Forget Who Moved Your Cheese  

(the Real Question is Who Dumped it on the Floor and Stepped in it)

The cautionary tale in the wildly popular 1998 business fable Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson details how various mice dealt with change. From whining to stubbornness to going with the flow. 

It’s all over the desks in one of our cleaning sites. “Gifted” by a new manager — 

To. Every. Single. Worker. In. The. Field. Of. Cubes. 

Career workers. Folks who have been here for 7, 16, 22, 30+ years. 

Each two-year term executive who stops by this podunk location on their way up the corporate ladder has “vision” 

Sees “what they could be” if only they would just change to fit the narrative in his head. 

They don’t really stick around long enough to see who these people even are, let alone what they could be. 

We’ve cleaned for these long-suffering people for the past 10+ years.  Through FIVE two-year term executives. They don’t have a change problem persay. They flap in the wind of executive whims every two years. 

So one night, at around 8:30 pm I walked through the executive offices and gave my usual sing-song, upbeat spiel, “Cleaning Lady is here, time to go home!” 

The responses vary from, “I know, I know” to “Yeah, I wish I could.”

To which I invariably respond, “Go home! Work/Life Balance” in a motherly, gentle tone. 

Tonight however, Mr. Two-Year Term sounded defeated. So I asked. “What’s got you down?”

“Ahh, getting beat up from above because these order numbers are down on the year. I can’t leave until I figure out how to change it.  We have a large group in, but they’re not placing orders. There’s no reason for it.”

This particular version of Mr. Two-Year Term was a spitfire.  Vaguely mean to underlings, quick to snap at people.  It was an unusually frank answer.  These types don’t really phase me, although they wreak havoc in a work culture.  I’ve been at this for a long while.  

So I walked in and said, “I know why your customers are hesitant.  Do you want to know what I see?”

He looked up, quizzically. I’m sure he was thinking, what on Earth does the Cleaning Lady think she knows?  But, given his unusual openness this particular evening, he humored me. 

I said, “Come on, I’ll show you”

We walked into a very clean restroom. Well stocked. No odors. No stains on the tile. 

I said, “When you have groups of buyers in, they often talk to us.  They compliment us on how clean everything is.  Which is great!  Our contact here always lets us know when you have visitors or big events. So we keep you looking tip top.”

“However, I also have to fish gum and garbage out of the urinal daily. Urinals aren’t designed for solids, only liquids.” I said while showing him signs of build up under the urinal screen.

“You have two different style faucets, both broken in some way. This one doesn’t shut off unless positioned just right. This one is missing the little ‘H’ button on top that indicates hot water. Neither one still has the aerator.  The lock is broken on the side of your paper towel dispenser and if you pull it just the wrong way, the whole roll falls out.”

He objected, “You have to put in maintenance requests for these things!” as if the disrepair was a simple fix and entirely my fault for not alerting someone.  Sure. In the executive restroom. That he and every other department head use daily and never notice these deficiencies.

I said, “Well, we do, but they don’t get addressed. If it technically works, it doesn’t get replaced.  

When your customers come into a poorly maintained restroom, no matter how clean it is, 

They see your lack of respect for your facility.  

They equate your lack of respect for your own facility to how well you will maintain the products you build for them.  But there’s more examples, come on.”

We stopped at a conference room that had 60 or so plastic rolling chairs. The feet of the chairs broke off in small pieces every time they were used. This room was where the group mustered between tours. I said, “These plastic pieces will damage our vac, so they have to be picked up by hand or swept into a dustpan before we can vacuum the carpet.” 

There were literally hundreds of small pieces of plastic, broken off underneath every chair that had rolled with an occupant in it.  They just snapped off from the weight.  

He said, “The cost of replacing all these chairs is prohibitive!  The chairs are comfortable, they work, just the wheels are damaged.  Our customers need to see that we are fiscally  responsible. All they really notice is you hand cleaning the room, isn’t that a good thing?  

“Sure, for me. We look great —   

You, however, look like you are fine with using substandard materials.  

Additionally, you look like you’re not really interested in replacing broken parts or impressing your customers with your dedication to quality.  They’re not paying bargain basement prices here.  This is a multimillion dollar global company.  I think you can afford new casters.” I replied.

“But come on, one more example.  If broken chairs don’t make you see, maybe this will.”

We walked to a nearby glass-walled customer lunchroom where the visitor luncheons were set up between tours.  Every single visitor walked into this room and every single employee walked past this room multiple times a day. 

