Over the past decade or more, we have heard the word “outsourcing” used quite a bit. It often refers to the outsourcing of work from North American factories, for instance, to factories in other parts of the world.
But for building owners and managers, outsourcing means something else entirely. It has everything to do with cleaning and in fact, a major trend in the professional cleaning industry throughout North America is the outsourcing of cleaning work. This typically involves contracting with one cleaning company, which we will refer to as the lead contractor, to handle the cleaning needs of several locations in various states by subcontractors.
While some cleaning contractors refuse to outsource their services and will only hire their own staff, many others like outsourcing for a variety of reasons. What is likely at the top of the list is it makes it easier for them to expand their services beyond their traditional service area. For instance, if a major client in Las Vegas opens up a new facility in Los Angeles, instead of telling the customer they do not have the staff to service the building, all the contractor has to do is find a reputable, quality subcontractor to handle the cleaning duties. The subcontractor, if the program is successful, will have the trained staff, equipment and materials to do the job.
And for the customer, the arrangement can also work out well. If the manager turns to their current cleaning contractor www.servicesmag.org 29 Trust & to handle the cleaning needs of new and far off locations, the manager does not necessarily have to go through the entire bidding process to hire a new vendor in those distant locations. And many times, the outsourcing arrangement can help keep operating costs down. All they need to do is turn over the “cleaning reins” to the current service provider and trust that everything will work out well.
Note: There is a reason the word “trust” is emphasized. For an outsourcing arrangement to work, trust is key. Outsourcing arrangements are actually a multi-level partnership involving the customer, usually a building owners or manager; local managers of the distant locations; the lead contractor and the subcontractors. Trust is the glue that binds all the parties together.
“Trust is critical for optimal service,” said Sean Devlin, Google Facilities Manager at Google’s Michigan location. “A bond has to be built through communication and proactive strategies. I look at these relationships as being built with trust as the foundation [but] If that trust is broken, like a foundation for a building, the structure may crumble. To ensure success of the partnership, you work together to improve and enhance it through communication, planning and even constructive criticism.”
Building the Trust Foundation
There are several steps that must be taken to ensure the success of an outsourcing cleaning program and the trust that serves as its foundation. Working with large universities and corporate campuses a well as with cleaning contractors throughout North America, the first step that must be taken is for the decision to outsource cleaning duties be made at the corporate level. Coming from the top helps ensure buy-in of the different building managers, locations and the staff in the different locations to be cleaned.
Next, the cleaning contractor and the customer must develop a scope of services for the new location even if it is not required. Never just turn this over to the current cleaning contractor. Further, it should be done with the manager of the new location. It must address the specific cleaning needs of the new facility along with the any cleaning requirements and requests of the new manager. It is very important that all parties are working together and involved in the process from the start in order for trust to develop and the success of an outsourcing program to materialize.
For the lead contractor, selecting the right subcontractor to handle the job is crucial. Here we must add an extra step in the trust process and that is we must trust and verify. Once the scope of services has been developed as discussed earlier, a request for proposal (RFP), or a “tender,” should be developed and delivered to various subcontractors in the area. The lead contractor must review all of the proposals, thoroughly check qualifications along with customer recommendations and then narrow down the selection process to at least three potential subcontractors that appear best suited to handle the cleaning needs.
"In Order for the Entire Outsourcing Operation to work, I counted on the Subcontractors to be My Eyes and Ears."
With the choices narrowed, the contractors selected should be asked to make a presentation to the lead contractor. What we are trying to do is find a subcontractor with a shared vision of both the lead contractor and the customer as to how the new facility is to be maintained. We are also looking for someone we believe we can comfortably work with on an ongoing basis.
Another key element in the process is communication between the subcontractor handling the outsourced work and the lead contractor. Several years ago, I was in charge of the cleaning needs of the Walt Disney Company in southern California. We outsourced more than 2 million square feet of space in multiple locations and there were invariably changes made in those locations on a regular basis.
In order for the entire outsourcing operation to work, I counted on the subcontractors to be my eyes and ears. They let me know what facilities were being used, when they were being used, if there were changes being made to the actual facilities, the number of people working in the locations, as well as any other variations that could impact the cleaning needs and health of these many facilities.
Finally, there must be complete transparency. “Transparency” is somewhat of a new word in the service industry in general, including the professional cleaning industry. Many times if a contractor outsourced cleaning to a subcontractor it was not always disclosed to the customer. They simply considered it something the customer did not need to be aware of. However, that has changed today. I have found what is necessary is for all parties – the subcontractor, lead contractor, location manager and general manager – be fully aware of the arrangement, the scope of services and any other cleaning and staffing related information to ensure credibility.
Over the years, I have met with building managers that have had positive experiences when outsourcing cleaning and others that say they would never do it again. I have also witnessed many outsourcing arrangements work while others fail. Often the reasons they fail is because many of the steps discussed here that build the foundation of trust were not carried out.
According to business author Warren Bemis, “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.” It also is the lubrication that makes for successful outsourcing arrangements in professional cleaning for both the customer and the contractor. As your business expands and you find it necessary to open new locations in different parts of North America, outsourcing cleaning can prove very successful and make the transition easier. Follow the steps discussed here and make sure it is all based on a foundation of trust.
Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large organizations to streamline their cleaning and building operations as well as promote sustainability and healthier cleaning strategies so that facilities function more effectively and efficiently and realize a cost savings. He can be reached through his company website at http://www.seguraassociates.com.