Combating “Improvement Blindness”

Becoming blind to necessary improvements can hurt BSCs

The term “change blindness” essentially refers to a person not noticing a change—or set of changes—in his or her environment. This perceptual phenomenon happens for some people even when change is obvious and glaring to others. In the cleaning industry, this phenomenon could better be described as “improvement blindness.” And, because building service contractors (BSCs) are in the business of making impactful changes or improvements for the better, facility cleaning personnel should be mindful of improvement blindness and ways to adjust their vision to avoid complacency.

Uncovering Improvement Blindness

To better understand improvement blindness, let’s review some examples that could occur in a facility. In one scenario, a cleaning contractor is touring a facility as preparation for submitting a cleaning proposal. As the contractor walks through the location, he notices fraying carpets, soil buildup along restroom walls, dust buildup on light fixtures, and smudges on walls around water fountains. After the cleaning contractor brings these areas to the building manager’s attention, a case of improvement blindness is uncovered.

Although the building manager commonly visits these areas throughout the week, the level of dirt and soiling is a surprise to the prospective client, who is convinced these issues must have happened overnight and not gradually, which more likely is the case.

Next, the building manager shows the cleaning contractor the janitorial supply closet. The contractor immediately notices that a number of cleaning chemicals and solutions are on the floor, the floor is dirty, the mop is stored in a mop bucket filled with soiled water, and there is no product organization of any kind. Suggesting this is not a safe or efficient way to store products, the contractor sees that once again the manager is caught off guard and is unsure how the closet became so disorganized and dangerous.

For BSCs, improvement blindness can occur within their own businesses as well. Many cleaning contractors get into a habit of always selecting the same products, in the same ways, and at the same price. They may believe that if the products they currently purchase work and the cost seems fair, there is no reason to change or improve the products they use. In this scenario, the cleaning contractor is choosing improvement blindness.

Businesses should never fall into this trap. Instead, cleaning contractors should investigate other ways, options, and organizations that can open their eyes to the product selections that might be more practical, effective, and cost-efficient compared to the products or ways currently in use.

Impacts of Improvement Blindness

Improvement blindness can affect facilities in many ways. Let’s refer back to our examples.

In the first scenario, with the frayed carpets and soiled restroom floors, let’s suppose this is a large advertising company. They are courting an account, a major electronics firm, hoping to secure their advertising business. As is common during the courting process, the marketing people from the electronics firm are brought to the advertising company to get to know their staff and get a “feel” for the firm.

However, while walking through the building, the facility’s problem areas become eyesores. The interest of the marketing people from the electronics company begins to decline, and with it, their business. In this situation, the advertising firm’s ability to attract a major client has been severely affected.

Improvement blindness to major aesthetic and health-threatening conditions can influence current employees’ morale as well—including in janitorial closets.

For example, messy janitorial closets such as the one mentioned in the earlier example can present unique challenges. Many cleaning contractors do not realize that building users may visit the janitorial closet in their facility much more often than we think. Often they are looking for paper products or cleaning solutions for cleaning desks or for spills.

In addition to the many safety issues associated with these conditions, a soiled, unorganized janitorial closet sends a message to staffers that they are not valued, their health is not a big concern to the company, and the firm is not well organized.

Overcoming Product Improvement Blindness

Cleaning contractors that have become stuck on buying certain products and brands—unaware, or choosing to be unaware, that there are ways and new products to consider—are missing out on some real opportunities. Unfortunately, their clients may be paying the price.

In the professional cleaning industry, cleaning equipment, tools, supplies, and technologies are always evolving. Today, these innovations come about based on research and studies that have analyzed productivity, efficiency, and environmental and performance metrics.

Cleaning contractors selecting “comfortable” choices are putting themselves before their workers, partners, customers, and even their pocketbooks. And, thanks to more purchasing options, product selection is now much more practical and potentially cost-effective.

The bottom line is that improvement blindness can have negative repercussions for cleaning contractors. With a fresh pair of eyes, it is important to review all aspects of your company, including the products you select and how you select them. Often, such an examination can be a big eye-opener.


Posted On July 26, 2016

Tobi Colbert

Director of Business Development and Member Services at the National Service Alliance (NSA)

Tobi Colbert is director of business development and member services at the National Service Alliance (NSA), a leading group purchasing organization for larger building service contractors and related businesses in the United States. She can be reached at


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Combating “Improvement Blindness”
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