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Cleaning professionals must earn respect

22 July 2013

ISSA's Keith Baker reflects on what it takes for a cleaning professional to earn the respect of their clients and colleagues

One of the subjects closest to my heart is changing the way the world views cleaning – in particular persuading those from outside the industry to recognise that we are an essential part of the fabric of life. Yet I am increasingly conscious of actually how true the old saying is, that in order to gain respect you must earn it. 

Over the course of my years in the industry, I have enjoyed getting to know hundreds and possibly thousands of cleaning professionals. With many of them, I was able to experience at some level how they ran their business and what made them tick. Things like how they managed their staff, their trading terms, cash-flow and budgets, their choice of machines and products, their time management protocols, their sustainability agenda. And, perhaps most importantly of all, how they earned the respect of their clients and colleagues. 

I have seen brilliance, innovation and those to whom such wisdom came intuitively. Yet, in making these observations, I have come to realise that there are a few consistent characteristics when it comes to earning respect for cleaning professionals.

The first of these traits is that, regardless of whether you own your own cleaning business or manage operations for an organisation, you have to be a student of cleaning, keen to learn about new techniques and technologies. However, you not only have to be an on-going student of cleaning but the professionals that seem to earn the greatest respect are those that act as teachers too.

When a new person joins your cleaning team the chances are that they will not have had any education in cleaning. Or, the ones with experience typically come with bad habits or mis-information that requires re-education. For the most part though, you are always starting from scratch and you have a wonderful opportunity to help and nurture the individual or team to reach their full potential. From what I have seen, the professionals that naturally fill the role of educator and leader – rather than some kind of odious enforcer – seem to have the lowest staff turnover rates and, not so coincidentally, the best results on site. 

The most successful professionals I have seen in our industry also know how to sell – not in a fast-talking, flashy suit kind of way. What they excel at is capturing and communicating the value of cleaning and being powerfully persuasive in selling the benefits we, as an industry, bring.

Let’s face it, many business owners don’t understand the intricacies of cleaning and, if push comes to shove, view it as a costly, necessary evil. They can’t see the advantages of a better cleaning chemical, of a microfibre mop or an ultra-high speed floor burnisher, unless they are shown the numbers behind it. The successful cleaning professional knows and understands this and backs their proposal with hard facts and figures to justify the need and sell-in the benefits. Critically, they then make sure the programme that was sold is actually delivered. This results in respect from the client or customer – as well as the building occupants themselves. Fortunately this aspect of the job has recently become considerably easier with the launch of the ISSA Value of Clean calculator. 

The respected professional is constantly selling in the correct practices to their colleagues too, and taking the time to show their team why things are done a certain way. This earns them respect from those that report to them. Many of the most successful businesses that I have observed are also aware of the image of their staff. The image of the team is nearly as important as the quality of work. You can’t clean with a dirty cloth or a faulty vacuum just as you can’t earn respect for your work when you are not dressed for the part.

In conclusion, I am not for one moment saying that quality cleaning will not happen if the described characteristics are not in place and I have seen many successful cleaning professionals run their operations without any of these. These are just the common traits that I have personally observed over the years which consistently demonstrate success and earn respect.

If you want to earn respect for the work you do, you first have to respect the work you do, and in my book there is simply no more respectable line of work than cleaning.