Final thoughts from a CM columnist

29 May 2013

Andrew Large give CM his leaving notes in one last industry column. So what advice does he have for the industry

Andrew Large give CM his leaving notes in one last industry column. So what advice does he have for the industry?

This is my last ever column for Cleaning Matters. As you may already have heard I am leaving the CSSA after seven years. I have really enjoyed my cleaning industry time; this is an exceptionally important industry and one that I wish would do more to should about its achievements to the wider world.

It is common place for people to write in their valedictory notes things that they would like to industry to do once they are gone. I would like to reverse the direction of this trend and instead focus on those lessons that the cleaning industry has taught me.

Perhaps the most important lesson is the importance of people. This sounds trite; all industries and all managers claim to be 'people orientated'. But in the cleaning industry it really seems to be true.

Cleaning is by its very nature a personally delivered service. Someone actually has to be there to do it - it can't be offshored or delivered remotely or online. This means that the cleaning industry is a huge employer and those people that are employed are the most important for the business and for the delivery of the service. Without good staff on site, then good cleaning is impossible.


Absolute efficiency

The second lesson is that of leanness. The cleaning industry has an incredibly lean management structure. Most industries still (even after all these years) have hierarchies between the board and those who actually deliver the service or make the product. Cleaning is unique among major employers in having only one or two layers between the board and the cleaner. Why is this? Firstly, it is a matter of costs; you simply cannot afford to have that many managers who are not actually generating income for the business. Secondly, it is also a matter of agility. Cleaning contracts often change hands between service suppliers. A good cleaning business will have its labour costs rigidly allocated to contracts so that if the contract changes hands then the staff TUPE over to the new supplier. The worst case scenario for a cleaning business is to have large central overheads that (in the worst case scenario) have to be supported by a shrinking turnover, as this inevitably leads to forced redundancies and upheaval.

The third lesson is one of customer focus. Because the cleaning industry is so competitive, with so many contractors chasing clients and each vying to offer the best value service, once a customer has been secured, extraordinary effort is expended in the retention of that customer. It is noteworthy that the directors and senior managers of cleaning businesses spend much more time on client relations than is the case in other sectors I have worked in. Perhaps other sectors are just as focused, but cleaning stands out for me as an industry where the customer really is king, and not the internal issues of the supplying organisation.

All industries are moulded by their competitive environments. In the case of cleaning, the fierce competition for customers has produced a sector that is lean, customer focused and very conscious of the power of its staff as the deliverers of that service on the ground. All of these are lessons that any other sector would do well to learn.