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Best practice benchmarking

Benchmarking can deliver long-term benefits but it's important to get the basics right, says Mike Boxall from i-Clean Systems

Posted by Hannah Oakman | May 26, 2016 | Facilities & buildings

Best practice benchmarking is used by many organisations to reduce cleaning costs, improve standards, strategically determine whether to repatriate or outsource services and to ultimately, demonstrate value for money.

With continued financial uncertainty, planned increases to the national living wage, introduction of workplace pensions and a general demand to deliver more with less, benchmarking is a powerful tool. It can deliver long term benefits at minimal cost and drive continuous improvements, but it’s important to get the basics right.

Key elements

There are different types of benchmarking and different organisations use them for different purposes. Most compare costs and productivity rates internally and some use sector knowledge to gauge whether they appear competitive. However, this often only focuses on inputs due to the lack of standardised and recognised ways to measure outputs. Consequently, this tends to lead to questionable results.

Measuring inputs only ignores that sites may be failing because of a lack of hours or costs. If costs are low and productivity is high, you can only determine if the overall service represents good value by knowing what standards are consistently delivered.

Best practice benchmarking considers many operational and financial elements. Some are easy to quantify and compare (e.g. costs, productivity, shifts, training and staff turnover), others are more subjective observable elements (e.g. building fabric, environment and user profile).

When benchmarking cleaning costs there’s several factors to consider, including: overall cost, labour costs, materials, equipment, consumables and training. Though, there’s a raft of others that may also be present for example, communications, time and attendance, uniforms and transport costs.

You’ll also need to know whether costs include periodics such as carpet cleaning, window cleaning IT cleaning as well as other washroom services such as, feminine hygiene. And it’s essential to know whether financial figures relate to the previous year’s budget, current year budget or actual. Comparisons should also be adjusted in line with statutory wage rises and VAT, where applicable.

Start with the right specification band

Regardless of input or output basis, specification bands within education generally fall into two categories and it is important that benchmarking is completed against sites with the same specification band.

Band A specifications are found at sites where the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene are expected in over 50% of all areas at all times. This is typically found within healthcare, food manufacturing, prestige offices and high profile public sites, and is generally determined by the level of daytime cleaning cover across a site.

Band B specifications are suitable where high standards of cleanliness are expected in over 50% of areas once per day. This is typically found in education, commercial offices, manufacturing and retail sites and is generally determined by a single early morning or late evening shift and limited daytime cover.

Independent education clients may have a combination of band A and band B areas within the same site.

Make appropriate comparisons

Whilst financial comparisons should be made sector by sector against sites with similar footfall and usage, operational comparisons can be made across industries since this is the key advantage of benchmarking.

Added value is added value, regardless of sector. For example, colour marking electrical sockets so cleaners know which can be switched off is seen in many educational environments, yet this is transferable best practice. Equally, lighter coloured flooring at the edges of corridors to keep foot traffic away from walls to reduce scuffs is seen in one sector that can be easily applied to another.

How to benchmark training

Another key activity to benchmark is training. Staff are an organisation’s most valuable asset, but to carry out their roles effectively, they need to know exactly what’s required of them and how to meet their targets in the most efficient, effective way. Often when staff are unable to produce the required results it is because they’ve not been told or shown how to do it properly.

Formal training policies should include the provision of induction, specific skills and ongoing refresher training, from informal 'toolbox talks' to longer term arrangements that result in framework qualifications accredited by a recognised awarding body.

As the quality of training varies, benchmarking is best done by categorising each cleaner’s highest qualification. The more full-time cleaners, the higher level qualifications you’d expect. It is also interesting to note the direct correlation between qualifications and overall staff retention.

How to benchmark supervision

Line managers have the most immediate impact on the experience and performance of staff. How they interact and manage staff is a key element of efficiency that should be measured.

Team leaders and working supervisors are first point of contact for cleaners and often deliver services, typically covering sickness and absences. Whereas, non-working supervisors monitor and support cleaners and team leaders. It’s essential to benchmark different levels of supervision by comparative hours worked per week, number of staff and qualification, in the same way as cleaning staff. 

How to benchmark pay 

Benchmarking of pay rates should be with comparative organisations in comparable geographic sectors, to account for regional variations. Pay should be adjusted to a percentage above the national minimum wage rather than net hourly rate to enable accurate comparison as wages rise over time. 

Understanding how wages compare with the current Living Wage and London Living Wage is also important, as is timing, because statutory and non-statutory wages will not necessarily increase concurrently.

When to start

Best practice benchmarking can be introduced at any time. But, whilst there are often quick easy wins from a one-off exercise, using it on a scheduled basis to drive continuous improvement is the best way to deliver long-term sustainable improvements.



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