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Management And Training

Jack-of-all-trades Or Master Of One?

September 19, 2010
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On our refrigerator door there is a magnetic business card of a local business.

The card advertises cap installation, crown repair, flashing repair, gutter cleaning and repair, damper installation, dryer vent cleaning, dust-free cleaning, power-washing and chimney relining.

Having used their services, I can attest that even though the company seems very versatile and the employees are polite, the company has spread itself too thin.

And even though the company provides several services, some of the services do not seem to be performed very well.

One could argue why this occurs and why such issues as diversification in the marketplace emerge; however, it seems to be that customers have less time and are demanding more services and value-added elements to those services.

Why call multiple businesses when you can contact one company and be provided one-stop shopping?

In the in-house service provider (ISP) arena, there are incredible pressures to do more with less and to provide increased levels of service at either the same cost or cheaper.

There is little maneuvering in many facilities'' budgets, so managers are learning to be creative and develop strategies and synergies to provide requested services within budget parameters.

The Evolving Paradigms

In-house service providers are doing their best to meet the needs and expectations of the organizations.

K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, are seeking to adjust to the role of the student that applies for an educational program and shop around for the best deal in the marketplace.

Thus, facilities managers and academic administrators are increasingly being forced to perceive education as a product, not a process.

Going to school or college is a buyer''s marketplace; the student and their tax and fee-paying parents are looking for the goods and services that best meet their needs.

The paradigm is a student as a consumer, rather than a student.

In this paradigm, parents and students are expecting more for their buying dollar.

They expect cutting-edge technology, innovative and green buildings and levels of service that are very demanding.

Contrast that paradigm against the evolving paradigm that in-house service providers and facilities managers have been facing for the last two years — the same budgetary issues have arisen before, but not in an environment of student as consumer.

Tax revenues for the subsidy of publicly-funded schools and institutions are shrinking or drying up.

Parents that are sending their children to private schools and colleges cannot afford the escalating costs of educational institutions so they are demanding that fees be capped at or below the rate of inflation.

Parents and students as consumers are demanding fiscal accountability, yet they want the best services possible for their shrinking dollar.

The two paradigms are on a collision course unless the facilities manager can adapt to the changing environment.

The Evolving Roles Of Services

In this convoluted and trying environment of either holding costs or decreasing costs, why are consumers demanding increased services and quality of those services?

The following are some options and, in many cases, managers have had to use a blend of all of these:

  • Increase the effectiveness and efficiency of cleaning teams by requiring more work to be performed by individual custodians. This normally requires the institution to invest in more efficient, better and larger equipment with a short payback time/rapid return on investment (ROI).

  • Managers may opt to add services to satisfy customers, such as venetian blind cleaning and recycling. The primary driver behind this strategy is to meet customers'' expectations without increasing costs and to be responsive to customers'' requests in a timely manner. Gone are the days when a custodial department could say, "We don''t do windows" or at least that attitude; today''s consumer environment requires that we have a can-do attitude.

  • Managers may opt to outsource certain functions that are not their core expertise, such as duct cleaning. However, some institutions do clean their ducts in house. Sometimes the reasoning to decrease outsourcing is a fear that if one element is outsourced, nother service or all services will be outsourced over time.

  • In-house customers may wish to have one-stop shopping within their facilities and may not wish to have one company perform one task and another company do something else. It is a lot easier for a person on a campus to contact one central point for services.

With the increasing expectations of consumers for cost-effective and efficient services, incredible pressures are being brought to bear on the managers of in-house operations as the need for these services will:

  • Increase the need for training
  • Increase learning for the manager
  • Invest more in equipment and personnel
  • Invest more time in managing people.

The Impact On Cleaning

Regardless of the increasing expectations of the consumer, service personnel can only do so much in the allotted time.

Service work is incredibly labor-intensive and has an immediate and long-term impact on humans.

What could be the result of doing too much with too little?

Risks of spreading your department too thin include: Increased injuries; increased complaints and decrease in quality; doing too many tasks and not doing any of those tasks well because there are too many for a human to perform on a regular shift; increased absenteeism; increased turnover; and lower morale.

Can one be "all things to all people?" I doubt it.

The prudent organization will provide services that align with their core competencies.


Alan Bigger is currently the director of facilities at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. Bigger has a B.S., M.A., is a Registered Executive Housekeeper and has over 20 years of management experience in facilities operations. Bigger and his wife Linda are co-authors of Frugalisms; Creative Ideas on Leadership in Facilities and Housekeeping Operations. The Biggers have published over 350 articles in industry journals such as Cleaning & Maintenance Management. They can be reached at frugalperson@comcast.net.

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