A five-year plan

IT’S 2013 and your company is paying the highest wages in your industry, affording you the ability to attract and retain the best talent. Yet you have the lowest cost structure, so you have huge flexibility in pricing your competitors out of the market. Revenues have quadrupled while gross margins have increased almost 50 per cent, generating record profits as a reward for all your hard work. And by the way, you’re now dominating your industry. This is precisely what Simon Lim, CEO of Kuala Lumpur-based Maclean Services, achieved the past five years. And he did it in one of the toughest industries in the world – janitorial services. By focusing on improving productivity by almost 40 per cent, as measured by square feet cleaned in a nine-hour shift; and raising overall wages 25 per cent (15 per cent for frontline; almost 30 per cent for supervisors), he was able to become the number one player in his industry in five years. People The company’s transformation began with Mr Lim’s frustration with its inability to attract and retain quality people. He started by attending a hiring workshop. As a result of this workshop, Mr Lim launched a series of investigations. • HR ran a background check on all employees searching for a personality profile of the best performing operations staff. • Operations conducted a survey asking its staff two questions: “How do you wish to be rewarded?” and “What do you think you can contribute above your current role and responsibilities?” • The marketing and operations department determined the productivity of the operators and that of their competitors. • Management went down to the floor to chat with the operators on their wellbeing, problems and obstacles preventing them from getting their jobs done. • HR and operations compared the roles and responsibilities of the janitors, team leaders, supervisors, and managers with the job description sheets in their respective appointment letters. What these investigations found was clear pattern of attributes that distinguished their best-performing operations people from the rest of the team. These included: being the sole bread winner in their family; a Mr or Mrs Fix-It at home; having a positive approach towards life; and having participated in some form of disciplinary group or team activity like boy scouts, cheerleading, football; or having served on a police force or worked as a security guard – attributes any firm can discern about their own best performing people. In turn, they discovered what their people wanted. • Higher income – overwhelmingly. More than 80 per cent said that their current compensation system was not driving performance, and 100 per cent of them were not satisfied with the current income, not only in Mr Lim’s company but also the entire industry. Given a chance, they would move to other better-paid industries. • Respect. They wished that the management team would step forward to protect them against unreasonably demanding or abusive customers. • Appreciation. A simple “Thank you” note or some recognition. • Training. Work knowledge focused on understanding the reasons why certain processes are in place. • Social activities. Company sponsored employee events, quarterly get-togethers, annual family day, and group trips. Productivity To improve on his company’s productivity, Mr Lim’s team implemented 12 initiatives that started with new roles and responsibility worksheets to replace the outdated job descriptions. They also created a new recruitment checklist that focused on the attributes of their best-performing people. They also created a series of new cleaning operations checklists in monitoring and controlling performance, with a focus on capturing critical numbers that not only drive service performance but also have a direct impact on the bottom line. To support morale and respond to one of the staff desires, the company started a fun club, which collects minimal monthly contributions of $3 to $10 from the staff with higher ranking staff contributing more and the company matching the funds 2:1. Contributions to the fun club account are used to organise social activities, including an annual company vacation trip. They also introduced a basic, intermediate and advanced certification and included not only cleaning methodology training, but also an annual refresher one-day induction program emphasising company core values, vision, mission, codes of conduct, expected behaviour, safety rules and regulations, performance based appraisal system, and all the “whys” of the procedures or processes in place as they align with their customer’s expectations and challenges. I particularly liked their simple, yet effective, campaign to create awareness on how one individual’s non-performance can ruin the day for the rest using the power of peer pressure to self-police performance. “We focused on educating our customers on our new changes and establishing mutual respect for our janitors,” Mr Lim said. The company also convinced its customers and prospects to accept a new performance-based service level contract instead of the industry standard head count-based service contract, assuring customers that their lower head count can deliver the service expected through better trained and better performing janitors. “The major challenges we face everyday are maintaining sustainability and disciplining ourselves to get rid of non-performing staff fast enough to prevent the ‘cancer’ from spreading across the company,” Mr Lim said. “And we are blessed with a committed management team ready to embrace new learning and a passion for to driving through the changes in our company; it has been an awesome rewarding adventure, but also a tough challenging five years.” Verne Harnish

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