4 Traits of A+ Caliber Janitorial Managers – “Industry Experience” Is Not One of Them

The biggest problem you have in your cleaning company is not getting the right customers, developing the right systems, or even hiring the right cleaners. Yeah, I said it! Hiring cleaners is not your biggest obstacle. Sure, hiring cleaners may take the most time and energy, and may cause the most headache. But front line managers (e.g. area managers, operations managers, project managers, etc.) are the most important focus of small and mid-sized janitorial contractors.

Why is this the case? First, these managers are most often responsible for hiring the end cleaners. Second, they are responsible for implementing company systems and ensuring that all work is carried out as promised to the customer. Finally, these managers typically maintain the personal relationships with the customers. Without high-level managers, your company will be mediocre at best, have no chance of real growth, and the owner will never find true freedom.

Finding A+ talent can be difficult. I certainly have hired my share of bad apples. And while there are many tried and true steps in a successful hiring process, one of the very first is identifying the key traits or attributes needed in your managers. Over the years, we have identified four primary characteristics that seem to be associated with A-Level managers. (The first three traits are found in Patrick Lincioni’s “The Ideal Team Player.”)


#1 – Humble

Great leaders are humble, and two of the best business books of all time (Good To Great and The Bible) make this clear. Humility is not some self-effacing, woe is me attitude that allows people to walk all over you. Rather, humility results in a quiet confidence that doesn’t need to boast or be recognized. As C.S Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Humble leaders are able to put the needs of the company and others above their own. Such an attitude wins the affection of followers and ensures higher output. A leader who lacks humility is certain to have difficulty running a large crew of people doing a job that most wouldn’t do for pay that many find undesirable.

Another reason humility is so important has to do with the nature of our industry. Let’s face it, the janitorial industry is not sexy or glamorous. Any manager who feels “too good” to do the actual work WILL NEVER be able to motivate a team of people to perform that work. Conviction can’t be faked, and if workers sniff a hint of arrogance, morale and motivation are out the window. If cleaning a toilet is beneath a manager, then he/she is unworthy of the job.


#2 – Hungry

Your front line managers (and in fact, all of your company leaders) need to be hungry. By hungry I mean motivated, competitive, and determined to succeed. You do not want managers who are looking for a J-O-B. If someone just wants to come to work, put in their hours and go home, then they are not a good fit. Hungry leaders are always looking for an edge, looking for ways to get better and better. They want to win. They want to be the best, proving to the customer and you that they are the right fit. Hungry managers aren’t satisfied with the status quo – they want to grow the company and grow their career. What is particularly interesting about hungry people is that while money is certainly a driver, humble and hungry leaders are more concerned with the challenge and accomplishment then they are the money. A team of hungry players will not need you constantly driving them to achieve the goal. They just need a goal and they will go crush it.


#3 – People Smarts

While IQ is certainly an important component of success, emotional IQ is perhaps more important in an industry like ours. The cleaning industry is about serving customers through unskilled labor management. If you don’t have “people smarts” YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED. Here are some indicators of people smarts:

  • Ability to read social cues
  • Ability to understand and cater to the emotional needs of others even when those emotions are not clearly stated
  • Ability to handle conflict without alienating others
  • Ability to balance the needs of two parties in a way that both feel well taken care of
  • Ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions in a variety of situations


#4 – Blue Collar Professional

Of all the attributes I’m advocating for, this is the only one unique to the building service contracting industry. Our front line managers have a unique challenge. They must be able to relate to a low-skilled workforce one minute and then interact with managers and perhaps executives of large corporations the next. These janitorial managers must be able to train workers on cleaning toilets and pulling trash yet also be able to upsell services or negotiate contract pricing with a purchasing agent. This takes a special skill set.

A straight up white-collar manager can’t relate to the blue-collar workforce, but a straight-up blue-collar worker will have difficulty dealing with corporate management. Therefore, the ideal janitorial manager is someone who possesses a professional skill-set while maintaining a dash of blue-collar. Being a southerner from KY, I would refer to such a person as a professional with blue-collar roots.


Why Not Janitorial Management Experience?

In light of my article title, you may be asking yourself, why do you not view previous janitorial management experience as a key character trait of potential managers? Well, there are two primary reasons for this. First, it has been my experience that most candidates with “previous industry experience” turn out to be bad fits. They have typically been ingrained with another company’s bad habits and attempt to infect my company with them. To make matters worse, they are very resistant to change. Once habits are ingrained, they are difficult to break. While about 10% of my management team has significant industry experience, the rest do not.

The second reason for my lack of excitement about janitorial management experience is that the nuts and bolts of the janitorial industry is pretty basic and can be easily trained. In fact, I would argue that we aren’t in the cleaning industry as much as we are in the people management and service industry. As an industry consultant once told me, “I’d rather take a manager and teach him how to clean than take a cleaner and teach him to manage.” There is much truth in that adage.


Don’t Settle

Let me leave you with this little bit of encouragement. If you get the right managers and leaders on your team, your company can be a roaring success! If you settle for mediocre managers, you will have a mediocre company (and little personal freedom). So don’t settle. Do the hard work of getting the right people with the qualities I listed above, then enjoy the easy work of watching them succeed!


A Free Offer

If you want to learn more about recruiting and hiring high level managers in your company, I want to invite you to our Elite BSC Mastermind Webinar coming this Wednesday (8/9) at 12PM CST. The topic will be “Recruiting and Hiring A-Level Managers.” If you sign up for the free 30-day trial membership to the Elite BSC Mastermind Group, not only will you get to sit in on the webinar, but you will also get instant access to the group. If you don’t want to go on being a member, you can just email me and you don’t have to pay ONE CENT.

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