Managing a custodial workforce involves juggling many different moving parts simultaneously to ensure the buildings you manage are safe, clean, healthy, and running at their highest and best capacities. It also requires translating the logistics of your organization to the people who run the processes on the ground: the custodians.
If only human behavior was mechanical, allowing us to program staff to automatically accept and abide by all company policies without question or doubt. In reality, we work with a diverse group of people who have their own sets of values, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes, which means that we will gain much more ground toward our goals of creating clean and healthy environments if our employees are working with us instead of against us.
So the question is this: How do you empower your cleaning team to carry out the policies of your company or organization? If it’s in the employee handbook, certainly they’ll follow it, right? Well, not necessarily.
When Policies Don’t Uphold
Dictating company policy—even if it is in writing—does not necessarily mean that organizations will follow through with it in their cultural practices.
When a problem arises that indicates a quality assessment or a human resource issue, many managers are quick to implement a new policy to ensure that such a practice never happens again. They will see the problem as something that could occur repeatedly if they don’t set boundaries to prevent it. Into the handbook the new policy goes, and the company handbook grows and grows.
Sadly, that is a reactionary way to run an organization and can often stifle the kinds of flexibility that organizations require to innovate. It is also an indication that the culture is being governed by fear. When fear is a driving force for strategy and policy, employees feel less empowered and productivity plummets. Employees can recognize policies that are set in a reactionary way. These policies send a message that one mess-up will have everlasting implications.
An Alternative Solution
As an alternative to reactionary practices, some organizations use their workplace culture to implement changes in certain behavior practices. If employees feel deeply embedded in the workplace culture, they will hesitate to behave outside of the organization’s cultural norms and be more likely to encourage their colleagues to do the same. In turn, the employees will feel empowered to behave in a productive way because they know that their managers trust them to do so.
A wonderful example of this came when General Motors CEO, Mary Barra first came into her role. At the time, company policy included a 10-page dissertation on dress code, outlining what to wear, and more importantly to the company culture, what not to wear. There were so many rules that employees no doubt felt stifled in their ability to dress appropriately for their positions.
So Mary Barra changed the policy to empower her staff. She changed the dress code to just two words: Dress appropriately.
Barra knew that being brief in this way would mean some team leaders would need to have difficult conversations with their staff. However, by empowering them to step firmly into their leadership roles and set the tone for their teams, Barra helped to open doors of communication that were previously closed.
Leaving Room for Trust
When leaders set direction based on practice and culture, employees want to conform. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves and custodians are no different. We find that when we trust our workers with making decisions, they tend to navigate change easier, which strengthens the organization and the company culture. They also become more engaged in problem solving instead of relying on supervisors or upper management to do it for them. This empowerment leads to higher productivity and lower absenteeism.
Of course, some problems do occur repeatedly despite the direction culture takes—or maybe even because of it—and that’s when developing a policy really does come into play. When necessary, it is sensible to have policies in place to help set and maintain expectations and standards.
As long as it doesn’t compromise someone’s physical or emotional safety, consider focusing on cultural practices rather than creating a new or stricter policy to bring change in your organization.