Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Which Do You Put First—Your Cleaning Customer or Your Employee?

February 9, 2001
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Taking care of your most expensive and valuable asset—your technicians—will result in a more profitable and successful business.

When you run a small company, like most of us in this industry, you can’t afford to waste any of your resources. Unfortunately, I see many cleaning service business owners worrying about chemical and fuel consumption, while unknowingly wasting their most valuable resources—their employees.

The bottom line is this: if you waste the intelligence, energy, or skills of your employees, it’s worse than throwing money away.

I recently found myself with an urgent need for a store manager’s job description and turned to one of my trusted suppliers, Rob Hanks, whom I have known for about 30 years. Rob and his brothers have developed an incredible understanding of the independent cleaning professional and their business challenges, which they share generously in their business dealings. The job description he shared with me really drives home a valuable lesson for all small business owners.

The first statement on the job description Rob sent me says, “The primary responsibility of the Store Manager is to be a good leader for their employees and to give exceptional customer service to their customers—in that order. We recognize that our employees are our number one asset. Productive, happy and dedicated employees take incredible care of our customers; therefore, excellent employee relations are vital and expected.”

The same paragraph goes on to say, “Consistent coaching and praising will ensure good communication, production, a pleasant work environment and exceptional customer service. Managers are required to use every possible opportunity to empower their employees.”

This opening statement, which powerfully focuses on putting the employee first, is so important in today’s labor climate that I chose to share it with you in this month’s column.

As our most expensive and most valuable assets, we must get the most from our employees.

The surest way to get the most from employees is by treating each of them with respect. Your attitude towards the people you hire goes a long way in determining their attitude about the job. When good employees are asked about what makes them dedicated to their employer, one of the first things they mention is being treated like they are important, deserving of respect and attention.

The fact is, these employees are certainly more than just a “human resource,” they are persons. Employees want their mind and judgment to be valued. No matter what kind of work they do, they need a sense that their input counts. When you allow employees to think about how to solve problems, not just do a job, you unleash an amazing amount of creativity and energy.

To help make your employees more productive, the following items in mind.

Train Them: It’s hard to take time away from your own work to train someone else, but you’ll save far more time in the long run. If you have to, train after regular work hours, when you can give the new employee your undivided attention. In a small business, employees should be able to pitch in on just about any job, so don’t just train for specific tasks. Instead, teach them about the whole business and emphasize problem solving.

Communicate: Perhaps the biggest mistake companies make is the failure to share information. Have short, frequent meetings, maybe only 10 minutes at the beginning of the day and share both bad and good news. Employees feel included and empowered when they know what’s going on.

Motivate: People who share a common vision work harder. Share your vision and enthusiasm.

Empower: Allow them to make certain decisions. Nothing is worse for morale, or for the bottom line, than an employee who is only allowed to follow narrow rules. Most employees will learn how to do their job better than you can teach them. Let them use their brains, not just their backs.

Evaluate: You can’t expect employees to improve if you don’t give them constructive, regular feedback. Employees are better able to meet your needs if you let them know when they do well and how they could have done better. Give specific suggestions and above all, don’t just complain.

Acknowledge: The least productive sentence an employer can use is “I don’t need to thank employees; they get paid.” We all need to be thanked and recognized. Find opportunities to get the staff together to acknowledge jobs well done. Give small acknowledgments (plaques, certificates, T-shirts) to recognize even small achievements.

Reward: Pay people decently, reward them when you’re successful, and give them as much sense of security as you can. Employees don’t work well when they’re worried about how they’ll pay the rent or whether they’ll have a job next month. Job security, good pay, and decent benefits help make a much more productive staff.


In a small company, it’s not possible to match the financial benefits of a big corporation, so it’s even more important to make every employee feel valued, included, and respected. If you help your employees grow, they’ll help your business grow.

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