The biggest challenge for in-house departments is labor. The cleaning industry has always been plagued by a “low-pay, low-reward” perception. However, the majority of departments pay employees above minimum wage. And still, cleaning is not seen as glamorous work or as a viable career path often resulting in increased turnover.

Although there aren’t documented statistics for in-house departmental turnovers, the average building service contractor suffers an annual turnover rate of 75 percent, with some experiencing rates as high as 400 percent. When the average cost of replacing a

worker gets as high as $1,500, these turnover statistics can severely impact or cripple even the strongest cleaning department.

That said, employee retention programs, replacement planning and succession planning are essential to the success of a cleaning program. Departments — regardless of the turnover statistics — would benefit from programs that promote these three strategies. But, planning must begin immediately.

“Managers should start planning for the future of their department the very first day they start,” says John Vogelsang, director of facilities services at Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Ill. “This is an ongoing process and it is important to have programs in place that help drive the success of the department.”

Planning For The Future

Managers must develop their workforce for the future, including implementing a plan to address succession of current workers as they leave the workforce due to retirement, attrition and other factors.

As the saying goes, “The department was here before me and it will continue to go on once I leave.” But, a mindful manager will want to leave the department in good hands so it will continue to thrive as it did while they were overseeing it. This is where a succession plan comes into play.

“You have to plan for success,” says Vogelsang. “If you care about the program, you are going to do what you need to do to make sure it continues to thrive after you leave.”

In years past, succession planning has only focused on top management and various leadership positions. Today, this is no longer the case. Planning for the future of the department means starting from the ground up. Establish a process for recruitment, work with those employees to develop skill sets that will prepare them for advancement into management positions, and do this while encouraging retention.

Guaranteeing a successful succession plan will result in employees who are prepared for leadership if and when an opening is available. Investing in and educating employees will also demonstrate that there are opportunities within the department and has been known to encourage retention.

Understanding The Difference

Employee retention programs can come in a variety of forms. Whether it is proper training, incentive programs or providing a good working environment, these programs are in place to keep workers satisfied within the department and encourage them to remain on staff.

Managers should communicate with the staff that the goals of the department are to create a successful program. Encourage staff members at all levels of the cleaning team to become involved in the growth of the business. This requires employee relations and communication from upper management, but can pay off with employee retention.

Programs such as these also give front-line workers the opportunity to shine and managers the chance to take notice. Employees who step up to the plate and demonstrate leadership potential might then be targeted by management for advancement opportunities.

“If I recognize someone as a good leader,” says Vogelsang, “that is one step closer to the top. I can then encourage that worker to progress through the ranks.”

Regardless of the retention programs or advancement opportunities, though, life is going to throw unexpected twists and turns and employees are going to leave. It may be for another job, outside advancement opportunities, injury or retirement. Inevitably, though, managers will have to replace workers from time to time, which is why it is beneficial to have a plan in place.

Replacement planning, according to Robert Wendover, director of The Center for Generational Studies in Aurora, Colo., is the process whereby an organization identifies an individual to fill an expected or unexpected vacancy at any position within the organization.

“This is an ongoing process,” he adds. “You have to make sure you have a list of available and experienced people in place in the unexpected absence of an employee and make sure that position and the corresponding responsibilities are covered.”

Many organizations lack such a list, or only have policies in place for instances when members of upper management leave the organization. Few are prepared when someone on the employee level needs replacing. It is in these situations where managers would benefit from a replacement plan.

Succession planning, on the other hand, is a bit more extensive than recruiting and retention. Succession planning is the process of identifying and preparing suitable employees through mentoring, training and job rotation to replace employees who are retiring or for the specific purpose of ensuring leadership continuity at all supervisory levels. Beyond the front-line worker, succession planning primarily targets management positions.

In fact, a succession plan is much more broad than retention or replacement programs. The succession plan prepares departments for the future through training programs and professional development.

With a successful succession plan in place, employees will be prepared for new leadership roles as the need arises. If someone leaves the organization, these individuals are prepared to take over those responsibilities and assume the new role.

“Succession planning is focusing on individuals who are taking over leadership positions,” says Wendover. “Mentoring, the buddy system and various similar-type programs can educate employees to potentially become management.”

If a department is built around the manager and that manager leaves, the department will inevitably suffer. But, if that manager had recruited and retained a talented workforce, and implemented a successful succession plan, the department would continue to thrive after his departure. In fact, qualified candidates would be prepared to step up to the plate.

“I can’t take a person an make them a good leader,” says Vogelsang. “I think leaders are born because you need to be a certain type of person. Management requires a certain skill set and an effective succession plan will identify those individuals who meet the need of management.”

Five Steps To Succession Planning


The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has developed a five-step planning model to assist companies in the development of a succession plan. The model was created to serve as a useful starting point for understanding the elements involved in the planning process.

1. Set Strategic Direction — In other words, develop a plan that meets the needs of the department and facility as a whole. Identify the technical skills, adaptation to change, learning progression and maturity levels required for advancement. What skills must employees have as they advance into management positions?

“I want to know that when I walk out that door, this program is left better than when I found it and it is going to go on strong,” says John Vogelsang, director of facilities at Illinois Central College, East Peoria, Ill. “My succession plan will target individuals that will make this a reality.”

2. Analyze Workforce, Identify Skill Gaps and Conduct Workforce Analysis — Managers must analyze the existing workforce to determine its potential and how it might change over time, increase in responsibility/type of work or changes in the overall facility mission. Observe the workforce for leaders.

“Who do the workers turn to for help and why?” asks Robert Wendover, director of The Center for Generational Studies, Aurora, Colo. “Look for someone who demands respect from their coworkers, is responsible and shows leadership skills. That is the person managers should pay attention to.”

3. Develop an Action Plan — Put together programs that target recruitment, training/retaining, restructuring, contracting out, facility changes, technology updates, etc. Develop a communication plan that keeps existing management in touch with future potential candidates.

4. Implement Action Plan — Identify the recruitment strategies and develop budgetary needs to begin implementation. This includes programs such as mentoring, technical training, formal education, cross training, to name a few.

5. Monitor, Evaluate, Revise — Measure the candidates progress against milestones, assessing for continuous improvement purposes and adjust the program to make corrections and address new workforce issues.

“Don’t measure the strength of succession planning on the basis of individual replacements,” says Wendover. “Measure the overall bench strength across the organization.”

— Corinne Zudonyi