Throughout our lives, we are judged on our performance. From report cards in school to annual assessments by doctors or bosses, we are accustomed to hearing the good, the bad and the ugly about ourselves. While such honest evaluations are routine at an individual level, they are rarely applied to organizations as a whole.

Janitorial audits give housekeeping departments the opportunity to conduct wholesale reviews of their effectiveness. These third-party appraisals can be used to measure results in a specific area or for the entire operation.

“A well-performed audit will tell a manager exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are,” says Michael Lindsey, C.E.H., president of Cleanology 911 and Lindsey and Lindsey Consulting in Winston Salem, N.C. “The results can be used to improve quality, customer satisfaction, proficiency, productivity and budget performance.”

A thorough audit covers the whole nine yards. It evaluates human resources, training and safety programs, the budget, workloading and other staffing issues, and of course, quality and customer satisfaction. Basically, the results of an audit will identify to management the effectiveness of the cleaning department throughout the facility. It will also determine whether the custodial staff cleans in a safe and efficient manner.

Custodial managers need not worry, the process sounds scarier and more intrusive than it actually is. Nonetheless, most housekeeping departments do not include audits as a normal part of business.

“Out of 1,000 operations in the housekeeping industry, probably only one or two percent conduct regular or ongoing external audits,” says John Walker, president of ManageMen in Salt Lake City, Utah and founder of Janitor University. “Though it’s an emotional thing to have someone give you a steely-eyed view of what’s going on in your department, the best organizations have regular ongoing audits and use them to help manage the business.”

Outsider’s View
Industry experts emphasize that it is important to differentiate between an audit and a self-assessment. The latter is when a facility manager reviews himself/herself, as well as the department. The former is when an outside entity conducts the review independent of the manager.

It is similar to reviewing a tax return yourself or having the IRS do it for you — both are beneficial, but only the outsider’s view can truly be impartial and honest. This will result in the most beneficial results.

“It is extremely difficult to be objective and not defensive in auditing a department you are responsible for managing on a daily basis,” Lindsey says. “The best-case scenario is to have an outside source complete an audit. Managers should look at it as a tool to help them improve the areas that need improvement.”

There are several industry-specific auditors that can provide a housekeeping department a detailed report of what is successful and where there is room for improvement. Hiring a third-party assessor is a valuable exercise that can be used strictly as a business-improvement tool, or it can be part of a bigger goal, such as achieving ISSA’s new Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS).

To obtain CIMS certification, a housekeeping department must meet a strict set of criteria, which cover the same processes, procedures and documentation that are evaluated by most independent auditors. To prepare for certification, a housekeeping department can hire an ISSA-accredited assessor to uncover areas that must be improved to meet the CIMS criteria.

Regardless of the reason managers enlist the help of an auditor, the service comes at a price of around $6,000.

“I think it fits into most manager’s budgets,” says Bill Garland, president of Daniels Associates in Toronto. “We will help them find ways to improve. The cost of the assessment is paid for just in the knowledge we can give them while we are there.”

Without an audit, organizations may continue to unknowingly make mistakes that could prove costly. For example, improper chemical usage can not only ruin expensive finishes, but it could cause illness or even death to an employee or building occupant. You may be certain your program is 100 percent safe, but auditors say the proof is in the results.

“Ninety percent of organizations score less than 15 percent on our baseline audit. That means they are only doing 15 percent or less of what they should be doing,” Walker says. “Spending money on an audit has a tendency to force you to change.”

If hiring a third party to perform an audit is simply out of the budget, managers can attempt one themselves. Certification guidelines, such as ISSA’s standards for CIMS criteria, can be used as a guide. A compliance checklist is available at Just remember, though, that it is difficult — if not impossible — to conduct a truly honest self-evaluation. Bring others into the process (preferably department outsiders) and be willing to hear criticism without getting defensive.

Step By Step
Before signing on the dotted line with an auditor, it is important to get the buy-in from upper management, or even all the way up to the CEO. Their approval is needed not only because of the expense involved, but also to ensure the complete success of the project.

