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Want to Reduce Turnover and Improve Productivity? Start by Listening.

We’ve been talking to a lot of (OS1) users recently, gathering input on what they experience on a day-to-day basis so we can improve our training. At Symposium, we speak with leaders of organizations like Sandia National Labs, University of Texas at Austin, Los Angeles Habilitation House, Michigan State University and others to identify best practices, but what about the people actually doing the cleaning? What ideas do the janitor—(OS1) specialists—have for improvement?

A common concern we’ve heard is regarding the general absence of meaningful communication between custodial workers and their department leaders. This is an issue in organizations everywhere—not just (OS1) organizations, cleaning organizations, big corporations or small start-ups. 

As business leaders, we tend to get so caught up in the day-to-day that we don’t take the time to engage our teams. Meaning, we’re the ones doing most of the talking and don’t take much time to listen. Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Fun fact: The average person has an eight-second attention span. Listening is a learned skill that takes practice, but when done well, can create more productive teams.

But listening isn’t something that comes easily to many of us. We spend years learning how to write and speak, but listening isn’t often (ever?) taught in school. It’s an adapted skill that we learn and refine (or not!) over the course of time. Have you ever taken a listening class? If you’re like us, there’s a good chance that answer is “no.” 

A leading consulting firm found that organizations that communicate regularly with their staff — and do a good job of listening — are likely to have lower turnover. This isn’t surprising, because communication helps eliminate the opportunities for misunderstanding so that everyone is on the same page. But the average human has an eight-second attention span, so we could all probably use some room for improvement.

So how can you become a become a better listener? Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Just listen. A lot of listening is just that—truly listening. When someone takes the time to speak, focus your mind on what that person is saying rather than that list of “to-do” items sitting on your desk. Don’t interrupt or attempt to offer solutions as the person is talking, just listen. 
  2. Put the phone away. Let the employee know that they are your immediate priority when you are speaking to them. Your phone might buzz or ring, but by disregarding the impulse to pick it up, you’re showing the employee that they have your full attention and are truly listening to what they are saying. 
  3. Check your preconceived notions at the door. If you think you know what the other person is going to say before you go into a conversation with them, you’re already halfway down the path of not listening. Clear your mind so you are truly open to what they have to say.
  4. Consider timing. It’s hard to be a good listener if the other person isn’t willing to talk. If this is the case, try catching members of your team while they are working. Custodial workers spend a lot of time with their thoughts because they often work alone, so by making it a priority to check in with your team when they are working, you may catch them in their comfort zone and get a better understanding of what’s on their mind.
  5. Ask more questions. A lot of times, we want to help offer solutions or solve problems for people on our team. Rather than responding with an answer right away, ask more questions. This can help create a safer space for the employee and encourage them to speak more. 
  6. Summarize what was said. Active listening is a common communication tool people use to let the other person know that they heard what was said. In addition to validating that you are listening, repeating a summary of someone’s statements back to them helps clear up any miscommunication that may have occurred. 
  7. Silence your inner interrupter. When we think we know what the other person is saying, we can have a tendency to jump into the conversation and respond before the person is done speaking. This can be detrimental to the conversation, not only causing the person to shut down, but also possibly shifting the speaker’s intent in another direction. It can be extremely difficult in some situations, but it’s a best practice to always wait until the other person is finished speaking.

(OS1): What a Professional Cleaning Operation Uses to “Tidy Up”

There’s a pretty good chance that over the past month, you’ve heard the name “Marie Kondo” or even watched one of her shows. Named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” Japan’s queen of decluttering has found her way into millions of U.S. home by sharing her way of cleaning or, “tidying up,” those items that do not “spark joy” in their lives. From her two best-selling books to her recent Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” she provides organizational guidance to help people create order using her patented “konmarie method.” 

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Kondo discusses how tidying up— much like cleaning — is a self-taught exercise. 

Image from Kondo’s website: https://konmari.com.

“The general assumption, in Japan at least, is that tidying up doesn’t need to be taught but rather is picked up naturally,” she says. “Cooking skills and recipes are passed down as family traditions…yet no one hears of anyone passing on the family secrets of tidying, even within the same household.” 

“Instruction in tidying is neglected not only in the home but also at school,” she continues. “When we think back to our home economics classes, most of us remember making hamburgers or learning how to use a sewing machine to make an apron…surprisingly little time is devoted to the subject of tidying.” 

It doesn’t take much looking to see the parallels between our industry, the professional cleaning and hygiene industry, and how Kondo has built her empire. She’s found a way for people to find order and develop a system for “maintaining” their home, just as a cleaning operation is designed to do within a commercial building, such as a school, hospital or office.

Similar to the “tidying up” movement, a lot of people in the professional cleaning industry are self-taught because we also operate on the notion that cleaning is a skill that is picked up naturally or through experience. 

Like Kondo, our founder, John Walker, recognized the issue with this approach. Because people lacked the proper training, they were not often able to truly clean in a way that led to cleaner, safer and healthier facilities. That’s why he developed (OS1), a scientifically engineered approach to cleaning. This system helps provide a system for cleaning and maintaining a building.

