By Rick Mullen,
Maintenance Sales News Associate Editor
The more systems a business has in place, the more success it will have. Success is in the systems, not in the creativity of the individual. Such was the message Debbie Sardone imparted to an audience of cleaning professionals during her presentation, “Systemize Your Training Program,” given at the 2018 ISSA Show in Dallas, TX.
“Success usually comes from following a proven formula,” Sardone said. “The good news is, that means average people can be successful and be in that top 5 percent if success comes from a system, rather than from an individual.”
During the 2018 ISSA Show, Debbie Sardone received the Jack D. Ramaley Industry Distinguished Service Award.
Sardone said a systemized training program will result in more “freedom” and a better quality of life for business owners, as they will not have to constantly be involved in the day-to-day activities of their companies. Sardone gave the following example of an owner who saw dramatic results when she systemized her training after taking Sardone’s Cleaning Business Fundamentals (CBF) course.
“In 2015, she was averaging 25 workers year round, but issued 106 W-2s due to her 400 percent employee turnover. Her company was a revolving door of employees,’” Sardone said. “She took my course, systemized her training, and her employee turnover dropped dramatically the first year.”
In 2016, the number of W-2s issued went down to 75. By 2018, she issued just 38 W-2s, while averaging 25 workers on staff throughout the year.
“When you average 25 employees at a time, and issue 106 W-2s in one year, that is more than 75 employees coming and going for various reasons,” Sardone said. “Imagine the wasted money spent training all those employees. Furthermore, since 2015, the business owners’ sales increased by more than $300,000, as a result of having a solid staff.”
To emphasize how an effective, systemized training program can mean to a business’ bottom line, Sardone asked the business owners in the audience to consider the costs of hiring a new employee.
“You need to ask yourself, what is the cost of one new hire for my business?” Sardone said. “When I hire somebody and onboard them, do all the background checks and add the T-shirts, the uniforms and rubber gloves that will be thrown away when they quit, what does that cost?
“You might not have a clue how expensive it is for help wanted ads, to build a training kit for an employee, what you pay your trainer, what you pay the trainee, the shirts that get dirty, etc. Furthermore, what will it cost if you lose one customer because an employee isn’t well trained? It is very expensive to onboard a new employee.
“Let’s say you didn’t lose a single customer because the employee was well trained. It is still going to cost $691 to onboard the employee. If your training is disfunctional, and you end up cutting people who really should have been able to be trained to do a better job, you are spending a lot of money that you could have put in the bank.”
The average customer of a cleaning business spends at least $3,000 a year, Sardone said.
“Your customers probably stay longer than one year. For example, a three-year customer is a $9,000 account and a five-year customer is a $15,000 account. Is it worth improving your training to make sure you don’t lose just one customer over a poorly trained employee?” Sardone asked. “Until you know your numbers, you won’t do something about it when things are broken and disfunctional.”
TRAIN THE OWNER
Sardone told the audience of cleaning company owners, in her 35 years in business, she has learned three critical steps, two of which she learned in recent years, to effectively systemize a training program.
“When things are systemized in your business, the results and the standards are more predictable. Success is in the systems, and freedom comes from structure,” she said. “There are three things I have learned, in 35 years of business, mostly during the past several years. I’m going to teach you something I had never heard taught, and it was missing in my business for 20-plus years.
“I did have one piece right. I read Jeff Campbell’s ‘Speed Cleaning’ book years ago. I loved that book. It became my training bible. We have followed that for years and then, when he put out a VHS tape, I bought it and we used it to train in addition to the book. Then, he made a DVD, and I bought that, too. So, I always had a pretty decent method of training the cleaner. I didn’t realize there were two other steps that were missing. If you take care of these, your whole training program will work better.”
The two steps, in addition to training the cleaner, are: train the owner and train the trainer.
“Train the owner first,” Sardone said. “‘What? I cleaned for eight years. Nobody needs to train me,’ a reluctant owner might say. Sure, we know how to clean, but, as owners, we don’t always know how to systemize a training program. Why? Because we have the baggage from when we used to clean. We created unscalable standards. We tended to be perfectionists — ‘Nobody can clean like me.’ This is why business owners can’t get out of the field. They are still cleaning because they can’t find anybody who can 'clean like them.' They haven’t standardized their process. The first step in having an excellent systemized training program is training the owner.”
One of the pitfalls of demanding “perfection, Sardone said, is it cannot be duplicated, and duplication is one of the keys of a systemized training program.
“In training the owner, the mindset of thinking everything has to be perfect, everything has to be the way you do it, must be addressed,” Sardone said “You always make little rosettes on the toilet paper and turn the towels into beautiful little swans — well, good for you. But, you can’t make any money that way. Furthermore, it is very hard to duplicate all the personal touches that you create that made people only want you in their house. So, we have to teach owners a new way to look at the process. It has to scale, or you have to keep cleaning.”