“We’ve found real change cannot happen at a custodial manager level because they are usually not empowered to make the changes needed,” Walker says. “If people at a far higher level aren’t willing to become involved, we recommend you don’t waste your money or time on an audit.”

Once you’ve made the commitment to hire an auditor, be prepared for some homework. The process typically begins with the assessor asking you to supply him with piles of paperwork, history, or effectiveness regarding your products and procedures, training and safety programs, Occupational Safety & Health Association (OSHA) compliance and more.

After the auditor has some time to review these materials, he/she will make an appointment to tour your facility. During the one- or two-day on-site visit, the auditor will perform random checks of your cleaning processes, including:
• Equipment: Are you using the most efficient tool for the task? Are your maintenance records accurate?
• Chemicals: Are the safest and most advanced products being used? Are material safety data sheets (MSDS) available and do employees know where to find them?
• Policies: Are your procedures up-to-date and understood by all employees?
• Training: Is the initial and continuing education adequate? How does it compare to the work actually being performed?
• Workloading: Is adequate staff in place to maintain the cleanliness goals of the facility?
• Compliance: Do you perform necessary background checks? Are you meeting all OSHA regulations, both in the paperwork you maintain and in your employees’ practices?

Auditors will also interview building occupants, owners and administrators to gauge their satisfaction with your work. Employees can also expect on-the-spot quizzes on cleaning procedures to make sure what is actually happening complies with written policies.

“They want to see if your cleaning standards have been distributed and the staff made aware of them,” says Steve Spencer, facility specialist for State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill. “If they stop an employee, he/she should be able to answer a question in the same way they’ve been trained.”

Revealing Results
Armed with paperwork, and after hours of on-site observation, the auditor will determine whether your processes are effective and efficient, or if there is room for improvement. He will then provide the housekeeping manager with a detailed report.

“It’s a really good report card on what cleaners are doing and how they can improve compared to their peers,” Garland says.

One of the most common — and most troubling — problems revealed by an audit is non-compliance with federal safety laws. While it is important to uncover staffing mishaps or low customer satisfaction numbers, nothing is as potentially costly as safety errors.

“I’ve never seen an organization that was in compliance with federal safety laws to the degree that when we finished with the audit they weren’t horrified,” Walker says. “When you feel that way, you take that information and turn it into a master plan to work your way out of the problems identified in the audit.”

Making improvements is the most critical piece of the auditing puzzle. Simply going through the motions of conducting an audit isn’t enough. Immediately following the auditor’s report, management should chart a course of action to make changes.

Six months to one year later, a follow-up audit should be completed to evaluate the results. To maintain ISSA’s CIMS certification, for example, organizations must complete updated assessments every two years.

“When someone tries to do this on their own, it tends to fall by the wayside and get lost in the shuffle,” says Bruce Stark of Stark Consulting Group in Loveland, Colo. “The labor pool and management changes, but you want to make sure you are in full compliance from year to year.”

Finding and fixing faults should be the number-one reason for conducing an audit. However, there are secondary benefits, particularly from a marketing standpoint. An excellent grade on an initial or follow-up audit is something to brag about, as is achieving ISSA’s CIMS certification.

“An audit gives an organization the ability to justify budgets, which are constantly being questioned, and to create an opportunity for efficiencies that the building owner or CEO is looking for,” says Dave Frank, president of American Institute for Cleaning Science in Highlands Ranch, Colo. “It also validates what the providers are doing and they can use it to enhance the image of their department. There is a financial benefit and a marketing purpose. Use it as a flag to wave proudly.”

With so many benefits, why do so few housekeeping managers use janitorial audits? Frequent excuses include a lack of time or budget, however, auditors believe the true reason is fear. Housekeeping managers don’t want to know the results of a comprehensive audit because it may highlight their weaknesses and expose their faults to management.

“If you don’t conduct audits because you are fearful upper management will find out you’re not performing, well I’m sorry, but they already know that,” Spencer says. “You have to be proactive. If you are a golfer and you want to get better, you have a pro evaluate your swing so you can improve it. If you are a housekeeping manager, you instigate an audit to see where you are.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa.