Creating a Work Place Community

Where I grew up in Michigan, we played baseball every day during the summer. When there were enough spots everyone played and we divided the talent equally between the teams. When there were no available spots, it was always the younger ones who had to sit it out. They were, however, expected to participate by chasing foul balls, keeping the bats in order and getting drinks for the older boys.

There were no adults to mediate disputes, but then, there were not that many, because there were only two options: conform or lose your spot on the team. These rules and expected behaviors were passed down from the older kids to the younger ones

Times were different back then, but as I watch youngsters in my neighborhood, or cleaners in the workplace, I often think that life was easier when expectations were clearer and choices were fewer. I liked the fact that some things were determined for me. I will admit that there were people who were subtly, and not so subtly, victimized by these arrangements. Obviously, we cannot allow that to happen, but overall, I think people adjust better to the workplace and are more productive when the expectations are clear and the options minimized. Moreover, it leads to cooperation and a sense of community.

As managers and owners of cleaning companies, we often do not realize what a confusing environment the workplace can be. Most people truly want to be productive and to be recognized for doing a good job. However, sometimes as managers and owners of cleaning companies, we fall short in setting standards, in explaining just what those standards are and what an employee has to do to be a cooperating member of the group. Our work is not just to teach our employees how to do a job, but also how to be a successful member of our workplace, which is more than knowing what chemical to use on what surface. It also requires being a team player.

In the work environment, we are the ‘older boys’. The ‘younger boys’ do not come in already knowing the rules. First, we have to make the rules that will help our organizations run smoothly. Then we have to convey those rules. Last, but not least, we have to make it clear what the consequences are if they do not conform and what the rewards are if they do.


If you are like most cleaning operations, twenty percent of your employees cause eighty percent of your problems. These are the employees who regularly call in sick, perform at the lowest levels and generally create havoc for the rest of your crew. Like the younger kid at our neighborhood ball games who might refuse to get an older boy his drink of water, these employees often need to suffer consequences before they comply with workplace standards. The problem is, you cannot deny that employee his spot on the team if you did not first make the rules clear and explain the consequences of not following them.

A number of years ago, I was asked to do one-on-one training with a cleaner at a public school. This cleaner had been employed for over ten years with the school system, but had a terrible record of attendance and performance. Only by proving that the employee had been trained on a specific set of standards for his job, could the district document that the employee was knowingly not performing up to those standards.
I do not know how the story ended, but I do know that they did that employee no favors by failing to develop or convey a set of standards for him to follow. I also know that had this district developed a set of performance and training standards earlier on, it would not have been forced to endure ten years of subpar performance on the part of this employee. He would have either met those standards, or he would have been gone.

Without standards, the problem twenty percent of employees will do the minimum work required to keep them out of trouble. Start by creating a standard of expectations for cleaning procedures, setting the amount of time designated for each cleaning task and outlining the expected appearance level. Then convey those standards to your employees. By doing so, you not only improve efficiency, but you also create standards for evaluating performance. You can then take action against those employees who knowingly do not conform to those standards. If the standards are not set, they can hardly be blamed for not knowing what the job requires.


Another twenty percent of your workforce is usually made up of your top performers. These are your all-stars—the ones you count on to do not just what you ask of them, but more. Their attendance is stellar, they often fill in for the slackers and you can always call on them for the special jobs or when you need to impress a new client. This is the kid who carries all the bats so the others do not have to, or brings the older kid a drink just because he looks thirsty. A lack of standards can create problems with the top twenty percent as well.

I remember talking to a cleaner who worked at a college administration building. She was very pleasant and it was quite obvious that she took pride in her work. As we talked, she told me how much she liked working in the building, but wished she had more time. She said it was not uncommon for her to work through her breaks and sometimes leave the building a half-hour after her scheduled time. When I asked her why, she explained that it was her job to keep the building clean and she was not about to leave until it was done. As part of the cleaning profession and as part of that top twenty percent myself, I admired her answer. But as a consultant who has seen this so many times, I asked her this question: “What do you clean and how often do you clean?” Her answer was that she cleaned everything, every day. I asked if that was in her job description and she just laughed. They used to have one-and-a-half cleaners assigned to that building. Now it was just her.

