It Pays to Train House Cleaning Professionals

Among service industries, professional house cleaning is somewhat unique, in that it combines the potential for scale with a demand for exceptionally personalized service. The most successful professional house cleaning enterprises excel because they manage to grow by offering consistently better and customized service than their competitors, and they also manage to maintain their quality of service while they grow. It’s tough to do both, and that is why most of the truly exceptional personalized service providers are comprised of only one or two persons. But such single or pairs of housekeepers do not represent enterprises. They represent one or two persons self-employed as housekeepers.


The key to building value in the house cleaning industry is scale, and the key to scale is systems. And one of the most important systems in a service industry is TRAINING. Scaled house cleaning enterprises understand that their success depends not so much on their employees per se, but rather on their systems for developing employees. While other house cleaning companies chatter about training as a marketing ploy,successful scaled enterprises sustain a competitive advantage by excelling in a number of ways, one of which includes by weaving training into every element of their operations.

Who should read this Booklet?

This Booklet is for owners of scalable independent house cleaning enterprises, or for those individuals hoping to make the leap, by scaling their existing job of cleaning houses. While training employees can be a significant investment, training transient employees is a significant waste. So if excessive turnover is a problem in your company, then the best next step to scaling your enterprise may be to improve your company’s ability to retain employees.
Employee churn results in customer churn, and customer churn thwarts scaling. Most companies with employee churn understand the economic waste associated with training tomorrow’s ex-employees, and their choice not to train fits naturally well with their overall undisciplined style of management. So, for the purposes of this booklet, we assume that your company can benefit from training if it is scalable and has a sufficiently low employee churn rate.

Estimating Employee Churn Rate—How Much is Too Much?

There are a number of ways to calculate employee churn, and for the purpose of determining whether your company’s churn rate is within the acceptable margin for investing in employee development, then the right calculation may depend on your answer to the following question:

“At what point do you invest significantly in training new employees?”

For our company, employees spend their first two-weeks on a probationary assessment status, and during this time, we expect them to work hard under the direct supervision of a Team Leader, and pass a minimum of two written exams. If during this period, the employee proves to be a wash out, then we like to think that we have more or less broken even on her in terms of initial training versus service she has rendered.
So, we exclude those employees who don’t last the first two week probationary assessment period when calculating employee churn ratio. We justify this on the basis that being more discerning about employees during the probationary period is a good thing. We believe that this “make the cut” approach gives us a competitive advantage over companies which are less disciplined about evaluating and immediately weeding out under-performers as part of their hiring process.
So, if we didn’t have an automated system for calculating employee churn, then we would do so on the basis of last year’s W-2’s. Here’s our formula:

  1. For cleaning professionals only, we separate them in two piles—one pile includes cleaning professionals who did not last the first two weeks, and the other pile includes cleaning professionals who worked longer than two weeks;
  2. Next, we calculate the “Season High” by determining the highest number of cleaning professionals who ever worked for us last year.
  3. Next, we calculate the “Numerator” by counting the number of W-2’s for cleaning professionals who worked for longer than two weeks, and from this count subtracting the Season High.
  4. Finally, we calculate “Estimated Employee Turnover” by dividing the Numerator by the Season High.

On a percentage basis, if your Estimated Employee Turnover is 50% to 100%, then your company is acceptably within the industry norm and a formal training program would be beneficial for your company. If your Estimated Employee Turnover exceeds the industry standard slightly (between 100%, but less than 150%), then consider taking measures to decrease your Employee Turnover as you implement new training initiatives.
If your company’s Estimated Employee Turnover exceeds 150%, then you should fix the problem of excessive employee churn before proceeding with the implementation of any additional training. Although the most obvious solution is to increase wage rates, your problem might be caused by less obvious factors, like poor management, lax hiring practices, or a failure to identify poor performers during the initial two-week probationary assessment period.
If your Employee Turnover is lower than 50%, then bravo!! You are in the industry’s “A”category, and training will pay extra dividends for you.

How Much to Invest in Training?

If you are weaving training into every element of operations, then it may be difficult to gauge how much you are actually investing in training. Generally, we estimate that our company, 5280 House Cleaning, invests a couple of week’s wages in each new employee over a one-year period, which might translate on an enterprise level to as much as 2% of revenue, depending on wage rates, billing rates and employee churn. A company can justify investing such a sum, only if the benefits of doing so outweigh such a heavy cost. Conversely, it may be more interesting to consider the cost of not training: enterprise failure, maybe? While lack of training alone may not cause an enterprise to fail, we are confidently assert that a successful enterprise is more likely to embrace training, while a failing enterprise is more likely to neglect it.

What are the benefits of an effective training program?

The two primary benefits are training:

  1. improves client service, which translates to improved client satisfaction, higher client retention rates, higher potential fee rates and higher revenue; and
  2. reduces damages.

Does training also enhance efficiency?

Thoroughness versus Speed

No doubt, there are fundamentals about efficiency which can be taught to new employees. And for this reason, our Team Leaders dedicate a portion of initial hands-on training to teach Cleaning Associates how to more efficiently perform their duties (and they are motivated to do so by pay incentives). That notwithstanding, we take exception to most of the material which has been published in our industry about cleaning fast, because it recommends an approach which is not just dull, but downright oppressively dreary. A set of procedures which makes the job of cleaning duller will bore your employees to tears, and bored employees cannot be efficient. For an example of what we are disputing, it makes no sense to create a bathroom specialist, or a dusting specialist. Employees should like their jobs, and if a rotation of responsibilities makes their jobs more interesting, then this will over time make them more productive. So if you have bought a book or an e-book which emphasizes efficiency over thoroughness, you might derive the best value from it by packaging it up today and mailing it to your most naïve competitor.
One reason we are able to paddle the M franchises on a regular basis is because we offer better-tailored service and more thorough cleaning, and our training reflects this. So, you won’t find us justifying a training initiative on the basis of whether or not it pays for itself in terms of efficiency.
Enough about the reasons for training—after all, you have purchased the booklet, you’re already convinced. So, now let’s get on with the “How to” part of this Training Booklet.

What Type of Activities Represent “Training?”

Training can be defined as: “The act, process, or art of imparting knowledge and skill.” An effective training program is comprised of a host of complementing elements, all of which are integrated into most every aspect of a company’s daily operations. An effective training system is based on the premise that training is continuous and never ends. It sounds nifty, but how does one actually go about integrating continuous training into a company’s operations? Here are some training measures and concepts which have worked well for us. We hope you choose and apply at least one, and that doing so improves your company’s competitiveness and financial performance.

Classroom Training and Videos: Boo, Hiss!

First what not to do. Classroom training? Don’t bother. Only very new house cleaning companies are naïve enough to pay new employees to sit in a chair for their first hours or days with the company. Once they experience their 10th employee quitting immediately after the classroom training, they learn that step one in every housekeeper’s employment has to be hands-on trial-by-fire training. Among other things, hands-on training has to include relentlessly supervised scrubbing of shower corners, washing of floors and cleaning of toilets. Throughout an employee’s first two weeks, she should work harder than she will ever have to work again. If she keeps coming to work every morning, then maybe you have someone worth an investment, and you can begin training her to clean finer parts of a home. If she doesn’t last the first two weeks, then at least you’ve cleaned some shower corners and toilets in the process, and benefited from learning early that another new hire is better suited for a job with your competitor.
As for the training videos, we don’t feel strongly about them. While they are generally in our experience a waste, they are not so much of a waste.

Hands-On Training

When it comes to training house cleaners, nothing can substitute hands-on training for effectively demonstrating how to clean. Despite this, how many cleaning companies in a pinch are still willing to send a single house cleaner on her first day out to clean their first house alone?
The House Cleaning Alliance offers indispensable How to Clean booklets which offer very specific detailed information regarding How to Clean a House. These booklets have been written for managers as guides for offering hands-on instruction to professional house cleaners.

Team Cleaning Promotes Training

Professional housekeepers who work independently dismiss team cleaning on the basis of it being less efficient. In terms of the time it takes to clean a given home, located X miles from the point of departure, factoring in drive time, and other waste and inefficiencies, their assertion is valid. But the assertion’s premise is sorely misguided.
Due primarily to the cost of drive time, cleaning solo will maximize the ratio of cleaning time to total time. But for a scaled enterprise, that doesn’t translate to Jack. Scaling depends on training which depends on the dissemination of skills across a growing work force. The most efficient way to disseminate skills is through hands-on instruction and demonstration, and it’s impossible to provide hands-on instruction or set a good example for a new employee when your work force is divided into cells of one. Scaled enterprises clean in teams for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is the opportunity to continuously train employees. You want to scale? Train employees. You want to train? Clean in teams. You want to clean alone forever? Do it because you enjoy it, but don’t claim to do it on the basis of it being the best business model.
Our employees can continue to learn from each other forever. For example, each month we allow an Assistant Team Leader to substitute for our worst performing Team Leader, and we pair our worst performing Team Leader with one of our best performing Team Leaders for an entire week. We have found this method of retraining often improves Team Leader performance. It’s too expensive to run two Team Leaders together, you ask? Really? What would you pay tomorrow for an effective Team Leader? Our best Team Leaders are worth their weights in gold. Our worst are worth one last shot at redemption.

Rotating Team Members Promotes Training

You can enhance the effectiveness of the team concept by rotating team members continuously among teams. Doing so has a host of benefits, the second most important of which is leveraging your training assets (your team leaders) through a pollination type process (the first most important is multiplying data points for performance evaluations).
Of course, we seldom compromise continuity of assignments to accommodate a rotation schedule; we maintain continuity by keeping the same teams together on the same days of the week. So, each Monday, Maria works with Cleaning Associate A and B; each Tuesday she works with Cleaning Associate C and D; each Wednesday she works with Cleaning Associate E. So Maria’s Monday clients always have Maria plus Cleaning Associate A and B, and as far as her Monday clients are concerned, this represents Maria’s team. But at the end of the week, Maria has managed to work with eight to twelve different Cleaning Associates, and her remarkable skills have affected each, while any deficiencies have been diversified away by her colleagues’ complementary skill sets.
We’re never surprised to encounter reticence among our housekeepers about rotating team members, but we are surprised when we find managers who disagree with the concept. The most typical argument against rotating team members is that it unnecessarily complicates scheduling. In terms sacrificing a training opportunity, simplicity in this instance comes at a steep price. If you have some doubts, try it just for awhile; the results will be sufficiently compelling to convince you of the merits of rotating team members.

Performance Evaluations Offer Learning Opportunities

A properly managed system for evaluating employees’ performance offers a host of training opportunities, as a well as a means for gauging the general effectiveness of your training program.

Every two weeks (on pay-week Wednesday) our Team Leaders evaluate our Cleaning Associates. The report is prepared by the Monday following payday, and forms the basis for counseling sessions with outliers. Although performance evaluations are not training per se, we believe that regular performance reviews complement an effective training system. At our company, every Cleaning Associate understands exactly where they stand relative to their peers on three major metrics: 1) thoroughness of their cleaning; 2) efficiency; and 3) attitude. Additionally, each under-performer is told in the presence of team leader precisely what she must do during the ensuing two weeks to improve. Similarly, those that are ranked the highest receive praise and thanks for their performance, and clear explanations regarding the steps each needs to take in order to be promoted. In this way, we weave training into our performance evaluation reviews and counseling sessions.

An effective training program can accelerate the advancement of your new employees. It is rare for us to promote someone to Team Leader before they have spent six months with our company. But aside from that constraint, early training can allow new Cleaning Associates to fly past more experienced Cleaning Associates on their way to be promoting to Team Leader. In our company, promotions are absolutely based on performance, and early training helps to create upward mobility among newer Cleaning Associates. In this way, our systems for training and performance evaluations combine to reinforce the employees’ understanding that the system is a meritocracy which nurtures development, and efficiently rewards performance.

Team Leader Meetings an Efficient Method of Continuing Education

We find Team Leader meetings represent an effective method of communicating systemic highlights & lowlights in terms of operations and service issues. When we first started Team Leader meetings five years ago, we scheduled them regularly every two weeks, one hour before departure. They proved to be counter-productive. For those who came, there was a lot of eye rolling, and sleeping and it seemed that most Team Leader meetings ended in a major hijacking. At the conclusion I was always left with a disappointed feeling that I had just bought donuts for, paid extra wages to, and wasted a lot of hot air on, a mob of my ten best employees, only to have them beat me to a pulp at the end of the meeting. And this says nothing about company-wide meetings, which I tried only twice ever (just don’t do it). We still hold Team Leader meetings, but we’re more careful about how we manage them. We have found that the most important keys to holding effective Team Leader meetings include:

Brief Stand Up—keep meetings short (less than 5 minutes), and make sure everyone is standing throughout the meeting. Our Team Leaders don’t fall asleep when they are standing, and standing keeps the meetings brief.

Focused Itinerary—avoid any discussions which do not relate to the entire company. Don’t allow the meeting to become derailed by personal issues which can be better solved on a one-on-one basis outside the meeting: “My vacuum isn’t working. Maria, we’ll look into that, please see me after the meeting.” Be sensitive about balancing positive and negative material.

Impromptu—we never announce or schedule Team Leader meetings ahead of time. We normally announce meetings five minutes ahead of normal departure time, which results in keeping all the Cleaning Associates waiting in another room during the meeting. This contributes to a sense of urgency for ending the meeting, and helps to discourage irrelevant questions. Holding Team Leader meetings on an impromptu, irregular basis also implies that we are only meeting because we have something really important to say. It also limits the opportunity for employees to plan a hijacking of the meeting.

Interactive—always ask questions during the meeting to make your points. This keeps everyone involved in the meeting and can keep the meeting less uninteresting.

Be Prepared—meetings are impromptu for the Team Leaders, but for you, they are carefully planned, prepared and orchestrated. Avoid making general remarks; generally, your remarks will have more effect if you can give examples.

Special Invitations—we always extend special invitations to join the Team Leader meetings to a handful of Assistant Team Leaders and Cleaning Associates as a means of recognizing their importance and contribution. In terms of the company’s cost per employee smile, this is very affordable.

Following is an example of dialog during a Team Leader Meeting:

“We have a few matters to discuss. First, we would like to thank all of you for your exceptional performance last month. We had the highest compliment rate since we started the company five years ago. Maria and Blanca had the most compliments, so we would especially like to commend them. [Clapping].
There is one matter regarding quality which I should bring to your attention which relates to cleaning behind toilets. The reason I am mentioning this now, is that during quality checks the past several weeks we had three different Team Leaders claim that the reason they had not cleaned behind a toilet was because the toilet was located in a bathroom which was not used. So, maybe there is some confusion here. Julia, can you tell me about the company’s policy for cleaning bathrooms which are not normally in use? Right. We always treat every toilet in every bathroom as though it has been used, unless it is specifically stated on the work order that the bathroom is outside the scope of our assignment. So, saying that a bathroom is not normally in use is not a reasonable excuse for not cleaning behind a toilet.
Regarding damages, there is only one matter which I would like to mention. It relates to dusting. Last week we had two separate occasions where a relatively new person broke something dusting. I think it may have been possible to avoid these two particular accidents, had the Team Leader assigned dusting those houses to a more experienced person. Assignments are left to the Team Leaders’ discretion. Yolanda, can you tell us please, how do you decide assignments for each house? Exactly. Thank you, Yolanda. Especially for nicer homes, Team Leaders or experienced cleaners should dust. Let the least experienced Cleaning Associates clean bathrooms and wash floors, until you can determine that they are careful, and have passed all their exams.
Please inform everyone you work with today that if they want to submit a Leave of Absence request, they should do so at least by departure of the preceding day. Many of the Cleaning Associates are sacrificing their dependability bonus by submitting their leave requests relating to the following day upon their return. So please discuss this with those you are working with today.
Now that it is getting dark earlier, we seem to be back to leaving dome lights in the vans on at night. Juan had to jump start three vans last Monday. So, Martha, Yolanda, and Bob, especially on Fridays, please check to make sure you have turned off all the van lights, including the dome lights.
Finally, I would like to mention the results of equipment checks. Rhonda and Martha, your equipment is in excellent shape. Clean equipment makes a positive impression on customers. Thank you for keeping your vacuums in good condition and keeping your equipment clean.

