Foundation for Success

Oct. 1, 2004
A well-designed custodial operation will pay dividends far in excess of its initial costs.

A person designing a product such as an automobile engine would spend a great deal of time devising the most efficient components to use when building it. An engine designed from the ground up would be more efficient than one built with spare parts, which probably would not produce maximum efficiency. The same can be said for a school custodial program.

Operational design

It is important, when designing a custodial operation, to design each component to be consistent with all other components so that the custodial operation can maximize its productivity. Several steps are necessary when designing a flexible and productive custodial operation:

  • Define area types, and measure the square footage of each area that needs to be cleaned. Identify each area's specific use (classroom, corridor, restroom, gym) and floor surface type (buffable, non-buffable or carpet).

  • Define tasks, performance criteria and accompanying production rates in relation to each area type. Define a set of tasks common to all area types, (empty trash, high dust, damp mop). Develop production rates using a common measurable unit for each combination of task and area type.

    Develop performance criteria for each task. Use these performance criteria to establish the inspection program of a quality-assurance program.

  • Establish the service level and communicate it to all occupants. Establish a performance frequency for each task in each area type. Don't assume that every task must be performed on a daily basis. Test task frequencies by performing the task in specific areas and observing how long it takes until the task needs performing again. Negotiate the service level with the institution's executive-level management, and when they approve the service level, communicate it to all teachers and other staff.

  • Apply the service level (tasks, production rates and frequencies) to the measured areas. Applying the agreed-upon service level to the measured areas will calculate the performance time for each task in each area enabling tasks in specific areas to be assigned to individual employees.

  • Account for areas that need to be cleaned multiple times per day as well as variable workloads. For example, cafeterias and locker rooms typically are cleaned two or sometimes three times a day because of the intensity of foot traffic.

    Often, it may be only a single task that must be performed multiple times per day, such as emptying the trash in the cafeteria between lunch periods. Areas that must be cleaned many times a day should be recorded as separate square-footage entries. To do otherwise will understate staffing needs in these areas.

    A variable workload is a task regularly performed by the custodial department that varies in its frequency and intensity of performance, such as elementary- and secondary-school custodians who clean up at the end of after-school functions. PTA meetings, athletic banquets or band rehearsals generate work for the custodian that vary in intensity and frequency.

    Variable workloads must be studied for a period of time, and an average daily amount should be predicted based on actual historical need. Once you determine an average daily amount, record it and assign it to the appropriate employees.

  • Account for non-cleaning and cleaning-related tasks. Non-cleaning and cleaning-related tasks are those that cannot be applied directly to square footage. Tasks such as supply distribution, trash removal, secretarial support, supervision, group leader time, opening and securing the building and power plant duties are examples of such tasks.

Study these tasks for a period of time and predict an average daily amount based on historical need. Again, once you determine an average daily amount, record it and assign it to the appropriate employees.

Training program

  • Design an audiovisual training program that teaches employees to achieve the results stated in the task performance criteria. Constant, intensive and consistent training is one of the keys to building a productive custodial operation. Unfortunately, it is one of the most shortchanged components of a successful custodial operation.

    Department managers frequently shorten a new employee's initial training and fail to provide regular in-service training for existing employees in order to put those employees immediately into production. This short- sighted behavior undermines any efforts to establish an environment where employees can refine cleaning techniques in a group setting and develop a consistent process. When employees are put to work without adequate initial and recurring training, they will refine and perfect incorrect and unproductive processes.

    Develop an audiovisual training program to train employees to efficiently perform tasks. The training program should describe each task well enough so that the employee understands how to perform the task to achieve the specified performance criteria.

    Create training program modules that teach the cleaning task sequences for the institution's critical area types (restroom cleaning, public-area cleaning, classroom cleaning). For each module, develop written testing materials that can be used to document training results.

    The training modules should be in a format that requires a live presentation of the materials. Live presentation by an employee's immediate supervisor will strengthen the relationship between an employee and supervisor. When supervisors become active trainers of their employees, they become leaders more than bosses. The act of making live presentations of training materials also will strengthen and develop the technical and communication skills of a supervisor.

    New employees should review each module that applies directly to their responsibilities before they are allowed to perform alone or in tandem with another employee. This may mean that new employees spend a large part of their first day on the job in a classroom reviewing training modules with their immediate supervisor. This initial bonding between a supervisor and new employee will pay dividends later in increased employee cooperation and production.

    Existing employees should review one or two modules that apply directly to their assigned duties at least monthly in a classroom setting with other employees. This setting can provide the team-like feedback necessary to build consistent performance techniques.

    Training should emphasize an employee's development of motion efficiency. This is achieved through consistent emphasis on the details of task performance. Discussing how to move from one step to another, how to move through a room while performing tasks, how to keep supplies close at hand, how to adjust a trigger sprayer and how much to wring out a damp mop are examples of the details that help develop motion efficiency.

  • Design a quality-assurance program that confirms the correct performance of the tasks.

An employee's immediate supervisor should perform inspections that are scheduled frequently enough to provide regular feedback concerning performance.

An inspection should be unannounced and should take place shortly after the area to be inspected has been cleaned. The supervisor should ask an employee to be present during an inspection. This will serve as an additional opportunity for the supervisor to train the employee.

The inspection should take place in a small representative sample of the employee's assigned areas. For example, one large classroom in a school or two or three private office spaces and a restroom will provide enough area for a meaningful inspection.

The inspection should be scored and a minimum passing score established. Scores should be tracked for each employee and used to identify individual training needs.

Rice is president of Housekeeping Systems, Inc., St. Louis.

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