Let’s look at the similarities between Marie Kondo’s approach to tidying up and the (OS1) approach to cleaning:

Marie Kondo’s Approach  (OS1) Approach
Visit a home and consult with the customer about their goals and objectives. Meet with the client to discuss current program and objectives for implementing a new custodial system
Conduct an audit/inventory of the home’s material possessions Conduct a baseline audit of the custodial program. This includes:  inventory of custodial supplies & equipment; observations of cleaning processes; detailed cost analysis of labor/product usage; training and education program; scheduled cleaning services; and HAZCOM risk assessment.
Teach the KonMarie method Teach the (OS1) process through events like Janitor University, Train the Trainer, (OS1) Boot Camp and (OS1) specialist certifications.
Help clients understand that tidying up is not a chore but a mindset. Help custodial operations understand the importance of janitors and that they be treated as first-class citizens. 
Work with homeowners to implement the KonMarie method and begin purging the home of unnecessary material itemsSet up a pilot building within the facility to begin rolling out the (OS1) system.
Roll out the Konmarie method over the next monthContinue tactically rolling out the (OS1) system based upon a successful pilot. Create repeatable outcomes and over the next several months/years scale to additional buildings within the operation.
Follow-up with clientOngoing benchmarking of best practices with other (OS1) users through an annual symposium. Participate in annual progress audits to document milestones, troubleshoot issues.

Take a look at your custodial closet. Is it filled bottles of cleaning chemicals made by companies that aren’t even in business anymore? Do you have pieces of broken equipment collecting dust in the corner? Do you know what tasks are being performed every single day? Do you spend your day handling complaints and putting out fires? Is your staff’s morale perpetually low?

If so, it could mean your custodial department is ready for a little tidying up too.

The Rise of Cleanwashing: Part II

When people are first introduced to Six Sigma, a program used by businesses for continuous improvement, one of the first things they’re asked to do is to draw a happy pig. Without any instruction, you can imagine the different types of drawings people create! After everyone shows each other their work and the variation in the drawings becomes apparent, they are then provided a set of instructions and asked to draw the pig again. This time, they find that the drawings look remarkably similar. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate how when a group of people have instruction, most will produce a consistent result. 

The McDonald’s empire was built on around consistency; consistency that was structured around the pillars of “quality, service, cleanliness and value.” Ray Kroc knew that when you’re looking for a consistent product, you need to standardize the products and the systems in place. In fact, he’s quoted as saying, “If I had a brick for every time I’ve repeated the phrase Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value, I think I’d probably be able to bridge the Atlantic Ocean with them.” 

Standardized systems and products are what make a Big Mac in Des Moines, IA, taste the same as a Big Mac served in Kroc’s first restaurant in Des Plaines, IL.

Standardization is the hallmark of efficiency—just think about the ISO 9000 quality management and quality assurance standards. But for some reason, standards are lost when it comes to custodial departments. Organizations implement standardized processes throughout their customer service, warehouse, purchasing and human resource departments… but they neglect to think about how the custodial department could benefit from standardized processes.

How the Absence of Standards Can Result in Cleanwashing

In the first part of this series, we discussed the rise of “greenwashing” and how when the demand for sustainable products grew, suppliers marketed their products as good for the environment when they really weren’t. 

Similarly, there are a lot of cleaning companies out there that make claims that they know how to clean, but they often lack the knowledge, processes and systems to ensure a consistent level of cleanliness. They think that anyone can pick up a mop and clean. But when was the last time they changed the water and solution in the mop bucket? Are they using the same mop to clean the restrooms, hallways and kitchen areas? Do they put up the proper signage in public areas to reduce the chance of slips and falls?

This is an example of “cleanwashing.” 

We’ve found that cleanwashing happens more often then you’d think because so many people believe that anyone can clean. But another part of the issue is that people don’t think or ask how something is cleaned, just that it looks clean. And that’s a dangerous oversight. As anyone in this industry knows, there are a lot of things that can go undetected to the visible eye. Just ask any cleaner who has worked on a cruise ship and had to deal with Norovirus or a custodian who has had to deep clean a school during a flu outbreak.

Let’s think back to the happy pig picture. What happens when you hand someone a flat mop with little to no instruction? Just because the floor has been mopped, has it been cleaned? The individual might work from left to right, he or she might walk in circles around the floor, walk around areas that have already been mopped—there’s really no limit to the way one might approach mopping a floor. They could be moving soil around, not removing the soil.

More organizations are focusing on standardization to help them streamline practices and help improve processes moving forward.

How Does Standardization Help Improve Organizational Excellence?

When we think of standardizing processes, you may think that it would only be beneficial to franchise operations or by businesses that repeat work throughout more than one location. For example, a contract cleaner would benefit from standardizing job duties and processes so someone can pick up a job in Building A and repeat it in Building D or F—wherever they are needed, delivering the same exact quality of work.

