Employee retention, job quality, and customer happiness are high priorities in businesses striving for growth and success, especially in the cleaning industry, but did you know that most of that comes back to company culture?
About This Guest:
Owner - Premier Janitorial Services
Jason Johnson is the owner of Premier Janitorial Services in Wasilla, Alaska. Premier Janitorial Services specializes in cleaning facilities within the medical industry. A few years ago Jason and his wife noticed that the company’s growth had plateaued and it had even gotten to a point where they didn’t want to take on more business.
A cultural shift was necessary and so, with the help of a great coach, they began that shift. Not only did they see growth again, but they saw an improvement in the quality of work being done and the satisfaction of their customers. Fast forward to 2020 and they’re weathering the pandemic with relative ease due to an extraordinary team built around the values they established.
Hello everyone and welcome to The Business of Cleaning podcast. My name is Halie Morris. I’m your podcast coordinator and host.
Today, I have Jason Johnson with me and Jason’s going tell us a bit about where he works, what he does, and then we’ll jump into why he’s on today.
So Jason, if you don’t mind?
Jason Johnson 0:49
Thanks for having me, Halie. My name is Jason Johnson. I’m the business owner of Premier Janitorial Services. I live in Wasilla, Alaska.
We started our janitorial business about eight and a half years ago. So, that’s what I do for work. I run a business.
Out of curiosity, what’s it like living in Alaska, especially right now?
Well, it’s starting to get a little bit chilly and I have long sleeves on which I don’t like, but I’m flying out tonight to Florida.
I was just about to say, you’re probably not keeping that on for too much longer.
So Alaska, it’s a lot slower paced. It’s pretty laid back. I live in what they call The Valley. It’s small, about 70,000 people total, just the small-town feel.
I like it. It kind of reminds me of where I grew up in the Midwest as far as the community. It’s not like everybody says. You hear this perception of the igloos and all that stuff. We towns. We have stores. We have restaurants. Not all, but most of us.
I have to admit, I’m a guilty party just because my dad loves to watch those shows in Alaska where they build the cabins, and it’s out in the middle of nowhere.
They have to fly everything in so you don’t see any towns. That’s my perception of Alaska, just because that’s what he watches.
There is rural Alaska. There’s remote Alaska. There are still places like that, but again, when you fly into Anchorage, it’s just like any other town.
You see the lights in the city and everything, just not as big as some of your major cities.
Just a little bit colder a little bit earlier.
All right. Well, thank you. So we brought Jason on today because talking to him about his company, we realized that a couple of years ago, they underwent a huge cultural shift.
It was a very intentional shift and change that their company made to make themselves better.
I’m going go ahead and let Jason describe why that came about because he does it best. Also, it’s extremely interesting when a company chooses to intentionally shift their culture.
Jason, if you don’t mind?
Yeah, so about two years ago-, We’ve been in business for about six and a half years, and the company continued to grow. We had growth, but we got to a sticking point.
Part of the reason we started is we wanted to be different. We wanted to be known for something different, not just a janitorial company cleaning, but the value set that we wanted behind it. We wanted it to be different.
But it wasn’t front and center in everyday life. So we hired a business coach, and part of what he coaches is to your core values and having a culture. It really made sense and we really embraced it.
We put that front and center. We wanted our company to be known, whether it was hiring, training, obtaining clients, or empowering our teams to make decisions.
If we had a culture and they knew what the expectation was through this value set, the company as a whole would run better. That’s the whole premise behind it and that’s the reason we did it.
It helped us take the focus off of having to do everything with the company. Now it’s empowering a team and having a team around you that thought like you did to help grow the company.
So that was where we were when we were stuck. I was just at the point where I didn’t want any more business. We weren’t building a team.
We had employees, but now I feel like we have a team and we have a team that’s bought into what we’re doing because we hire and everything we do is culture-based. So that’s really kind of the dynamic shift we had two years ago.
So what are some of those core values that you look for when bringing a new individual into the team?
Well, I can tell you what they are. We have four of them and we made them pretty simple. We didn’t want these big elaborate values. People say integrity, which that’s a great thing, but it’s a big word, right?
- Do what it takes
- Do what you say
- Help others
- Have fun
Those are our core values. That’s it. We base everything off of those.
It’s funny when people come in for our interviews. They’ll be like, “Well, you didn’t ask me any cleaning questions.” Well, not belittle cleaning or taking anything away from it. I can teach that. I can’t teach you as a person who you are.
So all the questions we have are based on those core values. They try to bring those value sets or get an answer that is going to show if that person really embraces those and if that’s who they are.
Because if they’re not, they’re probably not going to fit in with us. We don’t have to let him know. If we bring him in, they’re just not going to fit if everybody else has that value set.
You don’t hang out with people you don’t get along with or have something in common with. So that’s what we look for people that have those, those values in common.
Those are some great values. I like that they are simple, but not too simple. Those things carry their own weight.
They’re very, I don’t wanna say, easy to identify, but they are things you can, with relative ease, identity in a person, they either have it or they don’t.
Yes, very much. People always want to think when they do it, “Oh, yeah, I want to be a company of integrity,” using all these big words. Well, that can mean a lot of different things to different people.
So that’s one of the reasons. I didn’t just come up with this concept. Obviously, we had a coach. It’s what he coaches, but it really made sense and it’s easier to hold people accountable.
Because “Do what it takes,” that’s pretty easy. If you’re in a situation, do what it takes to get the job done and help somebody. Part of our core values is to help others.
Those are easy for people to relate to. It’s more relatable versus having these big, fancy words.
It’s a lot more actionable, too. From my perspective, if somebody says, “well have integrity,” okay, but can you write me a six-page paper on how to do that? Because I’m lost.
But if somebody says, do what it takes to get this job done and help others? Well, okay, I know how to do that. So they’re actionable things that not only you can find in people, but as you said, people relate to that and can understand what you mean.
Very much so. I don’t want to say we were coached that way, but that’s the whole intent. When we first started to write our core values down, because that was the first thing we did when we got a coach and defined what we wanted our company to look like.
We were just like everybody else. “Hey, what are your core values?” Most people are going to come up with integrity and honesty. Those are all good things, but how do you put that into action, as you said?
So put it with an adjective, where you have something where you can actually put it into action. It’s something measurable in a sense. Hopefully, that makes sense.
I think it does, yes. Then I would say, of course, when you’re coming into this, and you have these core values, and you have this giant change, there’s obviously going to be the actual part of implementing and beginning that change.
So what did it look like when you first started to make that shift?
That was a process in the making. Part of what it was, obviously, was on the hiring. We identified people that really embodied those that we already had on staff because we were growing.
We brought them alongside to help with the hiring. We empowered our team. They do the interview process. My wife and I haven’t actually hired somebody in at least six months. The team does that.
First of all, you empower people that have that value set and you put it front and center. So when we hire people, I just rattled off my four core values. If you ask, a good part of my team can tell you what those are.
They’ve learned them and they know that they’re empowered to make decisions. Even as a cleaner or team member, they are empowered to do that.
What we did was we put our values out there and then if you see my logo behind me, we put it everywhere. So it’s on our board. When in our main office, it’s on the wall there. You have to live it out, right? You have to live by them.
You can’t just have the value and then not live it. Then you have to enforce it. People know that when we do our reviews, we do reviews every four months and we relate everything they do to the core values, and their pay is performance-based.
You just live it out and you put the expectation out there. Then they know what the expectation is, it’s easy, and the team embodies it.
It’s funny because as we grew, there were some decisions I was making that I wasn’t actually using the core values, and my team called me out on it. That’s when we really knew that, they were embracing them because they’re everywhere.
They’re in their review process. We expected it from them, and they expected it from me. So it was kind of a neat check for me as we were implementing this process.
That’s really cool to see, especially because sometimes it’s easy to put things out there and not get the investment back, but it sounds like your team was ready to carry through. That probably made it a lot easier than if you had to fight them the whole way.
It did and it’s funny because our team changed. At the time, I think we had maybe 25 to 30 team members and in the process of implementing it, the team automatically adjusted.
The people that didn’t make a fit as we were trying to transition into making this front and center and holding everybody accountable to these value sets, they just kind of went by the wayside. They didn’t feel like they were a fit.
So just hanging out with people, If you don’t have something in common, you’re not having a good time, and that’s not who you are, you don’t stay there. You find a different set of friends or go someplace else.
The company just kind of shifted that way as we brought more people in, hiring strictly based on this value set versus just the warm body or if you got all these cleaning skills, but you don’t fit who we are.
We’ve started putting that front and center. Just through attrition, they went away. Then it seems like that’s what we attract now because it’s grown into the culture of who we are.
Did you lose a lot of employees then throughout that initial part of the process?
I mean, it’s janitorial. Anybody in the cleaning business will be like, “well, we lose employees all the time,” because we did it. It’s a higher turnover rate business, which I think overall, our turnover rate is fairly low.
But yeah, we did. Initially, there was a pretty big turnover right there at that initial probably six to eight months. This has been an evolving process. As I said, we’ve been in this for two years.
Now we’re really- I think we alluded to it, through this pandemic, it really showed itself and really showed the difference of what it made with our company.
It sounds like your team responded extremely well, and that they were really receptive to those who stayed with you. But how did your customers respond and how did your productivity handle that shift?
I can give you an example. So I just have a director of operations that I hired. She was an operations manager and I’ve just slowly mentored her, but she’s grown into the position.
To just give you an idea of the feedback we got is: I think our clients realize because of the value set, that it’s not just a job. We’re not just cleaners, and we are helping others, which we want to do for our clients too. They know that our cleaners are always looking out.