Are there any questions?
Question: [I think that the time on my last pay check was miscalculated.]
If anyone ever thinks that their hours are too high, please see Angela immediately. Rhonda, please speak with Angela about your pay after the meeting.

Are there any more questions which relate to everyone?
Question: [Why do we have someone running a team for two weeks, but we don’t promote her to Team Leader?]
Our policy regarding promotions is that an Assistant Team Leader has to have experience and prove herself in running teams before we promote her. So if someone is running as a Team Leader, that is a good sign. It means we are considering her for promotion. If we haven’t yet promoted her, then there may be a reason for that. Generally, teams have permanent Team Leader assignments. So if we are running nine teams and have only eight Team Leaders, then it is very likely that someone might be promoted to Team Leader soon. But you know we promote on the basis of performance, not seniority, so we will announce promotions as they are earned. If there is anyone who is running teams and doesn’t understand what steps she must take to be promoted, she should see Angela or me. Does that answer your question, Maria?

Are there any more questions?
Question: [Why are we getting back later everyday?]
We are not planning for you to get back later everyday. In fact we prefer that you get back earlier. When too many people call in sick on Friday though, that certainly does affect return times. Also, when our Team Leader meetings run too long, that also causes us to get back late, so now, we had better not keep the Cleaning Associates waiting longer. Thank you all for your attention. Drive slowly. Clean fast. Have a good day.”

Quality Checks Offer Extra Opportunities for Hands-On Training

Our Quality Manager cleans houses. We couldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes she runs as a Cleaning Associate with a new Team Leader. On such days, once the Team Leader has checked the house, our Quality Manager checks it again, pointing out any deficiencies. On such days, she also coaches the Team Leader on supervising techniques and how best to assign cleaning tasks among the team, and how to train new employees.

On other days, she straight-up checks houses. When she does so, she observes and coaches cleaning techniques, and shows cleaning associates how to clean according to company standards. In doing so, she reinforces the hands-on instruction which Team Leaders offer new employees on a more regular basis.

While Quality Checks are not precisely for the purposes of training, an effective Quality Check function can serve as an added measure to reinforce and enhance a good Training program.

Timely Communication Improves Value of Customer Feedback

We find it to be more meaningful when we can inform Team Leaders about customer feedback on the day of the assignment or the day following the assignment. This may seem obvious, but the last company we purchased simply didn’t bother to tell cleaners about feedback at all. We make every effort to inform Team Leaders about customer feedback immediately when possible, or the following morning during dispatch, at the latest.

Steep Hierarchy Facilitates Knowledge Dissemination

Having a steep hierarchy, a big difference between the Team Leaders and Cleaning Associates in terms of pay and responsibility (and the fact that the Team Leaders evaluate Cleaning Associates every two weeks), creates an atmosphere of respect which makes it easier for Team Leaders to train new hires.

When a cleaner makes a mistake at our company, we always discuss it directly with the Team Leader, in the presence of the Cleaning Associate. This reinforces the point that Team Leaders are responsible for executing every aspect of an assignment. This approach helps empower Team Leaders: “Hey come on! I’m the one that has to take the rap for your bad work. We have to clean those shower corners better than that. Please do it over.” While this certainly represents an important element of our overall quality control system, it also contributes to making our training more effective.

In terms of the appropriate pay differential between Cleaning Associates and Team Leaders, our Team Leaders are paid roughly 150% of what we pay Cleaning Associates. Several of the franchise maid services which clean in static teams of two have almost no differential (only 108%). The result is that each team member is more or less equal in terms of responsibility. A flatter structure fails to deter a “You’re not my boss,” attitude from a new person, which does not promote knowledge dissemination. In contrast, when our Team Leaders say “Chop,” our new Cleaning Associates pretty much chop, chop, or else. When applied responsibly by our Team Leaders, this type of respect facilitates knowledge dissemination.