But occupational theorists have found that the benefits of a standardizing processes go beyond delivering a consistent product. It can also be a tool to empower and retain employees. Standardization takes the guesswork from the task and means that employees have an established, time-tested process to use. Organizations use standardized processes to boost productivity and improve employee morale, because employees can take pride in knowing that they have mastered a given task. Fast Company says that organizational standardization can fuel innovation. And there’s a good chance we’ll only see more standardization in the future. The prestigious Wharton School of Business says companies are increasingly moving toward standardization.

When it comes to cleanwashing, standardization gives anyone who is either directly or indirectly responsible for the cleaning and maintenance in their building with a set of guidelines. It also allows for the development of metrics. In an ideal scenario, all custodial positions are workloaded, and workers are kitted with the exact tools and supplies they need for the day. They follow a specific set of instructions detailed on a card so areas are cleaned the exact same way, each time, delivering a standard result and a consistent level of clean throughout every building. 

How Can We Combat Cleanwashing?

Too often, custodial work is commoditized, meaning that people don’t understand the value of the service and shop it out to the lowest-priced provider. While this trend is starting to change, it’s up to the people who provide custodial services that are built upon standardized processes and procedures to educate stakeholders about what they bring to the table. A few important talking points to cover might include:

— Removing soil versus moving soil around.

— Worker training and safety.

— The impact of cleaning on health. 

— The cost versus the price of clean.

— How standardization impacts the overall quality of clean.

As we illustrated in the first part of this series, there is an increasing demand for clean facilities. People spend money in buildings that are clean. But it’s important for the people who live, work and visit those facilities to understand that just because something LOOKS clean, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily IS clean. When there’s a standardized process in place, you have the peace of mind in knowing that the outcome is consistent — every time. 

The Problem with the Way We’re Training Custodial Workers Today

So he could afford his daughter’s tuition at a local private school, Bob took on a second job as a custodian at the school. He looked forward to the job, much of his day was spent behind a desk, so custodial work would keep him active and involved in her school. He was also was excited to learn something new.

On his first day, Bob showed up for work and was shown a short movie about cleaning chemicals and how to use them. Next, his boss showed him his cart which overflowed with spray bottles, cloths, bags, gloves, floor scrapers and mops. “Duane’s going to show you around tonight,” he advised. “Tomorrow you’ll start on your own.”

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” Duane told him as they walked between classrooms. “I know they say to clean from top to bottom, but I’ve got a great system down that works for me.”

The next day, Bob was on his own. The work was hard—much harder than he expected. He strained his back emptying trash and his hands cramped from mopping the floor. When he woke up the next morning, he had trouble getting out of bed. After a few weeks, Bob quit. He found another job at a local warehouse that would help him supplement tuition costs. But had he received the proper training, there’s a good chance Bob would still be there today.

 

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Injury caused from improper lifting or repetitive motions is just one of the many issues that can result when we neglect to train our custodial workers. In many cleaning operations, custodial training includes a hodgepodge of show-and-tell, classroom-style instruction and vendor-led training programs specific to a particular product. Very few cleaning operations have a comprehensive training program in place that not only teaches employees HOW to clean, but WHY they clean. Training should not only provide workers with the overall understanding of why their jobs are critical and how cleaning impacts the health of people in the buildings they clean, but also protocols for how and when to perform specific cleaning tasks.

Last week, we held our annual (OS1) Coach Class. This intensive two-day program provides trainers and instructors with the latest information and resources needed to maintain a world-class cleaning program. One of the key benefits to this class is that participants share best practices and insights they have gathered as they plan their schedule for the upcoming year. We are continually updating our curriculum so that all of the (OS1) trainers and coaches have the most recent research and data to support their cleaning protocols. The coaches then take these training programs back to their facilities and use them to conduct ongoing education for their custodial teams during the next year. 

Participants in our (OS1) Coach Class spend an intensive two days learning and planning custodial training programs for 2018.

Our studies have found that cleaning operations supported with a comprehensive training program, such as that which is provided within the (OS1) System, can improve productivity by as much as 16 percent. In one example, the average square footage of cleaning productivity (SFPE) improved from approximately 27,000 SFPE to 39,000 SFPE. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Cleaning workers understand their importance of their work as it relates to the success of the business and the health of building occupants.
  2. They are taught how to properly perform cleaning tasks in a way that minimizes risk and injury.
  3. Workers are empowered through the educational process and receive one-on-one coaching by expert trainers.

It’s time we stop treating custodial work like it’s something that everyone automatically knows how to do. We can’t just throw a mop in someone’s hand and expect them to go to work. This approach results in the issues many cleaning operations face today: injuries, high turnover and low-morale. Cleaning is a profession, and like any professional field requires proper training and education.

As Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

If you don’t have a comprehensive training program in place for new employees and continuing education programs for your current staff members, it’s time to give some thought to how you can improve these resources. Your cleaning program deserves more and so do your employees.