Another problem, Sardone said, is owners tend to think in terms of the two extremes — “perfection” versus “sloppy.” There is a choice that must be made, somewhere between perfection and sloppy, that can be duplicated, which results in an effective training program.
On the surface, it might seem that the middle ground between “perfection” and “sloppy” is “mediocre.” Not so, Sardone said.
“The standard that an owner must achieve, if he/she wants to systemize training, is ‘excellence,’” Sardone said. “You can sell and duplicate excellence all day long. Forget perfection, and we are not going sloppy, we are just seeking excellence. If the owner 'settles' for excellence, then he/she doesn’t have to be as involved in the process. Freedom is better than perfection.
“I can become an absentee owner if I settle for excellence. I can manage from a distance to monitor and make sure things don’t slip into sloppy,” Sardone said.
TRAIN THE TRAINER
The second person in the business that must be trained is the trainer. The trainer needs to learn how to train, Sardone said.
“Train the trainer. What? The trainer already knows how to clean. That is not what I am talking about. You have to train the trainer how to train. They know how to clean, but that is not a trained trainer — ‘Hey, Mary Lou you are really good at cleaning, can you show the new girl how to clean?’ — that is not a training program. That is what we call ‘winging it,’” Sardone said. “If you are still ‘winging it,’ your business won’t really work that well when you go on vacation.
“If you don’t have systems and processes in place, things don’t work well when you are not there personally ‘spinning all the plates,’ and making sure everything happens.
“I actually have a day dedicated in my program to train the trainer. Training the trainer has nothing to do with teaching them how to clean. They know how to clean, that is why you asked them to train.”
Again, Sardone emphasized, it is a matter of developing the right mindset. Many times the employee who is designated as a trainer thinks he/she is just helping somebody to learn how to clean. There is more to it than meets the eye.
“If you show your trainers what training looks like, they will understand that cleaning is just a small piece of the process,” Sardone said. “There are many other elements that you have to teach the trainer. They won’t know these things on their own, and don’t assume they will.”
One of the first and crucial things a person designated as a trainer must understand is the person he/she is training is not a “peer.”
“Trainers don’t always get that right, because they know after the training is completed, they and the people they are training are going to be peers — they are going to be cleaning buddies,” Sardone said.
The “peer” mindset must be replaced with more of a “supervisor” attitude for the trainer to be effective. The trainer must act as the “eyes and ears” of the company, while in the training mode, Sardone said. People tend to put their best foot forward during the interview process. As a “peer,” the trainer may not report back any negatives about the trainee that weren’t apparent up front.
“The trainer with the ‘peer’ mindset won’t tell you if they see something because, in their world, they don’t want to be labeled as a ‘snitch.’ Nobody likes a snitch,’” Sardone said. “I’ve heard horror stories about trainers who saw something really bad during training and didn’t tell the owner, just because the trainee cleaned well, only to find out later he/she had no integrity.”
Another aspect in training the trainer is to supply him/her with some “tools” to work with during the training process.
“Training is not just about cleaning. It is also about the process. In my program, we have what we call our ‘five-day pass or fail.’ Every day, the trainer has a tool. It’s just five sheets, one for every day of the week,” Sardone said. “Our training period is five days. If it is taking a company four or five weeks to train, the program is broken. You can train somebody effectively in one week, and then monitor and supervise their results for a couple of more weeks.
“With our ‘five-day pass or fail,’ each day the trainee is graded on six or eight things, and only a couple of them have to do with cleaning.
“For example, on basic punctuality, the trainee will receive an A, B, C, D or F on a particular day. You might be a busy owner and have no idea the trainee is late everyday. The five-day pass or fail sheet will tell you if the trainee received a failing grade on a given day for punctuality.
“If a trainee gets D- or an F on punctuality on day one, the owner may have to have a very strong conversation with the new employee. Otherwise, the trainer might report at the end of the week, ‘She’s a great cleaner, but she is late every day.’”
Another element of the five-day pass or fail concept is “attitude.”
“How many times have we hired an employee who is a great cleaner, but is a terrible person? You can’t turn a bad person into a good employee no matter how hard you try,” Sardone said. “You can train a good person, who is a bad cleaner, to be a great employee. That’s why we say, ‘Hire integrity, train skills.’ If you train skills, you don’t have to settle for people with experience and low integrity. You can hire people with high integrity with no experience and your training will take up the slack. So, give the trainer the tools and the training to be successful.”
The trainer must also understand the concept of efficiency, as it relates to a cleaning business.
“It doesn’t help if you produce an employee who is as fast as lightning, but who is as sloppy as your competitor. It also doesn’t help you if your trainer produces a trainee who is amazing at cleaning, but is as slow as molasses. You can’t make any money that way. So, there is a delicate balance between being efficient and quick, while delivering excellence. In my program, I teach the balance comes from technique.
“Skill in cleaning, for a new person who is just learning, comes from the technique. It doesn’t come because he/she was born a good cleaner. The trainer needs to be taught to be committed to the techniques that we teach.”