Book Study an Essential Element of Training

We have identified a significant correlation between those housekeepers who have difficulty in passing our formal written exams and those who are prone to damages. We believe that intelligence represents the determining underlying factor in both. This is not a matter of literacy, because if an employee has reading difficulties, then we allow them the option of going through the exams with a manager. We conclude from this that one of the benefits of making written exams compulsory is that doing so may enable us to distinguish earlier those with a systemic tendency to damage property, as opposed to those who have been merely unlucky.

Basically we’re saying, if you can’t pass an exam which requires you to remember the company’s seven most important policy points, then how will you manage to follow the seven most important policy points? The approach isn’t meant to be mean, but it is meant to favor those who understand the company policy over those who don’t. We are not implying that those who lack intelligence should not be housekeepers, but rather if a housekeeper must clean stainless steel refrigerators with green scratch pads, it’s far better that they do so in a home cleaned by one of our competitors, rather than in a home cleaned by us. Applied in this way, in terms of sorting employees, our compulsory written exams come to represent another competitive advantage.

But there is more to the damages and exams equation than sorting talented and untalented employees. We believe that an exam-based training program represents the most effective method of communicating company policies to our Cleaning Associates. It is also the most effective means of ensuring that employees understand important guidelines for carrying out their daily assignments, such as which chemical to use for which application, and what the company’s policy is regarding cleaning ovens.

An Operations Manual which goes unread might one day save you in court, but it has no merit as a tool for training employees. A How to Clean booklet may or may not be read by your employees. But the best way to ensure that your employees actually read, remember and understand your policies and guidelines is to organize them as study points and test all employees on each study point. The House Cleaning Alliance’s Training Designer allows a company to tailor study material and exams to suit the company’s unique requirements. It is free to all members.

Track Damages to Improve Your Training Systems

There are plenty of reasons why it is important to track damages carefully, but one of the most important is to identify systemic errors in your cleaning professionals’ everyday standard cleaning procedures. In terms of laying out ground rules, written exams represent the most efficient means of ensuring that your employees understand what is expected of them. And a good set of ground rules is a good first step in managing damages. So the closer you monitor damages, the more likely you are to identify systemic errors. We have proven that recurring damages to equipment and client property can be reduced by tailor our written exams and on-hands training systems to correct such errors. Furthermore, including ground rules in our test-based training makes dealing with policy and procedure violations much easier to manage, when violations do occur.

Monitor Exam Progress to Forecast Employee Commitment

Which of your employees are planning to remain with your company long-term and which plan to leave tomorrow? We have identified a significant correlation involving those employees who don’t bother to pass their exams on schedule, and those who don’t plan to spend much time working for us. So now we ask employees to leave at the conclusion of their two-week probationary period if they have not passed at least two written exams.

Summary

  1. Training is essential for a scaled service company.
  2. The most effective training programs weave continuous training into every element of operations.
  3. Hands-on training is an indispensable element of an effective training program.
  4. Hands-on training can be complemented by a host of other training elements.
  5. And finally, book study and formal written exams represent the most effective means of ensuring that your employees understand company policies and procedures, as well as important do’s and don’ts with respect to carrying out their everyday assignments.

What’s Next?

For those interested in implementing formal written exams, please check out the House Cleaning Alliance’s Training Designer. Using the Designer you can tailor written study sessions and exam questions to suit the needs of your company.

A system for evaluating service employees complements an effective training program. For more information about developing an effective performance evaluation system, please read the House Cleaning Alliance’s “How to Evaluate House Cleaning Professionals,” or check out the House Cleaning Alliance’s Performance Evaluation Designer.

The House Cleaning Alliance’s “How to Clean . . .” booklets represent literature intended for professional house cleaners with an emphasis on thoroughness, not speedy cleaning.

Kaizen: continuous improvement.
Today we are good . . . tomorrow we’ll become better.