leadership concept

This is the fifth of a six-part series on the five key pillars that will drive significant, long-term improvement and enable cleaning operations to meet higher client expectations while providing the highest levels of clean, safe, healthy at the lowest overall cost. 

Nothing is more vital to any cleaning operation than its people. The quality of your people—custodians, supervisors, managers, and leaders—is critical and only grows in importance over time. Having the right people in the correct positions is one of the few true ways to differentiate your operation. Having the right people is essential to providing consistently high levels of clean, healthy, and safe at the lowest overall cost. The right people are critical to providing exemplary customer service and experience and, therefore, the sustainability and growth of your cleaning operation. This is why hiring, training, and retaining top people matters above all else.

On average, supplies and equipment account for only 10 percent to 20 percent of a cleaning operation's total costs. The other 80 percent to 90 percent is the cost of people. This includes recruiting, hiring, training and retraining, wages, benefits, pension plans, work restrictions, sick pay, turnover, and unexpected absences—to name but a few! 

Now consider: As of March 28, 2023, the average custodian salary in the United States is $33,600, while 90 percent make $43,725. Of course, salary ranges can vary widely depending on a hire's education, certifications, additional skills, years of experience, and geographical region. Based on these figures, let's assume a salary of $40,000. If this employee is on the payroll for 30 years, this adds up to $1.2 million—plus benefits! For a five-star employee, the payoff over the years is more than worth it in terms of cleaning quality, client satisfaction and retention, and team cohesiveness. However, that is a lot of wasted money for a subpar employee! 

The cost of keeping a subpar employee becomes far greater than a paycheck when one considers deficient workers' negative impact on quality cleaning results, do-overs, poor client satisfaction, lost customers, and poor team morale. When most facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) multiply this expense by the number of less-than-stellar employees on their payroll, they realize an unimaginable cost.

The only way to eliminate having subpar employees is to stop hiring the wrong people for the wrong reasons and hire smarter. For many facility managers and BSCs, this means taking a hard, objective look at their current hiring practices.

Hiring Smarter

The key to hiring the best people is to hire for attitude over skill set and experience. This means the right mindset for your company's stated True North—its vision, mission, core values, and guiding principles—and an attitude that fits the team. No one should be hired or retained without this alignment.  

Frontline Workers

Keeping this alignment with the company firmly in mind, let's look at traits to look for when hiring, starting with frontline workers.

Some examples of essential characteristics for custodians and frontline cleaning technicians include:

·       The ability and desire to learn

·       Personable 

·       Willingness to accept and seek input on ways to improve 

·       Proven track record of being dependable, reliable, and punctual

·       Grooms and dresses for the position.

It is advisable to proceed with caution if a potential candidate:

·       Has a history of being let go from past employers (Always check past employment references!)

·       Voluntarily speaks poorly of past employers  

·       Is unable to provide a resumé or past work history unless very young

·       Can't or won't provide non-relative character references.

Never hire someone who:

·       Is not as good—or lacks the potential to be as good—as your best person in that position

·       Knows it all and is unreceptive to change, as this is a trait that won't change

While determining some of the above traits can require observation over time, such as a formal or informal probationary period, it is crucial to remain vigilant and not wait until it is difficult, or in the case of a union impossible, to remove them. If a hiring mistake is found to have been made, it is important to correct it asap. Letting someone go does not get easier over time and only makes the situation harder for all parties. 

Managers vs. Leaders

The other key "people" area that generates a significant return on investment (ROI) is having the right leadership, which is more than just good managers. Great leaders create an environment that enables employees to be effective, efficient, motivated, and empowered to produce consistent operational excellence. They set a clear, compelling vision and strategy that is understood and engages their entire team. Many cleaning operations have good, even great, managers, but not all have competent leaders. This is because the two positions call for different skill sets and characteristics. Facility managers and BSCs must recognize the difference when promoting or hiring for either position.

Great managers:

• Supervise

• Measure

• Report

• Reward

• Control

• Create operational excellence 

• Break ties and make decisions as needed.

Great leaders:

• Coach

• Inspire

• Motivate

• Support

• Make workers feel appreciated and know that they and what they do are important

• Build confidence

• Listen 

• Ask questions—and pay attention to the answers

• Communicate openly and transparently

• Ask for input and feedback 

• Clarify expectations 

• Focus on results, not the means of getting there

• Provide clear, SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, reportable, and on a timeline) goals

• Provide detailed, objective feedback—good or bad

• Coach reports to help them make decisions

• Hold people accountable

• Invest in their people by providing effective education, training, coaching, and retraining

• Provide required resources to the best of their ability

• Remove or minimize obstacles/roadblocks 

• Genuinely care about workers and their well-being.

Great leaders are:

• Trustworthy

• Ethical

• Humble

• Empathetic

• Respectful

• Appreciative

• Authentic.

Keeping the Best 

Of course, hiring the right people, whether frontline workers, managers, and/or leaders, is just the start to reducing turnover, lowering "people costs," and maintaining a cohesive, quality-results-driven team. Employers have a responsibility to "do right" by their employees. This is especially important given the current situation of "quiet resignation" and workers reshuffling from one position or company to another, which is making finding and retaining good staff difficult.  

At a minimum, employers have a duty to:

• Start right. No matter how desperate the situation may seem, only hire people with the proper attitude and characteristics that fit the organization's True North and the team they will be working with. 

• Invest in people. Provide all employees with initial and ongoing support. This includes effective onboarding, education, training, and retraining when necessary.  

• Pay fairly. People cannot be expected to be happy and perform their best if they are unfairly compensated. 

• Remain professional. Treat employees with respect at all times, no matter the situation. 

• Be flexible. Giving top-performing employees flexibility helps keep them while encouraging other workers to follow suit to gain similar benefits.

• Do what it takes. Work hard to find and then retain your best employees and be disciplined that, after adequate coaching, to let go of poor performers or those who are unwilling to change or learn, even those with seniority.

People are by far a cleaning operation's largest expense and its biggest asset. Invest wisely, and the ROI will be bountiful.

Want to learn how your cleaning operation compares to others, then use the information and insights to improve? Visit www.sawchukconsulting.com/the-short-quiz

This is part five of a six-part series. Click here to read part 1, part 2part 3, and part 4.     

Mike Sawchuk of Sawchuk Consulting is a leading education and BSC cleaning operations consultant and coach. He assists BSCs and facility management leaders, helping them improve their outcomes with insightful, pragmatic solutions and comprehensive, integrated assessments for cleaning operations. He can be reached at 905-932-6501 or via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/mikesawchuk. Or to learn more about his and his company's expertise, visit www.sawchukconsulting.com.