How to Manage a Large Team
Breaking the glass ceiling of 10+ employees is a huge feat any cleaning business owner should be incredibly proud of, but with all the accolades and revenue opportunities comes an entire new set of challenges. Managing a large team of cleaners requires far more than just charismatic leadership and a steady stream of new business. Systems will now become the new theme of your next stage of business, as you learn to hire 10, 20, 40, 80 cleaners and ensure they are all motivated, engaged, set up for success, and cleaning to the same brand standards.
Around 10 employees is when most small cleaning companies will need to start thinking about developing additional management layers, as there are only so many hours in the day and your increased employee management requirements cannot help but sap resources from customer service, sales, marketing, finance, and all the other aspects of the business that need your attention. Step one to managing a large staff is figuring out the overlaps between which portion of the the operations of the business you excel at, you hate to do or stink at, can easily be delegated, and are too risky to hand off. Somewhere in that mix of overlapping circles, the Venn Diagram of what work you should retain as owner and what you can turn into a manager role will quickly emerge, and it will be different for every business.
Part of the joy of being a business owner is eventually being able to tailor your work to your strengths and hire people whose talents line up with your weaknesses. If you love crunching numbers and planning grand marketing schemes, but the daily drama of your staff drives you mad, you’ll need an employee manager, where the cleaning company down the street might need a customer service and sales person to compensate for their boss’ lack of finesse on the phone. Self awareness is hard and admitting weaknesses is uncomfortable, but for your business to succeed, you have to be able to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about the type of help you really need. Specifically, as it pertains to managing large teams of employees, you need someone that excels at being motivational and compassionate while still having the backbone to be firm and fair with your team, so if that’s not you, your first management hire is VERY clear.
Once you’ve figured out the help you need and hired them, giving them clear direction on how to do their work so they are empowered to succeed without you is the next big hurdle. This is where policies, documentation, employee training, procedures and software all suddenly take center stage. If you haven’t formalized any of these elements of your business yet, be sure to review our How To Grow Your Cleaning Business article for great tips on how to start this process. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on the portions of this documentation work that pertain to employees and we’ll presume you have established some basic things like an employee cleaning training program.
If you expect a large team of employees to produce similar level results you need at minimum: A concrete list of what surfaces have to be cleaned with what procedures for each room of the types of properties you manage, a manual or set of videos that show how each of those procedures are performed, a list of what supplies and how many are needed for the average cleaning, and a quality check form that can be performed by the cleaner themselves or a supervisor to confirm brand standards are being met. If you lack any of these things, your cleaners performance will be all over the place and no employees will be able to effectively cover for each other when the other is away, which will absolutely stunt your business growth.
Once you are sure everyone knows what is expected of them and how to do it, you next need to make sure that they have what they need to do it. This is where a strong morning employee dispatch routine, supply packing, and inventory management routine take center stage. Whether your employees come in daily or once a week, when they come to your business to refresh their supplies, the process needs to be run like clockwork if you want 20, 40, 80 employees to leave with the right stuff in the right quantities every time. Missing supplies, forgotten property keys, and equipment in disrepair all cost far more time and money to correct than getting it right in the first place.
Establishing a standard pack of supplies that is easy to inventory is a minimum, creating a daily routine for someone to collect used cleaning kits, refill and neaten them, and organize them to be handed out again is what allows growth. Once you get to 10+ employees, you can’t run a self-serve model with supplies anymore and expect consistent results. Self-serve at best ensure missed items and at worst theft and substandard supplies being brought into the field. Everything needs to be ready to go in a grab and go system, managed by someone with a keen eye for detail and ensuring every scrub brush reflects the quality of your business.
While every business is different, remember that your cleaning kits will at minimum include chemicals, cleaning towels, mops, vacuums and similar equipment, but it should also include things like keys to the properties that are tracked in a secure coding system, customer handouts for situations like accidental damage, reminder sheets for new staff on challenging or infrequent cleaning tasks, and cleaning enhancements that improve the consumer experience, like a signature fragrance, mints for the pillows, etc. In short, if you want your staff to have access to it when they need it in the right condition, it needs to be in your kit and tracked by someone that’s not them!
While pre-packing and managing 20+ employees cleaning kits might feel like a lot of additional work, the good news is that it comes with the incredible benefit of finally being able to safely invest in high quality supplies that help your large staff perform faster, safer, and more consistently. When employees self-serve supplies and product walks, it’s incredibly hard to pony up for the good stuff know it might not be around long. Once you have inventory management in place and a larger staff of employees to utilize it, you can finally get quality commercial grade chemicals in concentrate, proper automatic dilution systems, premium performance microfiber, and top of the line vacuums, confident they’ll be used properly and maintained to last.
