How to be a HR star

Many cleaning companies neglect their human resources strategies in the belief that the focus must be on business development. This can be a mistake in a world where people management is crucial. Cameron Cooper reports on five ways to get management teams on course to HR success.

1. Focus on the right people for the right role

Cleaning companies are facing cut-throat competition, so they need to have an edge on the staffing front.

Compromising hiring quality and simply seeking to fill roster gaps can ultimately come at a cost, from losing current sales and clients to damaging a hard-earnt brand.

Troy Stahlhut, executive general manager of Cleanworks Australia, a national enterprise which has about 300 cleaners on its books, says the starting point with HR is to know who you are hiring and what genuine skills people possess.

“What we do well is understand the specifics of each and every role and we are (very good at understanding) what the right fit looks like,” he says.

That means being aware of human traits and recognising which employees may be suitable for different jobs, including cleaning in more specialised environments such as schools and aged-care facilities.

“You have to know your clients and match them with the right cleaners.”

Stahlhut adds that superior HR practices and fostering a great culture lead to better retention rates. “It’s all about the people.”

At NRE Cleaning Services, a Queensland cleaning business with about 10 staff, founder Rod Abbott says HR and staffing issues are without doubt the hardest part of the job. In hiring staff, the first thing he looks for is people who show initiative.

“It can just be a minor thing,” Abbott says. “When the cleaner is doing a walk-through on a job they’ll notice something like dirt on a light switch. That shows me they are clued up and likely to be an asset.”

2. Keep developing and motivating your talent

Stagnant employees lead to a stagnant business. All cleaning companies can benefit from having systems and structures to keep motivating their people and advancing their skills.

In this respect, a performance review process can help, while ongoing education and skills development allows staff to progress through cleaning and management roles.

Abbott says NRE Cleaning Services encourages staff to take on more responsibility, such as becoming a supervisor.

“Everybody needs to have ambition in their life and to be the best they can be.”

With other family members involved in the business, NRE Services also tries to treat all staff as part of the family.

“If they feel as though we’re all in this together and if they do well, we do well, it creates a different atmosphere,” Abbott says.

Smart companies typically pay attention, as well, to rewards and recognition programs. This could be in the form of a monetary benefit for a job well done, or even something as simple as free movie tickets for a worker and their partner for outstanding performance.

Cleanworks offers gift vouchers for great staff efforts, and it also praises good workers through its newsletter and names a quarterly ‘champion’ of the business.

“We just make a big noise about what good and hard work looks like,” Stahlhut says.

“Recognition goes a long way.”

3 Double-down on training initiatives

A key element of developing talent is ongoing training. The aim for management of such training programs should be two-fold – they ideally target employees’ weaknesses and turn them into strengths, and they also put in place structures to continually upgrade employees’ skills.

In addition to regular cleaning skills, training in areas such as workplace health and safety, environmental issues and customer service can put the spotlight on HR issues and turn cleaners into well-rounded and highly valuable assets.

4. Clearly outline standards of conduct and work expectations

A basic component of any HR program is to alert employees to acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

A tool such as an employee handbook can cover policies around areas such as harassment, equal opportunity, expected behaviours and employee benefits. This brings clarity to the role and can protect the business from legal issues.

Such measures should not all be stacked in the company’s favour, however. Employees have rights, too, and handling staff grievances is a critical factor that affects employee satisfaction and the performance of a business.

Stahlhut says outlining standards and expectations to employees and other managers is not enough – those standards must be maintained.

“For example, one of the greatest causes of complaints from customers in the cleaning industry is the inconsistency of staff,” he says.

To address this issue, Cleanworks provides constant feedback and training to ensure staff acknowledge and meet their commitments, and ultimately enjoy the work they do.”

5. Be prepared to cut loose toxic staff

Employee exits are often managed very poorly and can lead to animosity and even court action. Having a clear understanding of the basics around employment terminations is crucial for management.

Abbott believes “corrosive” staff members must be let go. “That cancer has to be cut out,” he says.

While acknowledging that many cleaners have uncertain financial circumstances that can be exacerbated if they are fired, Abbott says tough decisions are often required.

“At the end of the day there are others in the business that you have to look after as well.”

At Cleanworks, Stahlhut says management should give underperforming workers “a chance to turn it around”. However, inaction is not viable if they keep failing on the job.

While terminating poor employees is essential, Stahlhut says the flip side is that HR policies and practices should ensure that outstanding staff feel valued.

“Because at the end of the day, without good cleaners we don’t have a business.”

This article first appeared in INCLEAN magazine 

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