Helping Your Contractors Succeed

The following article is from Behind the Broom and is written by Judy Gillies, President and Founder of the Surge Group.

Some facility managers change cleaning contractors on a regular basis. They go through what they believe is a thorough process, only to end up dissatisfied yet again. Then they have to start the process all over.

This is a huge cost to the facility, not only in hours spent attempting to resolve the complaints that lead up to the decision, but in hours wasted searching for another contractor. The interview process itself can add up to a lot of management costs.

Help your Cleaning contractors succeed

Putting together a cleaning Request for Proposal (RFP) is very different from putting together a proposal for a consumable product like mops. There are so many variables to cleaning that are not widely understood. So many people assume that cleaning is an easy business, but I know first-hand that not all cleaning companies are created equal. In my experience, there are six main reasons why cleaning contractors may fail and these reasons crop up again and again.

1. The manager did not clearly define the Scope of Work in the RFP.
2. The manager went with the lowest-priced bid, and there were not enough labor hours to get the job done right.
3. The manager did not ask enough questions about how the contractor’s workers were supervised or how supervisors were hired or promoted.
4. Communications between the manager and contractor broke down.
5. The contractor did not have enough experience and/or the proficiency to handle the facility.
6. The manager lacked the expertise or tools to draft an RFP that would cover these issues.

Let me explain each item in greater detail:


Too often the request for proposal is not clear on the Scope of Work to be performed. If you are vague in your description of the services you want your cleaning contractor to provide, it leaves everything open to interpretation. The lack of understanding of the Scope of Work, both by the cleaning contractor and the facility management, is where most of the problems arise. For example, one of your tasks may be stated as follows: Wash trash containers As needed

What exactly does ‘as needed’ mean? The facilities manager, the contractor and the building patron could all very easily have different interpretations of what ‘as needed’ means.

Detailing the tasks avoids contractor failure in two ways:

• The contractor knows exactly what they are bidding on and is, therefore, more likely to provide an accurate bid, and

• It makes issues that arise later easier to resolve as the scope is clearly defined in black and white terms.
This is much clearer: Wash trash containers Weekly

Also keep in mind that the scope of work needs to be revised and updated regularly. It is not enough to just put out the same Scope of Work that you did five years ago. The world has changed.

Recently, I saw this task in a Scope of Work: Empty office ashtrays Daily

When was the last time they had ashtrays in offices? The cleaning contractor might have been more than happy to include that task in the bid—and charge for it, too. The facilities manager might wonder why all the bids are coming in so high—perhaps there are other tasks that are not required and will drive up your costs. What in your Scope of Work needs to be changed?

Another common Scope of Work error comes down to comparing apples to oranges. This occurs when the current cleaning contractor is providing services not included in the Scope of Work. When a cleaning contractor has hired, “cleaning personnel that go above and beyond their job assignments”, which I find actually happens more frequently than you might expect, it could mean you are receiving services you are not currently paying for. When you go out for bids, this sometimes puts the ‘incumbent’ at a disadvantage, as they know what it takes to make the customer happy. Other bidders, meanwhile, are bidding purely on the Scope of Work included in the RFP. You may choose a new contractor based on a lower bid only to find yourself plagued by additional costs for the ‘extras’ your old cleaning contractor was providing at no cost.

In order to obtain the pertinent information to make a decision, it is important to provide the cleaning contractors that are bid! ding on your facility the right information. As the saying goes, “quality of information going out will be the quality of information coming back”. Developing the Scope of Work to be completed is not always an easy or a straight-forward task. Because of the constant pressures to save costs, to do more with less and still maintain a clean facility, it becomes quite complicated and can require more time than the facilities manager can spare.


This is a real problem in the cleaning industry. Facilities that base their decision solely on the lowest bid could be heading for trouble and, unfortunately, some cleaning companies are counting on it. These companies know it will be costly and contractually difficult for you to change contractors once they start. They bid too low to win a contract for work they cannot actually provide at the price, then hit you with ‘extra billing’, cut corners with equipment and products, pay their cleaners lower wages and fewer benefits, or subcontract to unethical cleaning companies. There is no strong barrier to entry into the cleaning industry. Anyone with a mop and bucket can call themselves a cleaning company.

But times are changing and, luckily, there is an increasing effort to bring professionalism to the forefront of the industry. No longer are deals made because of the so-called ‘old boys club’ or the ‘I will slip you some cash if you choose my company’ approach that was rampant before in the industry. Cleaning companies now have to be accountable, hire competent staff and use well-maintained equipment and quality products. Any lack of understanding of these requirements will put these companies in a difficult position for winning a contract.

Fortunately as well, health and safety regulations have tightened up and insurance requirements have eliminated some of the fly- by-night cleaning operations. I love the comment that a contractor made recently that really summarizes this point—“We are a health and safety company doing cleaning”.

Facility managers need to ask specific questions and understand the bid to ensure the cleaning company can do the job at the price tendered.


When I work with facility management to help develop the RFP, they always ask, “What companies would you recommend?”

