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Sustainability / Management And Training
September 2013 Contractor Success

Operationally Sustainable Cleaning Services

It’s not about the best price; it’s about the best manager and the best toxic-free cleaning program from the most innovative company.

September 10, 2013
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After over 40 years of helping buyers evaluate and hire cleaning contractors, a few observations about how purchasing and buyer folks make choices have become evident.

Sometimes, choices are made are “by the book,” exclusively following the purchasing bible word for word; this is called a success by some. 

And indeed, it is a success from a buyer perspective.

Yet, at what point is operational success integrated into the decision process?

Further, how does that buying decision impact on-going operational success?

It’s a focus on achieving operational sustainability through the art of buying.

Let’s start with a goal.

Would anyone accept “value” over “savings” as a fundamental end for the buying effort?

Is there a way to buy that comes with the promise of operational success for appearance, occupant health and environmental improvement — and offers reduced cost?

Building Consensus

Here is one perspective from an emerging model that might help guide buying practices in the art of finding and hiring the best of the best cleaning service providers.

It’s not about the product or service that is specified by the buying process or the request for proposal (RFP).

It’s about implementing a buying process that is inclusive and builds consensus around what is important to all stakeholders in the organization — all those who are impacted by the service and those who impactthe cleaning service.

What does an operationally sustainable buying model look like?

Here is a brief review of the important milestones of this idea.

First, a little philosophy: This model follows a long history in some countries of an extensive pre-qualification and study period with a shortened decision cycle.

This idea means that there is a full understanding of a product or service capability before any serious, official buying protocol.

It can be done internally, or due to internal policies, it might be best to involve an advisor or consultant to facilitate the pre-qualification effort.

Here’s a brief outline of the activities that represent this idea.


Pre-project planning: Hold a senior staff meeting with buyers, managers and c-level attendance.

The goal of this meeting is to reach agreement on the project’s goals, strategy and stakeholder participation.

A tentative schedule of activities is reviewed at this time, and departmental and individual roles are defined.

Stakeholder team: Identify and designate the company internal stakeholder team.

This team will be the ultimate decision making authority for the final service provider recommendation.

Conduct a nominal group process: Bring the stakeholder team together to establish buying goals, expectations and requirements.

These will become the foundation of the company/contractor relationship and will be documented within the RFP requirements.

Market pre-qualification: Not all potential bidders are equally qualified, and it is unfair to them and the organization to include them in a rigorous pre-qualification process.

This process is time consuming and costly for service providers and the stakeholder team.

For example, if the contract would be worth $5 million a year, is a contractor doing $150,000 in revenue a year by a single owner/manager a good fit?

Opening the bid process to anyone and everyone is a questionable policy and a disservice to those who are clearly not capable of successfully meeting the needs of the buying organization.

This step reduces the number of possible bidders, based on generally available financial, reference, performance and management experience information.

Scope of work: The scope of work document includes all of the requirements and relationship details needed by the potential bidders to prepare questions for a pre-qualification conference.

Those service pre-qualified providers who have the potential for meeting the organizations needs are invited to a pre-qualification conference.

Pre-qualification conference and site tour:  The pre-qualification conference is generally held on-site, with all previously screened service providers.

The goal of the pre-qualification conference is to review the needs, requirements and goals of the organization and to answer any questions from the service providers in attendance.

The meeting is about creating clarity and understanding for all concerned.

It is the opportunity for service providers to meet the stakeholder team and evaluate the physical plant.

Capability documentation: Following the pre-qualification conference, service providers are asked to document ideas and suggestions for a best practice cleaning model for the buyer’s buildings.

Service providers can use this opportunity to demonstrate how they are different from their competitors and why they are the best choice for the organization.

Stakeholder evaluation: Stakeholders meet to review and evaluate the best practice ideas offered by the alternative service providers.

A structured evaluation rating scale helps with this process and enables the stakeholder team to create a numeric rating of each idea, best practice and innovation activity from each service provider.

At the end of this process, the stakeholder team will identify the two or three best qualified service providers to participate in a co-development meeting.

Co-development meeting: The two or three best qualified service providers are invited to present their service delivery system ideas and suggestions to the stakeholder team.

There is a question and answer exchange, with all parties clarifying and emphasizing the importance of performance issues.

At the conclusion of this clarification meeting, each service provider is invited to participate in the official RFP procurement process.

Official RFP Process

The official RFP buying process begins following the co-development meeting and is subject to the rules and requirements of the buying organization.

Service providers have a clear understanding of the organization’s needs and requirements, and pricing is more realistically tied to these buyer expectations.

So, what might be achieved through this buying model?

Here are some of the results that have been tracked over the years:

  • Broad organizational support for the selected service provider
  • Dramatically improved cleanliness appearance
  • Increased occupant and customer satisfaction
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Reduced environmental contamination
  • Cost reduction of up to 29 percent (in our experience)
  • Reduced operational administrative workload
  • Contractor empowerment to deliver results
  • Constant process improvement
  • A competitive environment for solution-focused management.

Taken collectively, operationally sustainable buying delivers what might loosely be called “value.”

Operational results are delivered; performance is measured, managed and improved; innovation is valued; services are pro-active; stakeholder support is inclusive; and, by the way, it all comes with cost reduction within the local provider market.

Vince Elliott is the founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland. For more information on consulting and performance-based measurement, visit He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice, performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management. Elliott is also the founder of the Chemical Free Cleaning Network (CFCN). More information about that initiative can be found at

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