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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

Call It A Come Back

Written by  Sam Burroughs

Boxing Gloves

A long-time industry expert talks about what it was like to face some of the toughest industry challenges and change them into opportunities.

Michael Hansen, operations manager at Mark’s Cleaning Service in Medina, Ohio, understands the dangers of complacency in the BSC arena.

As an operations manager for 18 years, Hansen has an insider’s perspective as to what happens when a BSC is in need of a comeback.

“We all thought we were doing pretty well, but if we looked back at several years of what we were doing revenuewise we were vacillating,” Hansen said.

What started as growth and success for the Ohioan BSC turned into stagnation.

“We thought we had a good pulse with what was going on quality-wise and workwise in our facilities. What we realized is we were bringing in new business, but we were letting existing businesses go,” Hansen said. “It was happening in such a rhythm that we were bringing in something new and a couple of months later something would leave.”

It wasn’t until the BSC lost a large client in 2016 did the team really realize what was happening.

“It woke us up,” Hansen said. “We lost a major client that was about 10 percent of our total operations. It really shook us up. Everyone took a step back. Even some of the key managers in the company had to take some salary reductions.”

Before their big loss, the BSC was making small changes to combat mounting problems as they came up. At first, bandages were placed on the issues of overwhelming workloads that caused quality on the job to decline as supervisors struggled to keep up with the apparent growth in accounts – issues many BSCs in the industry are facing today.

“In our janitorial staff, we had an operations manager and we were trying to work with an assistant operations manager and some supervisors in the field. From the assistant manager down, all of these people were physically working in the buildings, training and trying to inspect work,” Hansen said.

The BSC’s growth made these job descriptions overwhelming for staff members.

“We thought if we’d lost a supervisor and replace them we’d get something different.”

When schedules became packed, the quality of work being done began to decrease as managers lacked the time to do inspections after each job.

The internal team structure also suffered from these enormous workloads. Supervisors lacked the time to build close relationships with their frontline employees and tension between upper management and the staff on the ground began to manifest.

“We started to get a very us-versus-them feeling,” Hansen said. “Us here in the office were trying to figure out why our people felt so disconnected.”

Employees began to provide feedback stating that they felt like no one in the office cared about overwhelming workloads and underwhelming results.

As a BSC, there may be few things more important than a satisfied, motivated team. When employees are happy with their jobs and their employer, they perform at a higher level. Dissatisfied employees have a long list of lasting side effects including high turn-over and low-quality work that can quickly and silently extinguish a BSC’s growth. Despite understanding this, Hansen said it felt like fighting an uphill battle.

“In the office, we would start to try to get into this fear-factor mode that we did not want to push on to our employees because they were already feeling disconnected,” Hansen said. “We were worried about getting a huge overturn because they felt we were coming after them for quality. We didn’t want to lose [supervisors] because they were filling accounts.”

The frustration and fear meant that the BSC’s performance was not meeting their internal standards.

“Everything was just completely backward from the results we were after,” Hansen said.

The worst continued to come with high rates of account cancellation, large employee turnover and poor attitudes from supervisors despite attempts to incentivize team spirit by giving bonuses, gift cards and positive feedback to show appreciation for all of the hard work going on.

"We thought we had a good pulse with what was going on quality-wise and work-wise in our facilities. What we realized is we were bringing in new business, but we were letting existing businesses go."

“Internally, there was a very high stress level around our office,” Hansen said “We could almost feel like this blanket of heaviness cover everybody up.”

What happened next was the first steps toward reviving the company’s place in the janitorial industry.

First, the owners sat down with key managers to figure out what upper management was doing wrong. By taking a step back, they were able to look at issues and patterns to forecast where the business was headed now that it had lost a major income source.

The goal was recovery and the end of 2016 was dedicated to it. The BSC put together one simple sentence that described their vision, their mission and their motto to bring back the company’s main goal: “We deliver an exceptional customer experience in all ways.”

“We talked about it for a while,” Hansen said. “’Customer’ did not just mean our clients; we talked about our internal customers or our frontline people. We had to get back to giving them a successful experience in the company. We had to change the culture.”

With the right attitude and clear goals, the BSC began making changes in their workforce that mattered. They hired smarter instead of quickly filling positions just to cover workloads.

“We have new area managers. We took the heaviest responsibility off of the area managers, which was inspections, and hired a separate, part-time person to do quality inspections so that tasks would never be sidelined again,” Hansen said. “Some of what we are going to attribute our account retention to as well is not just our quality program, but our newer managers we are bringing in.”

One of the keys to their success in management staffing in all divisions was looking for employees who not only had cleaning experience, but also had management experience. Valuing positive attitudes and a willingness to continue learning about the industry was part of their growth strategy.

Another key was finding people who enjoy the industry and recognize its challenges such as managing a night schedule and having to problem solve on their feet.

“The better you know how to work with the people as a team, the stronger your team gets,” Hansen said. “We have really placed an importance on paying a little bit more to get a higher-level area manager in the field. They are going to care and help develop a relationship with the frontline.”

It was on the advice of an industry peer that the BSC created the position focused solely on quality control and job inspection.

“It has been a huge change within our company,” Hansen said. “We have divided [the area managers’] workload in two areas and we have allowed them to start learning their accounts and employees with a huge focus on them building relationships with employees.”

Since then, negative feedback from the frontline staff has been steadily decreasing, according to Hansen. The BSC has also seen a rise in morale. Today, when Hansen makes a call, he can find two or three people willing to cover shifts.

Schedules are now easier for employees to manage and the stress level within the company has decreased.

“We feel like we have a great vibe going again,” Hansen said.

Overcoming these common industry challenges has made 2017 a good year for Mark’s Cleaning Service with phenomenal retention, a drastic slow-down on account loss and positive feedback from customers. “It kind of has been a metamorphosis of the culture around here, and it has made a big change,” Hansen said. The company is now looking at continued, sustained growth with a complete recoup from their losses estimated by 2018.

Hansen said the best advice he can give to other BSCs struggling with these industry problems is to reach out to their peers in the industry and be careful of falling into fear. Always keep your eyes on the operations and focus on where you want to be instead of focusing on the issues.

“You have to pick their brain and figure out what they are doing that works really well,” Hansen said. “People who are bigger than you will share with you how they go through the tough pinches."

"People who are bigger than you will share with you how they go through the tough pinches."

HOW TO MASTER THE COME BACK

• The better you know how to work with people as a team, the stronger your team gets.
• On the advice of an industry peer, the bsc created a position focused solely on quality control and job inspection
• "We divided [the area managers'] workload in two areas and we have allowed them to start learning their accounts and employees with a huge focus on them building relationships with employees."
• Schedules are now easier for employees to manage and the stress level within the company has decreased.

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