Identifying weaknesses within the department and developing a roadmap for success

Last year, I took a bad spill while skiing. I turned a little too clumsily and down I went, suffering from a tibial plateau fracture and a broken fibula. It required surgery, a couple of months out of the office and a lot of physical therapy.

On the first day of physical therapy, my therapist sat down and said, “Okay, let’s take a look at your bad walking and running habits so I can teach you new, good ones.”

Over the next six weeks, I came to understand that my walking and running style had slowly contributed to weaknesses in my knee — weaknesses that may have contributed to my injury, and would likely continue to do so if not remedied.

Physical therapy not only improved my walking and running style, it gave me interesting career insight. As a consultant in the cleaning industry, I’ve learned that many operations — large, medium or small — are unaware of their bad habits and practices that have gone unnoticed for years.

In my experience, most custodial managers and directors fall into three categories:
  1. They have no time to manage their department the way they would like to because they only have time to handle customer complaints.

  2. They have some form of management structure that is great on paper, but it’s not being followed in practice.

  3. They inherited the department from a long line of predecessors — with no update to the custodial operation.

These are challenging situations, but pulling a department out of the rut doesn’t have to be difficult.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive when working with a new operation is, “How do we know where to start?” The best and easiest place is the custodial closet. Take a stroll through your buildings and instead of doing a white glove test, do an archeological dig of your cleaning operation. It seems simple, but trust me, it can be unbelievably insightful. Arm yourself with a camera and document the evidence.

Take a look at the bottles of chemicals and their labels. Are they consistent with how you’ve trained your workers and supervisors to handle and label them? Examine the vacuum filters and plugs. Are they being maintained in a manner consistent with safety and cleaning protocols? Ask one of your workers if they know where to find the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the chemical they are using. If they were your child, sibling or other family member, would you be comfortable with their understanding of safety, based upon their answer?

I feel fairly confident in saying that 90 percent of the management teams that have endured this simple exercise are typically surprised by the results. Most of the time they have a moment of clarity when they realize that the long term repetition of bad habits have left their cleaning workers to fend for themselves. Using the data from this exercise can help managers develop a roadmap for improvement.

Much like diagnosing my knee, managers should take a fresh approach when truly evaluating the performance of their custodial department. This, like surgery, is often a painful task. However, the repair and restorative therapy can make a department much more stable and strong. 
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.”