Keith Webb
Executive Director of Plant Services
Newport News Public Schools
Newport News, Virginia

Part of what makes Disneyland “the happiest place on earth” is its customer-centric vision — one that Keith Webb strives for as executive director of plant services at Newport News Public Schools, Virginia’s ninth largest school division.

Based on the Disney Institute’s protocols for exemplary customer service, Webb implemented a program at Newport News focusing on the importance of customer service and personal interaction skills.

“Disneyland is all about the customer,” says Webb. “We may not be in the same business, but some of what makes Disney a wonderful experience is translatable to people’s experiences in their workplace.”
Over an eight-month period, Webb and a team of maintenance and custodial workers took a good look at their processes, focusing on where they excelled, where they fell short and how they could improve. Webb and his custodial staff discussed the importance of being customer service oriented, in addition to being cleaning oriented.

“You can’t always be invisible, so when you’re not, you have to have your game on,” says Webb. “If you’re busy and someone comes up and asks for directions, just because you’re not a tour guide for the building doesn’t mean you can’t stop and pleasantly tell that person how to get to the main office. You have to pay attention to how you interact with other people.”

To advance training opportunities and promote professionalism among staff, Webb worked with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry to institute a two-year apprenticeship program sanctioned by the state. Currently, 15 people are enrolled in the program and are finishing up their first year. Webb also implemented Cleaning Management Institute’s standardized cleaning program and ensured that all lead custodians completed both basic and advanced training levels.

“Keith is always finding ways to improve the department,” says Marcella Bullock, custodial supervisor. “We work side by side, and it has been a pleasure. Keith really cares about the custodians. I’ve been in the school system for 35 years, and very few people I’ve known have paid that much attention to what a facility does, and looked to work together to improve on the custodial department.”

As a result of Webb’s training initiatives, the department has been able to promote from within for the majority of the leadership positions.

“If you can keep the folks that are currently working for you, train them and provide advancement opportunities, then everybody wins,” says Webb. “I get a better workforce. I get a happier workforce. And everybody makes more money.”

Employees that complete the apprenticeship program receive a 3.5 percent wage increase at the end of the first year and another 3.5 percent increase the second year. Employees that complete the certification course also receive a bonus.

In addition to training his staff, Webb has focused on updating old equipment, such as rag mops and bag-style vacuums, and introduced newer technologies such as ionized water, touchless restroom cleaning and ATP testing. In the process, the department’s mindset changed from cleaning for appearances to cleaning for health.

“Once we got the new equipment and technology, we were able to go from four or five chemicals to just two chemicals,” notes Bullock. “We weren’t looking for a green program; it almost happened by accident. Now people are more conscious about what they do, and we’ve eliminated some of the things that kids are allergic to.”

In 2013, Newport News Public Schools won the Healthy School Campaign grand award for Best Green Cleaning Practices in the K-12 division. The department has also won a silver and gold level Go Green Award from the Virginia School Board Association.

Webb’s enthusiasm and hard work have also led to considerable cost savings. Since implementing new technology and training programs, the department has seen the cost to clean decrease by 25 to 30 cents per square foot — a significant number when you’re responsible for cleaning 4.6 million square feet, notes Webb. But more importantly, Newport News Public Schools has a professional, self-motivated custodial team that takes pride in their work and excels at serving the customer.

To nominate a deserving manager for the 2016 award, click here.

The nomination submitted by Marcella Bullock at Newport News Public School:
Keith is always looking out for ways to improve our department. He knows that the people doing the work are the ones responsible for the success through their efforts; his leadership style is to build people's self-worth and pointing out importance to the overall job. Teamwork is stressed.

Keith was responsible for creating a comprehensive training program that not only addressed the "how do we clean" but also addressed customer service and personal interaction skills. Working with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, an apprenticeship program is now in place to provide a state sanctioned certificate of completion with a designation of journey workers for the custodians that complete the two-year course.

As part of the customer service and personal interaction aspects, we have started and maintained a program based on the Disney Institute's protocols for exemplary customer service and personnel development and recognition. This has been improved departmental morale and customer satisfaction.

As a result of our training initiatives we have been able to promote from within for almost every leadership position. Career ladders have become established so that someone joining us knows how they can advance in their career with us.

Since taking over in 2007, Keith has moved the cleaning capability of the department to be nationally recognized. Despite reductions in staffing, funding for equipment has risen and we are currently using some of the newest technology in the industry - a huge change from rag mops and bag style vacuums. Green cleaning is our norm.

Professionalism has been promoted not only through our training but by NNPS-logo attire, which is owned by employees and worn by all levels of departmental staff, from Executive level down.  Participation by custodians in the Virginia School Plant Managers's Association has been supported awards for cleanest schools and training accomplishments are recognized at annual meetings which include the superintendent and school board members participating. Recognition is also given at School Board meetings, which are televised.

It is for these reasons. I believe Keith should be considered as a "Manager of Distinction."

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