Ben Walker

I recently had an experience with the word "strategy" during a Zoom meeting. Like many of you, now is the time of year where we review the past 12 months, what we learned, what we missed and how we can improve. As we ticked through events of 2020 — outbreaks, supply shortages, short staffing, reopening and even re-closing — one of the participants on the call repeatedly asked, "What's our strategy for 2021?" As the discussion moved to event planning, the question came up again, "What's our strategy?" I finally decided to chime in and ask why he kept asking that question.

"Do you know what strategy is?" he asked. "Of course," I said. I clumsily blubbered through what I thought was an articulate answer before my colleague interrupted me and continued. He explained that, "Most of the time, when people discuss strategy, they're actually talking about tactics."

In an "aha" moment for everyone on the call, the discussion completely shifted focus. We retooled our conversation around this idea of defining strategy as an overarching goal and not merely action items. It was a productive exercise, and it sent me down an information rabbit hole on the concept of defining strategy. What I found was so useful; I had to share it.

Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor Of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University in Montreal, has significantly contributed to understanding organizational management. He developed the "Five P's of Strategy," which has been a foundational approach to developing successful strategies for many operations.

Here's a quick breakdown of the five P's and how they may relate to a cleaning operation:

1. Plan: As managers, we spend a lot of time planning, which usually takes the shape of loose brainstorming, mind-mapping or SWOT analysis. Planning on its own, however, is ineffective when poorly executed. Execution needs to consider, but doesn't necessarily require, the remaining P's.

2. Ploy: Who are your detractors and competitors? In my experience, your most significant threats are contract cleaning companies, but it may be more subtle in your operation. Frequent complainers and internal saboteurs can be just as troublesome. Regardless, your strategy should have a ploy component that identifies and plans for the opposition.

3. Pattern: What patterns are currently thriving in your operation? What's predictable and repeatable? Most cleaning operations that I've worked with have a terrific management structure, but lack repeatable daily cleaning outcomes. What can your organization deliver daily? Cleaning is a process, and sound processes create predictable results.

4. Position: What does your cleaning operation do that is different and unique from other departments? What do you do well? What do you wish everyone in the building understood about what you do? What's unique about the facilities you clean and the daily challenges you face?

5. Perspective: This encompasses the mindset of your operation. Put another way, what is your cleaning operation's personality? What's the collective thought process? Are your crews willing to try new things or are they set in their ways? Tailor your action plan accordingly.

Strategy can be defined as a plan of action designed to achieve a major goal. Having a plan is a good start, but incorporating the five P's can help you overcome major execution hurdles. In a global pandemic that has thrown our operations out of sync, we must consider changing and adjusting our strategies for daily cleaning.

Ben Walker is COO at 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. He can be reached at