Self-Performing Audits: Delivering High-Performing Levels of Clean

By John M. Poole, Jr.


hen you walk into a business and think, “Man, this place is dirty!” - how do you arrive at this conclusion? Is it because something just doesn’t feel right or because there are certain indicators that lead you to this conclusion? There’s a good chance you think it’s dirty because you see dirt. You assess the facility and you make a conclusion based on that assessment. You should also be conducting similar assessments of your own cleaning operation.

The examination of your organizational performance needs to be evidence based and continual. That evidence is gathered by using unbiased observations and with the use of confirmed metrics and contrasted to what is outlined in the scope of service. Are you delivering a quality product and meeting your customer’s expectations? Whether you’re an owner, environmental manager, district manager, are you doing what you say you are doing or are you being paid for what you don’t do?

The rule and guide is defined by the Scope of Services. In order to be successful, you must understand what you are paid to do. What negative outcomes can result when you meet the Scope of Service? How do we keep alignment so the organization will to provide the delivered services? In this article, I hope to identify the steps you should consider in examining your operation and overcoming any potential for poor organizational performance.

STEP 1: Identify what is being measured. Walk around and actively study your operation. Remove any filter. Now take the Scope of Service and break it down to weekly activities. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are we providing the services stated in this Scope of Service?
  • Have I documented completion dates for the tasks?
  • Have I defined what task is to be accomplished within the given time frame?

To track this information, you should keep a workbook or Excel spreadsheet. Review this book every day and make entries specific to each task that is completed. Was the work delivered as specified in the Scope?

Also keep in mind that monthly, quarterly and semi-annual service will need to be completed also. If ever confronted by your customer asking where you are in the completion of services, can you show documentation of where you are?

STEP 2: Understand the Standard used to develop the bid. For contractors, the Standard utilized coverage rates which fundamentally lead to the overall bid cost profile for the facility. If you are an In-House Service Provider, you need to understand how your budget was developed as well. It had to have been developed by applying a set of assumed metrics. By understanding the metrics used to develop the bid, you can apply them to your performance expectations. Have you completed that drill? Or did you just receive the instructions to “ clean the building and make the problems go away.” I have heard that before.

STEP 3: Conduct a coverage rate analysis. If you’ve yet to conduct such an analysis, ask your manager to provide you with the basic metrics used in bidding the building or developing the staffing. Apply these numbers to your facility. ISSA 612 Cleaning Times is a published time tables for task and is available for sale: You need to have a copy. The time tables are a reference to begin understanding the time suggestions needed to complete various job tasks. As a side bar - you must have an inventory of square footages for the facilities you are servicing. No guess work! Numbers and metrics, defined.

You are the professional here. You know what the process calls for and what needs to be done, but remember customer satisfaction and their confidence in your work ethic is paramount.

STEP 4: Identify risks to achieving your desired outcome. What can affect the outcome? Good question if you realize the numbers used in bidding are not realistic. Bottom line for example, you are to strip and recoat all floors every six months, and you know it will take a minimum of 10 days to complete based on the inventory of floor space. You’ve identified that based on the applied coverage rates, only five days are budgeted, which is a problem. To compensate, you end up light scrubbing the floors and applying a top coat. Not technically stripping, just scrubbing.

Now in some cases, that may be all that is needed but the Scope says stripping and recoating. So the customer is happy? Did we do what we said we were going to do? Remember, facility managers may not understand what strip and recoating is and you have a dilemma, do you educate on the differences or go on? That is your call. Retuning a facility after being there for a while may generate more respect from the customer and open up the opportunities to resolve issues. It also may result in an amendment to the Scope of Service which leads to increasing the agreed contract price. You are the professional here. You know what the process calls for and what needs to be done, but remember customer satisfaction and their confidence in your work ethic is paramount.

STEP 5: Understand risks of the “drift.” All organizations are subject to drift. The drift is where the breakdown in services, perceptions and quality come into play. Drift creates the illusion that all is good because no one has complained. So we have drifted from the initial scope of service into another realm of service deliverables. Now that drift is what has been referred to as “Normalization of deviance. We have changed the process to a different Scope of Service just by adapting short cuts in tasks. In safety programs, this can be a dangerous illusion with lethal consequences - people think they can keep doing something a particular way [the wrong way] because no one has been hurt. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

"The drift is where the breakdown in services, perceptions and quality come into play. Drift creates the illusion that all is good because no one has complained."

The same illusion can happen to a service organization’s overall performance. For example, you might drift and adapt a different service schedule that was not negotiated in the beginning of the contract. Managers can get in trouble by not staying on task and schedule. Owners lose contracts. When questioned as to the performance of the scope of service a lot of hem-hawing can be observed. Then followed by a lot of explanations as to why task have not been completed and ultimately loss of confidence in the service provider. It is important that documents be generated and kept up on a daily basis. If you are a LEED service provider, you must have the records for re-certification produced for examination every two years. Make record keeping a daily managerial activity.

STEP 6: Establish clear channels of communication throughout all levels in the organization. Effective executive management team, supervisory team and employee team need to communicate. Not just top down but bottom up. By not having an effective communication conduit in place, people cannot understand or make sound business decisions. As explained earlier, if management is using poor coverage rates they need to know. The supervisor can provide the analysis and format as what has happened and why the proposed process is not working. The employee is doing the work and understands what it takes to do the job. Listen to the employee and what is happening on the floor. Clear communication will enable you to better explain your services and satisfy your customers. Knowledge is power and you cannot gain knowledge without first-hand observations and conversations. What does the evidence tell you in your examination of facts?

