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Tackling turnover

September 19, 2010
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Not only one quality cleaning employees rare, but they are also hard to attract.

And, if you are lucky enough to find them, how can you keep them?

One of your most important responsibilities as a building service contractor (BSC) or in-house facility director or manager is to build a team of competent people who are highly motivated to perform their job and serve you well each day.

As most of you know, that’s easier said than done — especially in the professional cleaning industry.

Certainl, you have some top-notch people you know you can always depend upon. You pray they never leave and wish you had more like them.

But it’s likely that you’re also challenged with employees who are disgruntled by low wages, long working hours, and limited funds for pay raises, recognition or rewards.

The results under these conditions are inevitable — very high turnover.

If you were to ask your peers how you can find quality people and keep them happy, you would typically hear one of three responses:

  1. “I have no idea. I absolutely don’t know. I’ve tried everything, and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make them happy. Seems they just have the attitude that the boss makes all the money, and they will do only what they have to do. That’s all.” (This person must be very frustrated, and needs to gain support.)
  2. “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Many of these people interview well and provide good references. Next thing I know, after a few weeks, they start slacking off and it’s not so easy to fire them.” (This person needs to improve their interview process. However, it is a common complaint from even the sharpest interviewers at the largest corporations.)
  3. “I have great people on my team. I don’t have to motivate them. I couldn’t do it without them and I tell them so. Sure, if they get a better job offer with more pay, you can’t blame them if they want to leave. But they love coming to work every day because we have fun here.” (This person has likely set high standards for performance, knows how to “hire right,” and most importantly, is a great leader.)

When you are ready to hire your next employee, you must first make sure you are well-prepared for the interview and know how to conduct one in order to make the best selection.

Preparing for an interview

To hire the best, your must first perform these five tasks so you are well-prepared:

  1. Identify the strengths you are seeking. Obviously, candidates must be able to perform on the job, but it’s also important to think about ideal values, character and work ethic.

    Make a list of what you are seeking.

  2. Establish core competencies. Make a list of the job’s core competencies for use during the interview. Involve current employees in this process. Think of every competency you require, as well valuable characteristics, such as being a team player and taking pride in work.
  3. Establish a “code of conduct” and “guiding principles” on how to treat customers and fellow employees. If you don’t have these principles and standards, consider drafting them. They will not only help you attract quality employees, but they will help all employees in your organization.
  4. Prepare your interview questions ahead of time — don’t make the mis take of winging it. Often, BSCs or in-house managers and directors who are short on time don’t generate a list of interview questions. They sit down for the interview, look over the application, and then ask a few questions about work experience. After the interview, they sometimes realize that they haven’t asked enough solid questions to make an informed decision. Questions should elicit responses that do more than restate or expand on the experience and achievements in a candidate’s resume or application.
  5. Advertise the opening or post the job. Better yet, go to the best employees you have and ask them if they know of someone with the same work ethic who may also be looking for a position. Additionally, you can tap into your own professional network of people. Word-of-mouth can often be the best method for finding the right employee.

During the interview
An interview is not just a question-and-answer session. Here are some guidelines hiring managers should follow:

  • Ask your prepared questions. Listen for how honestly and sincerely they answer the questions. Also, ask them what questions they may have.
  • Observe their body language. Do they avoid eye contact? Do they wring their hands? Do they have a weak handshake? If they do, they may be hiding something.
  • Show them your written code of conduct, required competencies and guiding principles you have established. Let them know that if you offer the job and they accept, they are expected to adhere to them.
  • Discuss your team’s culture. Use the interview to learn more about your candidates and talk about your team’s culture. Tell them you have a great team, and you only want to hire top performers. Tell them you and your team expect hard work and results, and let them know your team functions like a winning sports team. Let them know they won’t last if they don’t pull their weight. Be cordial to them, but let them know right off the bat what you and your team will tolerate and what you will not.
  • Check their references and make your decision. Many owners hire people on their references alone. Or they hire people because they are likable. There’s much more you need to know before you move forward with any job candidate.
  • To make an informed decision, ask yourself these questions:
  • Was the candidate punctual and professional?
  • Did he go the extra mile?
  • Did she have a genuine desire to be helpful?
  • Who are the three references he gave? Are they valid?
  • Can she do the job? Is he competent?
  • How is she likely to do the job? How is his attitude?
  • Does she want the job? What is his level of interest?

Keep in mind that your candidates should show a strong desire for the job, but never appear overly enthusiastic. If they do, you might assume they could be insincere, or even desperate.

