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Inspect what you expect

September 19, 2010
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Jerry Osteryoung, a professor at Florida State University’s Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, recently wrote an article titled, Inspect what you expect!

In the article, he stated: “Any great business owner should clearly articulate what the company’s expectations are for all employees. Many businesses do this, however, it is the second part — inspecting what you expect — that is so critical and important to every business. You just cannot expect all employees to do things right all of the time.

“Inspections are needed for two reasons. First, to ensure that a quality product is being delivered, and, second, to let employees know that not only do you have high expectations, you also ensure that their expectations are met.”

This represents a significant challenge to housekeeping and cleaning professionals.

How do we define, qualify or quantify the type of work that we perform? What exactly is quality in the cleaning business?

Problems can spread
The lack of a clear definition of quality as it relates to cleaning can lead to some major difficulties:

  1. Dissatisfied employees: If the people who perform the cleaning do not know what the definitions of quality are, or what clean is, how can we expect team members to clean up to a quality standard that does not exist or is ill-defined?
  2. Dissatisfied customers: The customers that we serve may have one perception of quality and the cleaning manager may have a different perception of quality. If the customer and the cleaning manager do not have a shared definition and a shared meaning of what clean actually is, dissatisfaction will result for both parties.
  3. Dissatisfied management: If employees and customers are dissatisfied, then the manager that you and I report to will be dissatisfied. Thus, it is imperative that we clearly define what quality is as it relates to the work that we perform.

In order to comprehend the complexity of the “quality issue” as it relates to housekeeping operations, it is necessary that one understands the component parts that go into making items clean in a facility, including:

  1. What is it that we actually have to clean? This includes the items that we clean, the room types that we clean, the floor types and the types of building. This is often called a space inventory.
  2. What tasks must be performed? This includes a list of what must be done to keep the items and areas clean such as dusting, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing and the like. This step is called a task inventory.
  3. How often will each space and item be cleaned? Will the items be cleaned daily, twice a week, alternate days, weekly, monthly, etc.? This step is called a frequency inventory.
  4. How long will be allowed for each assigned task? This is an important step because the amount of time expended can have a significant impact upon the quality and the cost for providing service.

Thus the actual definition of cleaning involves identifying the types of spaces that we clean, the types of tasks that must be accomplished to clean the space, the frequency at which spaces will be cleaned, and the amount of time allocated to clean each area.

Enough or too much?
An example highlights this issue. A cleaner may be assigned to clean a 2,000-square-foot classroom. The classroom may have 50 chairs, 50 desks, a chalkboard, a podium and two trash cans.

The floors will need to be swept and damp mopped, the desks dusted, the chalkboard cleaned, the podium wiped off and the trash cans emptied. In addition, the chalk eraser will need to be cleaned and the chalk replaced.

One employee may be assigned a certain amount of time to do this space, but is it enough or too much?

How often should the desks be wiped or dusted?

How often should the trash cans be emptied?

If the room is assigned to one cleaner, and he or she is told to sweep the floor daily, damp mop weekly, wipe off the desks weekly, clean the chalkboard once a week, and empty the trash once a week, the very nature of the frequency of cleaning will have a direct impact upon quality.

How can a classroom be clean if it is only damp mopped once a week?

Thus the quality of clean is a direct function of the space involved, the items involved, the tasks’ frequencies and time allocation.

Failure to recognize this can lead to serious issues regarding both quality and quantity of performance.

Develop realistic expectations
After analyzing the issues above and developing an understanding of the elements involved in cleaning a facility, it is important to develop expectations or standards that can assist both employees and the customer to have a joint understanding of what clean means to all parties involved.

One of the best methods to do this involves the following steps:

  1. Sit down with the customer and find out exactly what he or she defines as clean.
  2. Explain the relationship of space, items to be cleaned, frequencies and time.
  3. Come to a clear understanding of how often the customer wants items cleaned.
  4. Develop a shared meaning of what clean means to all parties (the manager, the cleaner and the customer).
  5. Write a clear set of expectations for all parties involved in the cleaning process.

The development, writing and communication of clear expectations to all parties will have a direct impact on customers and housekeepers.

At a minimum, expectations should be:

  1. Observable. If a person cannot observe the results of a cleaning activity, how can he or she measure the effectiveness of an activity?
  2. Measurable. A clearly defined measure is necessary. If the task can be observed, then a measure can be developed to evaluate the quality through precise and clear observations.
  3. Consistent. A standard needs to remain stable over time and location. For instance, if a clean desk in a classroom is to be dust-free, the same standard should be applied to keep office desks dust-free.
  4. Realistic. Unrealistic standards only end up with unrealized results. A person may be able to perform an acceptable level of cleaning, maybe 20,000 square feet per shift. However if the right equipment is not provided to accomplish the standard of 20,000 square feet, do not expect the area to be cleaned to expectations.
  5. Verifiable. Standards should be verifiable between managers, customers and the cleaning team. If a manager states that the item has to be clean, the custodian will know what clean means and the customer will be provided a surface that is cleaned to his or her expectation. If the item is clean, and clean has been clearly defined, then once the process is completed, clean can be verified by all parties because the standard has been met for all parties.

Keep your workforce informed
Once the standards have been clearly defined, the standards should be explained to the custodial workforce.

