Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online


February 1, 2011

What is benchmarking and how can a cleaning department manager or small business owner with limited resources do something that sounds so complicated?

For a brief explanation, we start with the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA) and one of their "Managing for Effect" series modules.

"Benchmarking has … [become an important] tool for strategic planning and quality assurance. The term ''benchmark'' is borrowed from the field of surveying. It suggests the idea of comparing one behavior or performance against another known standard."

George B. Johnson, vice president of corporate business development for Battelle Memorial Institute, adds that the benchmarking process must include "applying the approaches and techniques of the best-in-class competitors to improve your own operations."

In other words, benchmarking means finding the best way to do a job and adapting what you find to improve your operations.

So, benchmarking is usually done by determining the way others do a job with better results than you, and then using that approach in your own operation.

This assumes that the others are more advanced than you are and that they are in some way doing a better job.

In the cleaning industry, and many others, this assumption may be unwarranted: Don''t always assume someone else is doing it better.

You may be at a point where a little fine-tuning will make you the one setting the standard and leading the pack.

Approach benchmarking with optimism as well as skepticism — and ask some hard questions.

Is this really the best way or is there a hidden agenda?

Is this really a product promotion written or commissioned by a manufacturer or distributor?

Will this process work well in the long run?

Can we do this without a huge expense and limited payback?

Are those that I am benchmarking with making the same comparisons that I am using?

This is not to say that what others do is unimportant or of no value, but you need to look at it objectively.

A case in point was a recent discussion on the CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online™ Bulletin Board, which mentioned time and cost savings from high-speed burnishing of bare vinyl composition tile (VCT) floors to obtain a nice shine without the mess and time of strip and finish maintenance.

While that may sound like a great idea, someone was quick to point out that the unprotected floor may look shiny, but is exposed to damage and wear that finish prevents.

In the long run it is not a good idea, as it assumes the only objective is a shiny floor.

If you are going to compare "one behavior or performance against another known standard," you must first know your own performance, and here is where many of us fall short.

We have done floor refinishing hundreds of times and have never taken the time to measure any part of the operation so that we have the facts and figures to compare to others who do the same kind of work.

We don''t know what we are doing to the extent that we can''t make an evaluation of the efforts of others and compare them to what we are doing to determine if one process or product is more effective or productive than another.

Technically, what the introduction is talking about is the first step in a true benchmarking study: Determining your own numbers or times for certain operations.

This is important because even if someone else can do it faster or with less labor, you still have to work with what you have and you may not have a truckmount for carpet extraction or an autoscrubber for that empty warehouse.

Performing step one of the benchmarking process will prevent you from adopting a "no job too big or too small" mentality that can lead to going after work that can make you a non-profit without the intention.

Some jobs really are too big or too small.

It is great to compare yourself to a "world-class" facility, but what if you don''t have one around or the time to hunt one up?

Gary Clipperton, consultant with the National Pro Clean Corporation and frequent ICAN/ATEX commenter, suggests that you "select the best cleaning team on your staff — one that out-cleans all the others. What are their best quality scores and how do they flow through the building? Take this model apart and discover what makes it tick. Next, determine which area in your facility needs the most improvement. Start by picking the low-hanging fruit."

Benchmarking within your own organization is where the process begins.

The International Custodial Advisors Network Inc. (ICAN) is a non-profit association comprised of industry consultants with a wide range of expertise in building management, indoor environmental and service disciplines. This network provides free janitorial and building maintenance consultation service to the industry through the Cleaning Management Institute.