Also, in creating a systemized training program, it is important to take care of the trainers, making sure they don’t get “burned out” doing the job.
“Pay your trainers well, so they don’t come to you and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’” Sardone said. “They pour their hearts and souls into training. Make it worth the effort.”
TRAIN THE CLEANER
The last person to be trained in a company, who is generally the first when there are no systems in place, is the cleaner, which Sardone said, is the easy part.
“You can train a cleaner with the ‘Speed Cleaning’ book and the DVD for $100, but how effective will it be without a process in place to also train the owner and the trainer?” Sardone asked.
For the individual who is learning how to clean, mastering the technique a company teaches is the road to success, Sardone said. Likewise, the success of the trainer lies in understanding the importance of teaching technique.
“When the new employee masters the technique, he/she can be as good as any cleaner out there,” Sardone said. “I’m a big believer in experiential hands-on training. Get the trainee out the door and in a house, cleaning the toilet as quickly as possible. Don’t have them spend a full day or two in the office watching videos. That is a great job — being paid to sit and watch videos. But, that is not what a cleaning is like. So, get him/her out the door and in a house, getting his/her fingernails dirty.”
Sardone discussed the importance of tangibles, documentation and checklists in building a systemized training program.
“You should have ‘tangibles,’” Sardone said. “Make the training as tangible as you can. That’s why I bought the ‘Speed Cleaning’ book 20 years ago. It is tangible. Read this and follow it and I’m going to hold you accountable because it is all in writing. So, somehow make it tangible.”
Documentation and checklists are other tangibles in the training process.
“It is very hard to do everything verbally. When your business is all verbal and nothing is documented, and there are no systems or processes in place, it doesn’t run very well when you are not there,” Sardone reiterated. “It is the same thing with training. What if a cleaner is found to be missing a step in the process and says, ‘Well, she (a trainer) never told me that when I was training.’ How do you know if that was the case or not? Maybe the employee forgot. OK, but it is in the book. We train with something people can hold in their hands, as well as something they can experience. Have things documented. Use the book and DVD that we have, or create your own manual.”
Having cleaning techniques that can be repeated is also a critical aspect of an efficient systemized program.
“If you adhere to a perfectionistic standard, your results are going to be up in the air and very hard to replicate,” Sardone said. “Everything you want your cleaners to do has to be repeatable, with the lowest common denominator person you would hire in mind. I’m not saying the lowest common denominator person in the world. We shouldn’t be hiring those. However, there is a certain skill set we can settle for in this business that works just fine. You don’t have to have a PhD. So, identify the lowest skill set that you can successfully work with, and make sure a person at that level can understand and follow your program.
“It is also important to realize the more you customize every single element of cleaning, the harder it is to train people to replicate. That is why some companies have dissatisfied customers and internal turnover spikes.”
Sardone gave the McDonald’s chain as an example of training people in a way that can be consistently repeated in all their restaurants, as opposed to demanding perfection.
“McDonald’s is the most successful restaurant chain in the world. However, a person can certainly find a better tasting gourmet hamburger elsewhere,” Sardone said. “But, would you rather own a McDonald’s and make $1 million a year, or would you rather own Joe’s Gourmet Burger, that barely generates enough money to pay the rent every month. Perfection is almost impossible to repeat.”
In the area of making training tangible, Sardone suggested audience members think about making a checklist of what they would like to cover in a training program.
“People don’t remember all the things you teach them, especially the first week on the job. You have to make training memorable by constantly reminding and reinforcing,” Sardone said. “Once a year, we have a big training meeting at my office, and, for three hours, we talk about cleaning. We just talk about the basics, nothing new. We review the 13 rules of speed cleaning. We watch the DVD again together. We go back to the basics once a year.
“Then, at our quarterly meetings, we share tips about cleaning and efficiency. We have to make it memorable. People forget stuff. I forget things all the time. If you want to systemize training, you have to make it memorable.
“Train the owner. Train the trainer. Train the cleaner. Make it tangible. Make it repeatable. Make it memorable. This is how you make more money.”
Editor’s note: Sardone is a speaker, author, business consultant, cleaning consultant, corporate training consultant and maid service owner. She owns several successful businesses, including Buckets & Bows Maid Service and SpeedCleaning.com in Texas. As the founder of the national nonprofit, Cleaning For A Reason, she has helped more than 50,000 women and families with cancer receive free home cleaning.
During the 2018 ISSA Show, she received the Jack D. Ramaley Industry Distinguished Service Award. It honors individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the cleaning and maintenance industry, through their innovation, professionalism, leadership, elevation of industry standards, promotion of the association’s growth and development, unselfish dedication without personal gain, and emulation of the ISSA Code of Ethics, according to ISSA.
Contact: The Maid Coach, 496 E Purnell St., Ste. 101, Lewisville, TX 75057.