Worse, you don’t want people who sound apathetic or indifferent. You want people who are competent and seem willing to perform well and that will fit in with your team.

Employee retention
Hiring quality employees is only half the battle. Keeping them is the other. Here are some pointers for retention.

Evaluate compensation: Like the retail industry, the cleaning and maintenance industry is not known for offering the best pay.

If you are experiencing low profit margins or are not in a position to offer substantial pay raises, at least make sure that the pay is comparable with the rest of the industry.

One source that can be helpful to you is, while information from trade associations can also be useful.

Reward formally and informally: People want to stay where they are valued, appreciated and rewarded. Reward your people for:

  • Going above and beyond their duties
  • Coming up with an idea to help you make or save money
  • Employing a method to improve quality
  • Having perfect attendance for one year
  • Being the most supportive person on your team
  • Working long hours
  • Fixing equipment
  • Not complaining for six months

Think of additional ways you can reward people. If rewards are in the picture, you will increase your chances of keeping them.

You don’t have to spend huge amounts of money, just give small and meaningful rewards, and make that program a strong part of your organization’s culture.

Many businesses organize softball or bowling teams. Some arrange occasional afterwork get-togethers. Some use their own funds to buy pizza and beverages.

While this is a personal choice the facility director or head of a BSC may need to make, it can pay off handsomely when it comes to higher productivity, morale and team spirit.

Get rid of dead weight: Is someone on your team displaying negative behavior, such as chronic complaining?

If you or someone on their team asks them to do something that is not in their job description, do they respond by saying: “Hey, that’s not my job!” What about employees who are incompetent?

If this describes even one of your employees, you will have a big problem with morale.

One negative person can pull down the morale of others. One individual who is incompetent can hold back the productivity of an entire team.

In addition, your best employees will wonder why you haven’t done something about it. While it is not an easy task and you must do things legally, have the courage to remove anyone who might be holding back your team.

You will have a lot less stress when you do, and your team will likely be happier.

Communicate high standards: Never settle for mediocre performance from your people. Demand excellence.

Your employees should know you won’t tolerate anything but the best work.

If you look at the most successful BSCs or in-house facility operations, they run a tight ship and they communicate their concept of excellence often.

Think straight — talk straight: Catch them doing something good, tell them right away. Catch them doing something wrong, tell them right away, but be sure it’s in private.

No one wants to be reprimanded or corrected in front of others.

Establish an air of open communication: Open communication is important on every team, but it becomes even more critical when you need to maintain high morale.

People lose their motivation if they are not kept informed about what is going on around them.

The less they are informed, the more likely it will have a negative impact on their performance.

With open communication, you help build trust between yourself and your people.

Let them know what’s on your mind, and get them involved with how to make the team more efficient.

Expect teamwork, professionalism and accountability: Ask your people to be accountable for maintaining high morale.

By placing an equal value on teamwork, professional behavior, quality work, and accountability, you and your employees will be able to provide better service to both customers and each other.

Ask for input, give feedback, take action: Employee involvement is another key to employee motivation and retention. Ask your people for their ideas.

Many owners and manager are guilty of underutilizing the ideas and suggestions of their employees. They assume they can only do their job, and that’s it.

They may have great ideas, but if you don’t ask for them, they won’t come forth.

For example, you may have a new employee who is highly frustrated because he or she knows a better way to perform a task.

When asked why they didn’t talk to the supervisor, manager or director, their reply may be: “I don’t want to rock the boat; I’m new.” Or, “I’m never asked.”

Remember: Just asking for ideas and suggestions is motivational in itself.

Take 20: Take 20 minutes to talk to a different employee each day. Listen to their ideas and encourage cooperation and honesty.

Talk to that person who is coming to work with a chip on his shoulder. Ask what you can do to help.

Encourage upward feedback from everyone on his or her attitudes, concerns, issues and frustrations that are related to their job.

Ask them if there are any issues they’d like to discuss. Ask about their personal life, too.

Show them you care about them as individuals.

Encourage people to be solution focused: “For every problem there is a solution” should be a motto for your team.

Challenge them to come up with cutting-edge solutions to any problems that may exist and ask them how you can improve productivity, quality and team morale.

Christine Corelli, author of Wake Up and Smell the Competition and Hiring and Retaining Quality Employees, has written for magazines and trade publications worldwide. She is a frequent speaker to manufacturers, distributors and sales groups and has given presentations to a wide range of facilities directors and managers. Visit Corelli’s website at or contact her at (847) 581-9968 or

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