On the floor, in front of the buffet table someone had dumped out around 2lbs of shredded cheese on the carpet over a 4ft area. Then, it appeared that several someones had walked on the cheese and ground it into the carpet. 

Remember, this was after 8:30pm. The stepped-on cheese had stayed there all day.  In an all glass room. Centrally located for all to see. In fact, the leftover food was never cleaned up either.  It sat out spoiling.  Spilled on the table and drying out.  Dirty utensils propped at awkward angles.  Overflowing trash can.  The room was trashed.  

He was taken aback. Eyes wide he said, “will that come out of the carpet?!”

I said, “Of course, we’ll take care of it tonight. And the buyers who were here today will notice and some of them may even comment to us about what a good job we did.  But that only reflects well on US as your cleaning company.  The lesson you are imparting about YOUR staff is completely different. They will equate your staff’s lack of care for their own facility to how those same staff members will care for the equipment they order from you.  Your customers spend a lot of money on after-the-sale service and maintenance. 

If your employees don’t respect their own facility, why should the customer expect them to respect the customers’ facility?”

Your employees are great at making presentations, showing off product, and discussing solutions.  But your facility and the way your staff interacts with it is telling your potential customers a completely different story.  People can tell when there is a disconnect.  Even if they can’t put their finger on why, something about the experience feels disingenuous for them.  And if it doesn’t feel right in their gut, they will not move forward with the order.  

His face reddened.  He reacted not with understanding of the picture I painted for him, but with anger.  “I’ll have my assistant put out a memo in the morning, this is not acceptable.  Can you send her a picture of this mess?” and started walking back toward his office.  The bathroom example did not move him.  Nor did the disintegrating conference room chairs.  But the cheese?  That really pissed him off.   I trailed, quietly, just letting him stride.  As we approached his office, I said, “That won’t fix your problem.”  

Sliding into his chair, without so much as a glance in my direction, he started typing and said, “Oh?”  As if to say, now the Cleaning Lady thinks she knows not only what my problem is but how to fix it.  I could feel the suppressed eye roll.  

I sat across the desk and looked directly at him but did not speak.  Finally, he turned, and said, “What would you have me do?  Just let them stomp cheese into the carpet?”

I told him the simple truth, 

“Yelling at people for not following the directions YOU DID NOT GIVE will never be effective.”

“People want to follow the rules.  They want to be successful.  They never want to be yelled at.  However, if your staff does not have respect for your facility, it is because you have never expressed your expectation of respect.  Instead of disciplining people for not reading your mind, you have to set the expectation in the first place.  

Positive instruction beats negative reinforcement every day.”

Still angry, he responded, “I think not walking all over cheese is pretty obvious.  I’d hate to see these people’s houses if this is how they act.”  I laughed and said, “Well, I have cleaned residential, so yes.  You are correct, you would be appalled at the condition of some folks’ homes.  However, this is a relatively easy fix.  Go ahead and send the email with a picture of the luncheon room attached.  People need to know that’s not okay.  But rather than just telling an entire group of employees what they did wrong, use it as a springboard to announce a new All Hands Housekeeping Policy.  We can help you design custom signage for the public areas specific to your traffic and usage problems that instruct rather than berate.  Setting the bar for how you expect your staff to treat the facility will help you manage the behavior of the entire group.  

He stared intently, like, did the Cleaning Lady just make a lot of sense? Then, a decision.  “Okay.  You can coordinate that with your contact, yeah?”  I said, “Yes sir.”  

“Alright, send him the run down of our talk and pics.  CC me.  I’ll let you two take the lead.”  Then he was back in his computer.  Apparently, talking time was over.  

And that my friends, is What Your Cleaning Lady Knows

This scenario worked for me for a few different reasons.  First, as an owner, I sub myself into work crews occasionally and work alongside my staff to get a feel for each site.  I know what’s going on with my contracts because I work all my contracts.  The employees who work in our buildings know my face and my expertise.  I’ve put in the time to develop the working relationships not just with my contact, but the maintenance guy, the factory workers, the secretaries, the engineers, etc.

Second, I have elevated the study of traffic flow and usage — or misuse — of the facilities we are responsible for to an artform.  Call it forensic cleaning without all the blood and brain tissue.  We look at how the space was used to piece together what happened during the day to help guide how we clean for you in the evening.  Each space is different and requires a slightly different service model.  

We track all of this in one convenient place, our custom designed app called Virtuosity.  Now available to the public for download, both Facility Managers and Building Service Contractors alike can demonstrate their great technical skill and make all that you work so hard to do look oh so easy.  

Vir·​tu·​os·​i·​ty definition: demonstration of great technical skill 

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