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges certification is that once it’s fully adopted, maintenance is simple. The key is identifying the right point person to manage the program. Once they are in place, the program you’ve spent years building will grow and thrive. In fact, once you get past the technical issue of indoor air quality and lead testing for consumable water, you’ll start to see a change in the department’s culture and, hopefully, the facility overall.
I believe this positive culture change is a key strength of the program — a strong culture changes people, and people change weak cultures. In this case, adopting this standard won’t change you or the personalities of your employees, but it will change the standard operating procedures of the department, which hopefully line up with desired outcomes set by campus leadership or school district officials.
Facility leadership in the arena of change is not for the faint of heart, but managers cannot be afraid to lead or set a course toward sustainable cleaning practices such as those outlined in this program. You will encounter failures, but you’ll also experience successes. Regardless of your path, it’s important to take things slow.
If you face a hurdle or fear failure, the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges program offers support. The program is set up of a large network of cleaning professionals who have gone through the same steps and likely faced similar challenges. These individuals are always available to offer advice, so be courageous and explore change that will improve the health of those within your care. This kind of effort brings with it amazing opportunities.
Speaking of opportunities, I realized a big one after taking the self-assessment for my site. I discovered that we didn’t provide our training materials for the frontline custodial staff in the employee’s preferred language. This was something I had never considered before the standard came out and I saw our results. In fact, converting the standard training documents from English to Spanish, Mandarin, or any foreign language is so surprisingly easy that it was embarrassing that we never thought of doing it.
This brought me back to high school English class, where we were reading William Shakespeare's Henry V. I was struggling with the language used so my mother brought me to the bookstore where we found a book that offered the original text on the left page and translations to modern English on the right. The slight rush I felt when it all made sense feels fresh in my mind even 35 years later. I assume the same would be true of the staff if we offered training materials in languages they could understand.
This realization had me contemplating productivity. How many missed opportunities did we steer clear of because of a language barrier? Could that hardworking employee who speaks English as their second or third language been even more productive if we took the time to convert training information into Spanish? Perhaps, offering both languages is the best option.
For example, I had one employee years ago for whom I was trying to learn how to say words in his language. He told me he didn't mind teaching me how to say things in Spanish, but he needed to know how to speak in English more than I needed to speak Spanish. I thought it was a fair point, but I still think back to how bright he was and how much more he could've contributed if he had both options available at the time.
Remember, what we do isn't all about cleaning. It's about building connections between those we clean for and those that do the cleaning. We must provide both groups with a better understanding of the services we provide and the standards we need to achieve. Being healthy is always the first step in getting there.
Christopher Raines is the Director of Administrative Services at Cosumnes River Community College in Sacramento, California. He has spent the last 20 years in custodial/facilities maintenance, 16 of those in a leadership role. Chris currently oversees 23 buildings covering over 1 million square feet. He prioritizes green cleaning initiatives at Cosumnes River College and has a goal of helping the other two colleges inside Los Rios Community College District adopt sustainable cleaning practices.