All the largest cleaning companies will tell you that they actually spend LESS on supplies as a percentage of revenue when they’re bigger, even though they’re buying more expensive stuff than when they started out, all because of the economies of scale and supervision. When you’re small you can’t use through concentrate quickly enough to justify the equipment, so you waste at least 4X the money on ready to use. When you’re small, you feel like you can only afford cheap microfiber, which costs you at least 3X as much in the long run due to falling apart in far fewer washes and needing more towels to compensate for poor performance. Cheap vacuums suck up everyone’s time with slower performance and frequent breakage, costing far more in constant replacements than a quality vacuum built to last. Use the organization and standardization of your supplies as your clarion call to purge all your little company bargain basement supplies for the good stuff, making your staff so delighted they won’t even mind that they can’t shoplift supplies anymore.
Now that your staff knows what to do, how to do it, and has what they need to accomplish it, next it’s all about making sure they have the time to do it right. This is where your estimating process, scheduling policies and zoning procedures control your employees chances for success. For estimating cleaning time, you need to determine the average time it takes you to clean each type of room in your usual customer building, like 30 minutes per residential bathroom, so your team can accurately guess how long each job will take. For scheduling the clean, at minimum you need a firm yet broad arrival windows, like 9am-1pm and 12pm-3pm, so your staff has the best chance of being on time. Whenever possible, secure independent access like keys or garage door codes, so less entry snags occur across your many employees.
To truly schedule large teams easily, you need to assign specific regions of the cities you clean to separate cleaners, so each staff has their own specific zone that they can be assigned work within. A zone is a parcel of land that can easily be traversed from edge to edge within 30 minutes or less. For example you might have 3 cleaners assigned to each zip code you work in, so when a new job come in for zip code 12345, instead of choosing randomly among all your 15+ cleaners, your manager knows these specific 3 cleaners will only have work within 30 minutes of this new job, so they can drive to the job quickly and easily. Minimizing random long drives increases your profitability by ensuring cleaners spend as much time cleaning and little time driving as possible, so zones allow your managers to always make profitable scheduling decisions even when you’re not involved.
So now your large team of cleaners know what you want, how to do it, and have the supplies and time they need to do it right…all that’s left to do is make sure they WANT to do it in the first place! Employee management and motivation are sadly the most overlooked keystone to maintaining large cleaning companies successfully, because everyone becomes so wrapped up in the day to day grind they forget that their cleaners aren’t necessarily as passionate about the growth of their business as they are. If employees don’t feel genuinely appreciated and respected, if they don’t feel their employer sees them as a whole person and respects the needs of their personal life, if they don’t feel their wages are as competitive as they should be or reflect the difficulty of their work, if they don’t feel there is an immediate tangible reward for going beyond the minimum, they will never put in more than the minimum effort and level of commitment till something better comes along.
If you find your business trapped in a cycle of constant hiring and loss, it’s time to take a long hard look at the position you are offering from your employees point of view. If you were the cleaner, would you feel appreciated this week? Would the paycheck look fair to you given the other jobs available in your area? If you pushed yourself to work harder than usual, do you know clearly what reward you would receive and would it feel worth it? Would you be able to juggle your work and personal life with the policies and schedule in place? Is your work predictable enough that you could confidently plan to pay expenses and schedule important appointments like doctor visits? If you did the job exactly as you were told but the client was unhappy, would you be confident that you wouldn’t be punished for your client’s personal taste? If you pushed yourself, would anyone actually even notice? If you just phoned it in, would you still get the same hours and paycheck, even if the boss grumbled about it occasionally? If any of these questions left you with an uncomfortable feeling instead of a confident answer, you know where your next area of focus lies.
Empowering your cleaners and managers to do their best means putting policies in place than ensure great work is rewarded swiftly, everyone is held to the same fair standard, wages are adjusted regularly to reflect the competitive landscape, and policies allow for employees to effectively meet personal commitments while fulfilling work requirements all while you’re not involved. While you may still step in occasionally, it shouldn’t require your direct line of sight for any of these things to continue to be true about your worker’s experience of working for you. Even if you are an incredibly generous and compassionate boss, you can’t be everywhere at once, especially as you grow, so employees will stick their necks out less and less if they’re unsure their efforts will be noticed and rewarded without your direct involvement.
If you want your business to employ 20, 40, 80+ cleaners, they all need to know what you want them to do, if they’ll have what they need and the time to do it, how they’ll be rewarded if they succeed, and feel confident that someone will notice when they do. Once those things are true, there’s truly no limit to the size your cleaning business can grow.
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