Standards allow you to utilize your employees in a more effective manner. Cleaning everything, every day in that building would, indeed, have required one-and-a-half cleaners, but in cutting the cleaners on that job, the organization had failed to communicate to this worker that they had cut the job requirements as well. Or maybe they thought they were getting a better deal by allowing one cleaner to do the work of one-and-a-half. They were not. That cleaner’s time, ability and motivation could have been put to better use. By standardizing the tasks and frequencies for similar jobs, they could have had that cleaner out of that building on time and on to another job.


The majority of your employees—about sixty percent of them— fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Sometimes these employees do well; other times their work is less than adequate. Some may be unmotivated, but often they are simply confused. Like the woman I mentioned who fell into the top twenty percent, these cleaners do not understand what their job is exactly. They are not sure what they should be cleaning, how they should be cleaning, or how often they should be cleaning. However, where lack of standards in the top twenty might be a matter of optimum or sub-optimum usage of a few employees, here we are talking about the majority of the workforce. A lack of standards for this group will make the difference between customers who are satisfied and those who are dissatisfied. It will determine how much new work you can take on and, ultimately, will determine whether your business thrives or fails.

Achieving Cooperation: Our workplace does not happen by accident. Our relationships with our employees and our customers can be a reflection of us. If your employees are uncooperative, it may be a reflection of the way you deal with them.

Going back to my analogy of our baseball games, the rules applied both ways. The younger kids had to do the jobs we asked them to when not playing, but when there was room on the team, we had to let them play. You cannot get your employees to play by the rules, unless you play by the rules yourself.

Think About What You Say: When I was young we used to say, “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.” As I have become older and, hopefully, a little wiser I have found that words can be a powerful weapon. A snide comment or a condescending remark can have a powerful impact on people. The reverse is also true. A kind word or compliment can go a long way in helping employees perform at a higher level and make them feel like an important part of the team.

Allowing Participation: In our neighborhood, everyone was a team player; even when they were not on the team. Remember that even the kids who could not play on a certain day participated in some way. You need to allow all your employees to be team players, too. When in doubt, try to listen more. The solutions to some of your workplace problems may be inside of your employee’s brain. Give them a chance to express their ideas by becoming a better listener.

If your employees seem confused about their job responsibilities or what you expect, maybe it is because you are confused about what you want, or you have not expressed it clearly. Do not dismiss your employees’ concerns out of hand. Let them participate by listening to and considering their ideas.
Also remember that words are not the only way that we communicate with others in the workplace. Our body language says a lot. People know when we are not sincere or when our words are incongruent with our mood. Learning how to be comfortable with ourselves is important if we expect to have others feel comfortable around us.

Rewarding Good Behavior: In our neighborhood games, there were consequences for not following the rules; if you did not conform, you did not play. There were also rewards; if you did conform, you would play when there was a spot on the team. And if you hung in there long enough and did what you were supposed to do, eventually, you would be one of the older kids and get to play every day.

To make your employees into team players, you cannot just punish bad behavior; you need to reward good behavior as well. There should be some payback for going the extra mile or sticking with the company through thick and thin. Otherwise, there is no incentive to be a team player.

Building a Workplace Community: Everyone wants to feel important. The need for recognition is a part of being human. We live in a time where people are more disconnected from each other than at any other time in history. If you, as the manager or owner of your cleaning operations, can create a workplace community where people feel valued, feel connected and feel recognized, you will be providing your employees with something that is just as valuable as money: a place to belong. When we create these workplace communities, people are able to define themselves and define their relationships with others in a more positive way.

Inherently, employees want to do well. Employees want to belong. They want to get on the team. It is your job to assemble the team, decide on the rules and show them how to play the game.

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