​Making Tough Leadership Decisions for Your Cleaning Operation

5 steps to guide your business strategy

​Making Tough Leadership Decisions for Your Cleaning Operation

Leaders running innovative cleaning operations often find themselves making tough decisions that impact others both up and down the chain of command. When following an effective and dynamic strategic plan, there are many moving parts to ensure that facilities stay clean, healthy, and up to the standards demanded by customers and facility patrons.

Among these are the tough decisions that need to be made about allocating time, tools, and other resources—especially when an organization demands better results.

With so many pressures coming from running a complex organization, development of your leadership team is critical so the team can continue to successfully navigate the required changes that accompany a high-performing job. Sharpening skills and processes in a variety of areas will enable custodial managers to effectively implement a smooth strategy in achieving positive cleaning change solutions.

Let’s face it, making tough decisions is what leadership is all about. When you run a high-performing cleaning company, you need to decide how to allocate resources to ensure efficient and productive operations. Here are five ways to help ease the process:

Step No. 1: Assess Your Operations

One of the mistakes leaders often make is to dive into a new plan of change and begin racing forward only to trip over themselves 30 yards out of the starting gate. This happens because leaders don’t stop to consider why they have achieved the results they have up until this point.

Every new change initiative must begin with an assessment of the organization’s operation. Nothing should move forward without an initial assessment of the organization’s structure and how it can be more productive in the future. This will become the baseline assessment of the journey ahead.

Jim Alty, president of Facilities First, LLC, did this by hiring a consulting company to gather anonymous input from employees across the organization. “In developing a facilities department strategic plan at a large public university, I recognized early on that a well-thought out plan with actionable tasks would need candid input from customers, facilities leaders, and university administrators,” Alty said. “The consultants then synthesized the input to show trends in our performance—both good and bad. That input became incredibly helpful in focusing the facilities leadership team on what needed to be improved and what didn’t.”

Based on this assessment, several cleaning and custodial management areas that needed improvement were discovered. “Subsequently,” Alty added, “the team developed a strategic plan with three goals and 36 supporting action plans that became a source of effort and pride in the team over the next five-year period.”

Step No. 2: Gather Data

Without a comprehensive understanding of how your manpower, equipment, and resources are organized to clean a facility, you won’t have the data to make necessary decisions about which total resources are required to meet your customers’ cleanliness levels. You need to know operationally who is going where and when, and then what they will do when they get there. You also need to know where equipment and supplies are prepositioned for your employees to access.

Since leadership decisions require making resource decisions, workloading provides the roadmap for making those resource allocations. Having the data at your fingertips to evaluate your resources space by space, fixture by fixture, and by asset material type will assist in making strategic and concise allocation decisions. Additionally, an accurate and dynamic workloading plan allows for managers to reallocate resources based on fluctuating user patterns. For instance, a cafeteria may need repeat coverage between meals, but the rest of the building needs once-a-day cleaning. Accurate workloading allows you to assess the cleanliness situation and adapt to the usage needs.

Step No. 3: Hire an Outside and Objective Force

It has been said the only person who likes change is a wet baby. When systems evolve, change can happen over time while people adjust slowly. But when big change is necessary in a short period of time, support for the startup of a new initiative from an outsider’s perspective can be highly valuable. This is when hiring a consultant to help turn the ship can yield tremendous results that last, preventing the organization from allowing their old patterns to creep back in to everyday use.

Alty provides an example: “The leadership of a custodial department at a private university averaged over a decade in their positions,” he said. “Even though cleaning was a major customer complaint, custodial leaders refused to consider changes. Even though well-staffed by industry metrics, the leaders would blame poor cleaning on not having enough employees to do all the work.”

When the facilities leadership brought in a third-party consultant to conduct a workloading assessment at a private university, it was eye-opening, Alty said. Many custodians were underloaded while others were overloaded; employees had broken or poorly maintained equipment; a few custodians with the best of intentions had resorted to bringing equipment and supplies from their homes to clean their facilities. Based on the consultant’s analysis, the university was able to retrain the staff and properly reorganize teams. Although resistance was met with some custodial leaders finding new employment opportunities, the decision was best for the university’s operations.

Step No. 4: Stick to the Strategy

Custodians make many decisions on a daily basis that impact your bottom line. They decide to show up for work, how efficiently they feel inspired to do their job, and whether they want to stay in their position another week. In an industry where turnover is problematic, it behooves leadership to invest in resources that help their front line feel engaged in any new changes or initiatives that come from levels above.

We often forget that the numbers on our spreadsheets actually correspond to people who resist change. Leaders don’t always create culture, but they can certainly endorse or destroy it. If they are on board, the speed of change accelerates. If not, they have the ability to freeze culture change and undermine the impact of the process they intend to implement.

Step No. 5: Rely on Quality Assurance Checks

Assessing the quality of your new plan is where the rubber meets the road. This is where leadership lives and breathes. A robust quality assessment program keeps the data in front of the process and therefore keeps the support alive.

Instead of paying more bodies to walk around “managing,” having data and processes to prove the success of the program saves time and money. Assessment results, when done well, drive operational decisions. They provide accurate data to share with local supervisors to make quality managerial decisions, not guesswork.

Do you wonder if a problem area is a training issue, a resource issue, or a performance issue? Data that assesses the cleaning outcomes as well as the understanding of the custodians in the process, helps dial in the root cause and allows for swift decisions to rectify the problem.

The Big Picture

The best way for leadership to mitigate being overwhelmed in making difficult decisions is to take a holistic approach to all of these areas. In fact, a deficiency in any one of these areas can actually create more problems for an organization in the same way that taking out a spoke of a wheel can cause it to warp over time. But together, they allow you to run a positive, productive, and profitable cleaning organization.

Posted On October 16, 2018

Tim Poskin

Tim Poskin, President of Cleaning Management Concepts

Tim Poskin is founder and systems integrator of ISSA’s Cleaning Change Solutions™ Consulting and serves as the executive director of the ISSA Workloading and Benchmarking Committee. Poskin may be reached at

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​Making Tough Leadership Decisions for Your Cleaning Operation
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