Cleaning is a complex and, potentially, hazardous process. Clients have exacting standards, and they should, as the service that you’re providing will have a substantial impact on their life and business. What will set your business apart will be in being able to offer your customers a superior level of service.
To do that, you’ll need to develop a comprehensive training program that will get your staff working to exacting and consistent standards. This training program should be a multi-pronged approach, and combine hands-on experience with more formalised learning and examination processes.
What should my training program look like?
The first step in building a training program is to develop a set of standards. This will set the tone for how you work with your customers, and form a foundation for which a training program can be developed.
Some believe that training needs to be tailored for each cleaner, or each building that they’re contracted to manage. While it is true that there might be some customisation involved in order to make the training as effective as possible, any such tailoring should only occur over the top of a comprehensive standards and training project. Otherwise the consistency in the service that you will provide will not be there, and the quality between cleaners will vary drastically. By taking the time to formalise standards you’ll be able to make sure that everyone is on the same page instantly.
A training program should have three critical components:
- A manual
- A probationary period
- Hands-on practice
The manual should be comprehensive, and provided to each new employee upon the commencement of their work (perhaps consider providing it as a digital download in order to save on paper). Additionally, there should be a copy of the manual on each worksite for easy reference.
It’s important that this manual is provided in an easy-to-read and logical structure. Where possible, it should also make use of images to either complement or replace the text. Remember, not all of your staff will have similar reading or comprehension, or English-speaking skills. Aim to set the manual at a level where a 12-year old could read and understand it.
At the end of the employee’s probationary period, you might want to quiz their familiarity with the manual, though don’t make the exam too onerous. It’s also important that you give the employee time to go over the manual during working hours. That way you can be sure they read it.
A good length of time for the probationary period is two weeks. For two weeks, have the new employee shadow one of the experienced staff members (preferably one who has themselves gone through your current training program and is familiar with the most up-to-date version of the manual). In that time, the employee will learn “on the job” the processes behind the work, and gain an understanding on how to work with chemicals, engage with the client, and so forth.
After those two weeks have a frank and honest assessment session with the employee. People do learn at different paces, and it might be that the employee will need additional training time, but in two weeks you’ll have a sense of their work ethics and commitment to the job. You’ll know if they’re not the right fit for the organisation.
Finally, it’s important that the employee has the opportunity to practice what they’re learning in the training sessions. Without this critical component to the training, they might have the knowledge, but err in application to negative results. Some employees will prefer to have supervised practice sessions, so that they can ask questions and have mistakes corrected there and then. Others will prefer unsupervised practice so they work on their own skills without feeling like someone’s leaning over their shoulder. Both approaches work, and indeed it’s a good idea for your training program to facilitate both in order to produce optimum results.
How much should training cost?
It’s important to remember that, once the initial probation period is over, and the employee has been accepted into the company in full, then the training still hasn’t finished. Each employee in the organisation should have regularly scheduled training “top-up” projects, which will help them to remember things they might have forgotten, or be updated on processes if those have changed.
For this reason, training is an ongoing investment, and every cleaning business should allocate some revenue towards training for each employee. Approximately 2% of revenue, or a few week’s worth of wages, is a good guide for an annual training budget.
While that might seem a lot, the results of having a high skilled workforce include better employee retention and higher customer satisfaction rates, the ability to bill at higher rates, and have more work come in. Training becomes part of the businesses reputation, which makes it an easy on-going investment to justify.
What topics should be covered by training?
There are 10 critical skills that all of your employees should have, and can be made part of the training process:
1. Customer service skills
You don’t need your staff to be salespeople, but every professional that might have contact with clients needs to understand how to appropriately relate to them. Conflict resolution skills are particularly important here, and each of your cleaners should be able to diffuse the situation if the customer is agitated for any reason.
2. Health and safety
Every employee should have a deep understanding of the hazards that can be present in commercial cleaning environments; not least of which are the hazardous chemicals that they’ll be using, or the environments that they might be cleaning (such as a hospital). All staff should also be trained in first aid.
3. Eye for details
Clients tend to notice the small details, so it’s important that your staff are trained to have attention to detail across the board. Missing the “small” things quickly gets written up as being indifferent and can even lose you a contract.
4. Reporting skills
Employees should also have an eye for detail and an appreciation of the need to be accurate and precise in reporting, both from a client management point of view, as well as the ability to provide feedback to head office to improve the company’s internal processes.
5. Time management
Time management is a bugbear for many professionals. When multiple competing priorities start to stack up, being unsure which to prioritise can cause inaction and inefficiency. Training can teach the staff how to systematically work through tasks in an effective manner.
6. The use of equipment
Commercial cleaning requires the use of tools and equipment that are not in normal use at home, and mishandling these tools can be dangerous (and expensive, if the tools are damaged through misuse). Staff should be thoroughly trained on how to properly operate the cleaning equipment.
7. Team skills
In addition to being able to engage with the client, it’s important that staff develop the capacity to work well with one another. This can be the fun side of training – the team bonding sessions! They do indeed have a significant purpose.
8. Quality control
In addition to the day-to-day cleaning, staff should be properly trained on how to take a step back and ensure that the team is meeting the overall brief with the client. Staff should be able to identify on a project where mistakes are being made or things could be done better, and should also know how to address those problems.
9. Chemical handling skills
The chemicals that professional cleaners use can be incredibly dangerous if they come into contact with exposed skin, eyes, and so on. It’s important that each person on your staff understands the protocols for the use and application of each of the chemicals that your business uses – whether they will be frequently using them themselves or not.
Often overlooked is the fact that cleaners need to also comply with the regulations governing the clients that they’re working on. So, if the employee is working in a hospital, they’ll need training in regulation in hospitals, as well as their own company policies.
Training need analysis
The final step in having a comprehensive training program for your business is to conduct a Training Need Analysis (TNA) for each of your staff. In doing so you’ll learn the strengths and skill gaps for each employee, and can then focus their training on the relevant categories listed above.
You can then build improvement in those areas into the KPIs of the employee, and in monitoring their improvement you’ll be able to determine the effectiveness of the training program. These TNA’s should be regularly updated to take into account the employee’s improvement in areas, or their need to train others.
If in doubt, find a specialist
While it costs money to hire a training consultant, consider doing so, at least in the initial stages as you’re setting up the training strategy. As a business leader, you’ll find training in how to properly train others advantageous, and a consultant will help get you up to speed so that you can maximise the impact of your training strategy.
Are you ready?
Devising a training program can feel like an overwhelming task, especially when you feel time-poor. We hope that we have broken down this crucial process into manageable bricks, and that brick by brick, you will be able to build a strong wall of excellently trained staff. A great training program means that you have more control over the outputs and the intellectual property of your business, so start working on your training program today. And we know you’ll feel the benefits tomorrow.