Thorough training at this stage is imperative and the trainer or supervisor should highlight the following points:

  1. The need for the standard and the reasoning behind the standard. It is a lot easier for one to accept a standard and to perform to that standard when one understands the standard.
  2. The procedure necessary to follow in order to reach the standard. This would include the procedural steps or the process that the custodian must follow to complete the procedure. During this step, the trainer or supervisor should stress how the work is to be performed, how often the task(s) should be performed, how much time it should take for each task, the cleaning standard for each task and what is acceptable for each cleaning standard.
  3. The type of equipment that is needed. The equipment needed to meet the standard should be explained and how to use the equipment effectively and efficiently should be demonstrated.
  4. The way that the area will be reviewed for quality assurance to ensure that the standard is met. This could include checklists, optical scanners, personal data assistants (PDAs), handheld computers, the “glove” method or whatever. Frequency of inspections should be discussed during this step.
  5. A clear and precise definition of what clean means for each task or process. These definitions should be clearly spelled out for each task. Whenever an inspection is performed and whenever feasible, the cleaner should walk through the area that he or she has cleaned with the quality assurance person to ensure that there is a shared meaning of the standards.

Feedback is important
Once the standards have been clearly defined, explained and illustrated to the customers, employees and supervisors, a good feedback loop should be developed.

Some groups call this process an inspection process; others call it a quality assurance process.

The quality assurance process is developed to ensure quality by collecting information from employees, customers and supervisors.

Such a process really has a dual purpose as identified by consultant/author Gary Ryan Blair:

  • First, the inspection tells you where you are in relation to where you want to be.
  • Second, it tells you how you’re doing in the process of pursuing your goals.

There are various ways to collect such data and it should be collected from the employee, the supervisor and the customer.

  1. Oral feedback: The beauty of oral feedback and talking to the customers is that the feedback is immediate and personable. The weakness is that it is not documented and thus the identification of trends is difficult to establish. If you have lots of customers, it may be a challenge remembering who complained about what. Also, talking to the employee and getting her or his input is important as well in this process, however oral data become anecdotal over time and subject to misinterpretation, miscommunication and may be lost in the corporate memory.
  2. Paper feedback: Paper feedback uses inspection forms or customer feedback cards. This information is not as immediate as oral feedback; however it does start the documentation process and makes it easier to follow up on complaints and compliments. The challenge is that the paper mounts up, and unless there is a good manual sorting and indexing system, finding trends may be difficult, or at least laborious. These paper forms could be entered into an spreadsheet manually and sorted, however these are all extra steps that take time and eventually cost money.
  3. Personal Data Assistants (PDAs): These are hand-held computers that enable the supervisor to collect data “on the fly” as he or she walks through facilities. The data are entered into an electronic form and then downloaded into a computer either through a docking station or wirelessly. The information tends to be more accurate by using this method and the data that are downloaded can be sorted multiple ways to identify performance issues for an individual and can identify concerns by supervisor groups or between supervisor groups. The PDA electronic forms allow the employee to provide feedback during the process as the supervisor just types it into the remarks field.
  4. On-line customer surveys: Increasingly, organizations are affording customers the opportunity to provide on-line feedback through the use of surveys. Some are provided by commercial concerns using the web. These are easy to set up, provide meaningful data, and are very inexpensive.

Once the data are collected from this tripod of feedback (employees, supervisors and customers), it is important to analyze the issues.

If employees think that the quality of work is acceptable, and the customer and supervisor think it is not, then this needs to be addressed. The concept of effective quality assurance programs is to align all legs of the tripod so they are seeing the same thing, all of the time.

However, the process does not end there.

Explore, identify and enhance
Once all the data are collected, the management team can then utilize the data to recognize and reward employees for quality performance.

Using the S.W.O.T. analysis — Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats — the data collected can be used to show the management team where it has been successful, where it still needs some help, and how to identify opportunities to enhance the quality of service while still recognizing possible threats to the system.

Maybe the quality of cleaning needs to be improved because customers are dissatisfied and dissatisfied customers may look elsewhere for services.

This analysis should enable the management team to develop training programs that will enhance the overall level of performance and thus increase customer satisfaction.

Frederick Taylor, one of the founders of scientific management, advocated breaking production processes down into their simplest steps and then analyzing the steps and the relationship to the whole.

Likewise, the scientific cleaning manager will evaluate his or her operation, breaking the cleaning operation into simple steps that can be measured by using verifiable standards.

Such an approach will ensure a clearer understanding of what clean means. At each step, there will be a standard that the customer can expect and that the custodian can perform to on a daily basis.

Failure to clearly set standards and to define cleaning expectations can spell disaster for all.

As Blair has stated: “Many serious problems begin with small items that go unnoticed by the untrained and undisciplined eye. Changing them at this time can be considered a low maintenance activity. If left unattended, they become high maintenance and unsavory.”

It has often been said that “Clean is in the eyes of the beholder.”

The prudent cleaning manager will ensure that clean as defined by the beholder (customer) is communicated to the cleaning staff in an effective manner that will ensure that the standard of clean is the same for all beholders.

Otherwise, the customer may simply get someone else or some other company to provide that service.


Alan S. Bigger is director of building services at University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, and Linda B. Bigger is a freelance editor. Visit www.cob.fsu.edu/jmi/articles/Inspect_what_you_expect.asp to read Inspect what you expect! by Jerry Osteryoung.
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