STEP 7: Conduct your own time assessments. I have alluded to this affecter earlier: Unrealistic time schedules hurt and demoralize. Coverage rates are estimates. The only real way to understand how long it takes to perform a job is to time the job task over a given time period. I would suggest you perform these checks - on the sly. If people know they are being watched, they may skip tasks or push at an unsustainable rate. Look at different cleaners and compare what the evidence is giving you. This ensures a deeper understanding of the process.

Published rates are a guide, and in certain instances they can be off. The density of the floor population can impact dramatically how long it takes to vacuum or to pull trash on a floor. So, check the numbers and confirm if they are valid. Observe different cleaners, different cleaning processes, even the unique cleaning task. Time the task from start to finish. Do not forget the beginning and end of the task (set up and take down) as that takes time also. Elevators change time—again, additional time to change floors or unload trash to a freight lobby. Remember to observe how the cleaner cleans—is it a standard process you have trained? Everyone needs to have clear instruction on how to perform their respective task. Are they drifting? You have to keep these time records and notes.

When you take the time to closely watch the cleaning being performed, you will have a much better understanding of the facility. You can enhance your performance and deploy your staff into a more efficient operation. These operational efficiencies lead to better customer relations and understandings. Confusion among the staff is limited. Ultimately and hopefully the profit is where it was projected to be.

I want to back up a bit—remember the Drift part? Well, let’s see what can keep this from happening. To maintain an organization’s alignment, let’s look at the tools that will assist in staying aligned.

First, utilizing inspections and audit tools can confirm that the processes in the facility are being met in a quantifiable and a qualifiable manner. The audits examine the whole processes to make certain that the onsite manager is keeping up. Here we should be able to examine the documents of completed task and the scheduled tasks and have a discussion concerning potential cost as related to labor and product within the budget. Should it be reviewed, confirmed or amended?

An inspection will determine if the tasks are being properly completed. Use a third party from either within the organization or outside the organization who is objective and can report and examine deficiencies without bias. The inspection and audits are confirmation tools that must be applied to keep the organization aligned to the Scope of Service.

Concurrently, management must be realistic in developing the cost estimates. If unrealistic figures are used, then from the outset the organization will struggle to achieve. This is an outcome we must avoid, because it is embarrassing to an organization. We live in a small business world and other businesses watch their competition. More important than the embarrassment factor, it can also have a substantial impact on staff. Workers will quickly become frustrated and leave. With turnover comes lack in consistency and before you know it, the cancelation letter is sent. So now you have a lot of equipment to put in the warehouse, your competition is laughing and you have a hard time getting good labor. Not a good scenario for your business, plus, your credibility is damaged as a service provider. Avoid this situation and use sound business practices to get the business and keep it.

Sure, training is a cost, but if you don’t train, what are you going to get?

STEP 8: Put a formalized training program in place. Training standardizes the process and keeps the staff moving in the same direction. It also helps employees feel more valued. Sure, training is a cost, but if you don’t train, what are you going to get?

Yes, also, I have heard that if you train staff, they will leave and go to another employer. OK. But again, if the employee does not have the proper tools and are not trained, well you answer the statement. You lose! So allow for training in your budgets. Not just for the OSHA compliance requirements, but to enhance the quality of the employee’s performance at your job site.

In order to make business simple, you may consider ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS). I hope you have heard about this program within the ISSA. As a CIMS Assessor, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to assess some excellent companies. My conclusion is this: By having adopted the CIMS model, organizations are better positioned to conduct business and have better market positioning. If you are not familiar with CIMS, go to the ISSA website and you will find the CIMS Certified companies list. Examine for yourself those companies that are CIMS certified.

However, the whole gist of this thesis is to make you better aware of managing a profitable, organized and sustainable operation. Check out the Gap analysis provided in the CIMS program and try to answer the questions. There's a good chance you will be surprised just where you are in your operational performance. The importance of structured methodologies is they provide us help to focus on business propositions that have value. (HR Magazine-Scott Olsen PWC (2015). Further, the author states, “… It is all about that analysis process where you build the understanding you need to make better business decisions.”

This sums up what we need to accomplish in order to provide value to our customers and our organization.

In conclusion, I hope that in examining your operations you will be better prepared to take advantage of the future. We're in a tough business and regularly impacted by factors such as regulations, affordable care, immigration, classification of employees and language differences—they all play into profit margins. But as an owner, manager or whatever your title, you better be not just good but great to sustain your business or your job. Haphazard flying by the seat of the old pantaloon doesn’t work anymore. The examination of your business is a continual process, never ending continually improving, planning, studying and acting upon.

Floatation devices do not work to well in shark infested waters: Don’t sink your own ship. 


Self-Performing Audits: Delivering High-Performing Levels of Clean:  Published on February 10th, 2016.  Last Modified on February 24th, 2016

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About John M. Poole, Jr.

John M. Poole Jr. has 40 years of industry experience. A trainer and senior consultant with AICS, he is a Master REH, a Registered Building Services Manager-Life designee with Building Service Contractors Association International, an ISSA I.C.E. and a CIMS assessor. He is also an NFSI Certified Safety Walkway Auditor with the National Floor Safety Institute.