This is a difficult question as the success of a cleaning company and its effectiveness mainly comes down to who they hire to clean, who they hire to supervise the cleaners and, most importantly, how they resolve issues and problems as they arise. Remember, you will run into issues with any cleaning company you hire. It is inevitable, but the great cleaning companies admit their mistakes, resolve them quickly and put policies into place to prevent the same issues from happening again.

One major determinant of the success of a cleaning company will be the cleaners they put on the site and how much they support those cleaners in achieving their goals. If their company does not back them up, or if it priced the bid too low for the job, even the best cleaners may simply not be able to complete the work as promised.

Often cleaning companies do not hire the right supervisor for the job. So many times in the industry, the cleaning company promotes good cleaners to supervisory roles and, perhaps, on to management. Although it is great to promote from within, the skills required by a good cleaner and those required by a supervisor/area manager are completely different. Supervisors must be trained to do follow-up with both the cleaners and the customer, to prepare inspection reports, to problem-solve, order supplies and a whole list of other skills not learned simply by working as a cleaner on site.


So many times, when a cleaning issue is not getting resolved, I find the real issue is simply poor communication, not the cleaning itself. One way to prevent this is to make sure there is clear communication right from the start of the contract. You should meet with your cleaning contractor and review the Scope of Work in detail. Since cleaning is mostly labor intensive, when most corporations cut costs, it is generally the cleaning tasks that get reduced. Facility managers cannot expect the same level of cleaning as in ‘the good old days’, but should expect all tasks to be completed as per the scope of work. The cleaning company’s responsibility is to manage the cleaning process and the results.

Another important area is to determine how often you would like to meet with the cleaning contractor, how to communicate— e-mail vs. face-to-face meeting, how often the cleaning inspections are to be done and phone numbers/e-mails given on how to contact the cleaning company when the need arises. The cleaning contractor should also provide you with work/task schedules (i.e. vacuuming schedules, porter hours, etc.). A good method I find is to color-code work assignments so the facility manager knows what areas are to be done where and when. There are great programs out there that can take AutoCAD drawings and break them into color-coded work assignments. This program can also color-code cleaning standards and highlight areas that need to be cleaned to the highest standard. That way, at a glance, you know how the work is allocated and a lot of the confusion is eliminated. These can be posted in the cleaner’s area and can be viewed on a regular basis.

In the case of a complaint, it is extremely important that follow-up occurs from both sides. This includes communication that the cleaning company received the complaint, that the company resolved the complaint and, if it was a regular occurrence, a description of how the complaint has been permanently solved. What seems to escalate cleaning issues is a recurrence of the same issue on a regular basis. It frustrates everyone involved and what normally should be a small issue gets escalated out of proportion and works its way up to senior management level. Many times, I have seen a cleaning issue become a heated topic of discussion around a boardroom table. Unfortunately, in this industry, great cleaning is rarely mentioned, but when there is ‘bad cleaning’ everyone knows about it.


As I stated before, all cleaning contractors are not created equal. Even though most companies draw from the same labor pool and have access to the same cleaning products and equipment, the results are not the same. It takes a well-run organization to deliver highly successful services that will meet or exceed your expectations. For a contractor to be successful, several aspects must fall into place:

• Competent labor must be hired, trained and provided with the right product, equipment and resources to do their job.

• Operations must be documented so that the cleaning service is provided on a consistent basis.

• Frequent adjustments must be made to job assignments in order to accommodate changes in their customers’ organizations.

• Modern technology must be used to manage efficient cleaning operations.

• Reports must be generated and communicated.

• Deficiencies must be fixed on a timely basis.

• Equipment must be well-maintained.

• Health and safety guidelines must be followed closely.

In addition to general cleaning experience, your particular cleaning environment may require specialized experience as well. For example, while the fundamentals of cleaning are relatively the same, cleaning in a healthcare environment will certainly differ from cleaning in a retail store; educational facilities will require different expertise than a large office tower.

A cleaning contractor may be able to take on any kind of facility, provided they have all the proper systems in place. A cleaning contractor may also decide to develop their own ‘niche’ and hone certain skill sets toward specialized cleaning.
It is very important for you to understand what you need for your facility and to hire a cleaning company that can demonstrate that they have the experience to do the job.


It should be obvious by now that hiring a cleaning contractor is not an easy task. Most facilities go out for tender every one to five years. From putting together the Scope of Work, developing the RFP and the time frame, to analyzing the bids and negotiating the contract, a lot of labor hours are consumed. I find that most purchasing departments are unaware of how much work really goes into a cleaning RFP, not to mention the industry expertise and insider knowledge required to choose the right contractor to meet the specified needs.

Hiring a cleaning consultant to help you with the process just makes sense. When I work with my clients, I try to guide them through the process by pointing out key things to look for and, most importantly, potential problems to watch out for. A cleaning consultant should never be the one making the final decision on the selection of the company. They should be used to direct the process and to reduce the amount of time and energy management needs to spend on the RFP. Cleaning is most often one of the top-line items in the facility management budget and involves millions of dollars. That is because proper cleaning affects the image of your facility and the well-being of those who use it. Increasing the chances of choosing the right contractor that will get the job done with a minimum of issues for the right price is a prudent move.

THANK YOU again for reviewing our materials. We look forward to partnering with you in the future.