Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Prepare to battle the bean counters

September 19, 2010

With ever-tightening budgets, organizations of all types and sizes across the nation are looking for opportunities to cut back on expenses.

All too often it is the cleaning operation that is swiftly placed on the chopping block.

Recently, some of my clients have been asked by their organizations'' bean counters to reduce cleaning costs by eight to 12 percent, even more in some cases.

Bean counters are accountants or financial officers who are first and foremost concerned with quantification above all else, including building cleanliness levels.

It is up to you, the cleaning manager, to perform well and still meet your bean counter''s magic number or use key documentation to support an argument for a smaller cost reduction.

Either way, ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) calls for all of the crucial cleaning operation documentation to make your case or adjust cleaning levels as requested.

Armed with information

Labor accounts for 65-75 percent of cleaning operations costs, so it''s natural to look for ways to maximize labor hours.

Time is money, and financial officers are going to ask you for the number of full-time cleaning workers and the total cost of cleaning.

An "I don''t know" response is not going to fly, and what you''ll need to know is everything.

The days of undocumented, lethargic cleaning operations are over.

Cleaning managers today are rising to a higher level of professionalism and financial officers are expecting documentation, use of software to manage and present documentation and overall sophistication.

Managers who follow CIMS criteria are already well-prepared for a financial discussion.

First, CIMS already requires cleaning organizations to provide documentation describing cleaning service levels, including a site-specific scope of work or performance outcome that describes cleaning service requirements, including tasks and frequencies.

These requirements must be consistent with the organization''s mission and values.

Second, the standard calls for managers to use an industry-accepted method to workload their facilities.

This includes determining the total labor hours needed to accomplish work requirements as specified in the scope.

Armed with the scope of work, number of full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), total labor hours and so on, there are many ways cleaning managers can leverage this information when speaking with financial officers.

Unleash the knowledge beast

To cut costs, managers can try a variety of scenarios to see how reductions would affect cleaning service levels.

By adjusting the scope of work, managers can eliminate or temporarily skip tasks and reduce frequencies.

The key is to focus on non-critical areas when making cutbacks.

Cleaning cost reductions should never affect high-risk areas, such as restrooms or patient areas in hospitals.

Neglecting these critical areas can increase the risk of spreading staph infections, including MRSA.

Calculate the dollars saved for eliminating important cleaning tasks, and then calculate the cost of a MRSA or norovirus outbreak.

These numbers might get your bean counter''s attention.

Workloading software will calculate how every small adjustment will affect cleaning outcomes, whether it''s labor hours or a new cleaning method.

Eventually, building occupants will notice significant changes, good or bad.

Make sure to consistently document and measure customer feedback — this is also a component of the CIMS framework.

Plotting a chart indicating a drastic downward spiral of positive feedback to negative feedback could be a key tool in your next budget meeting.

Keep building your information army

Pulling together your organization''s workloading data is a great start in preparing for organizational changes.

Expanding your knowledge by gathering as much information as you can, from industry benchmarks to news headlines about the spread infectious disease, will help remind you and your organization''s bean counters that while some reasonable adjustments can be made, clean buildings are not negotiable.

Dave Frank is a 30-year industry veteran and the president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences. AICS is the registrar for the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard certification program.