If they see something off the wall-
Like the other day, there was a little bit of water on a carpet, they say, “Hey, this has come from somewhere.” They let us know so we can let the client know. The fact that they’re always looking out for them, they’re not just coming in.
They could have just turned an eye and not had to mess with it, wanted to get their job done, and not wanted to clean this mess up or identify it or try to fix the problem.
They see that our team wants to do that. A lot of our clients look at us as part of their team. We’re not just their cleaners. We’re part of their overall team. We’re medical heavy. So we have a lot of medical, and they realize the value that we add and that our team takes pride.
They take pride in the fact that they get to keep that facility clean and it’s a partnership. We’re part of the team and that’s really been more prevalent in the last two or three years since we’ve done this process.
One of the emails we got back when I introduced Penny as Director of Operations is that she adds great value and our team really cares about their facility. That was when they welcomed her on the team.
So seeing that coming back, and then knowing that we’re there to support them and serve them through the team has really been humbling.
That’s really cool. I like that. It sounds like it was so quickly reflected on the outside what you were doing internally as well.
Then the flip side is how your team handled this transition. It sounds like they’re handling it very well. Was that productivity, how you’re getting things done, do you think that was a direct cause of that change in culture?
Yeah, so when we really realized that we have this culture and people bought in, we had a team that really lived by the same value set.
Obviously, COVID-19 hit back in March and we lost a little bit of business, but overall, we cleaned in the medical industry, so they didn’t shut down. They may have lost some traffic, kind of shrunk a little bit for a time being but overall, we’ve actually grown.
In that growth process, through people leaving because of COVID-19 or whatever, we have normal turnover. We have our turnover rate and with even culture fit, we have turnover. We went from almost 50 team members down to just a little under 30.
Yet we were still cleaning just as much as before and actually grew. Our accounts went up. We were doing extra services and I was nervous.
Obviously, nobody wants to point the finger of blame, but unemployment was $600/month. We were getting no applicants. I was really getting nervous, but we actually did all the same work and more work with fewer people.
People saw this. Employees will come to us and say, “Hey, I’ll take more hours. I’ll do what I can.”
If somebody called off, we’d say, “Hey, somebody’s out. Who wants to pick up hours?” We’d get three or four people saying, “Hey, I’ll do whatever I can. I can help out.”
Just to see that they bought in and they were people that cared. They did whatever it takes, “do what it takes to get the job done.” They helped others and they said they were going to be there. They were there.
Even the people that warned us they were really sick or people were more cognitive of, “if I don’t feel good or I’m sick, I don’t want to affect the others.” So they would let us know and stay out.
But just the fact that they really stepped up. It was amazing just to see how that all played out for the last six months.
COVID-19 has been the test for companies. Do you have the structure and the support in place to weather this really chaotic storm?
Because it was across the globe and everywhere that was hit by things just shut down. You’re on the medical side, so you saw a different side of it than maybe what some of us have. So it’s really cool to see that you did have that.
I guess that was some validation for what you’re already doing, that you saw that you had that support and that structure. It carried through really nicely.
Very much. I mean, I was worried about it, but yet, like I said, the team, they didn’t seem worried. They stepped right up and picked up.
I would let our clients know that, because they would get used to seeing a certain cleaner there at six right as they’re closing, that’s when they’re there typically, and I’d let them know, “Hey, we’re not going to get there until eight because that person may be out and another person has/ stepped up.”
In the feedback from our clients, “you guys have always taken care of us. We’re not worried about it. We know if you’re not right there at six, somebody is going to come and take care of us.”
So you asked if the client saw a difference. Getting feedback during this whole process was really inspiring to see that the team was invested and really live out those core values. Yeah.
I like that. I like that you’re inspired by your team. A lot of times you hear about the leader or the president inspiring the team, but to hear the flip side of that is probably this huge feeling of accomplishment. You’ve empowered them so much that the tables have turned.
Well, yeah, I’m only one person or my wife and I are only two. We’re the owners and we set the ship in the direction that we want the company to go. It’s up to the team to really embrace what it is that you’re trying to do and live it out every day because they’re what makes the company.
If these people hadn’t stepped up, I couldn’t have cleaned enough hours. I couldn’t have stepped in and covered those 20 people on cleaning up hours. My wife and I, by ourselves, couldn’t get the job done every night.
The fact that they were bought in, invested in, and cared enough about the clients and about the company that they stepped up and did those things.
We have a lot of people that this is our second job. I have people that are willing to step up and work six or seven hours a night, after working an eight or nine-hour shift at their regular jobs. It’s just amazing.
That is great. Kudos to them. What an amazing team!
So with the medical side, I’m very curious about what it’s like from your side working, particularly with cleaning in the medical industry, maybe not just the shifts internally that you’ve seen, but how that worked before and then how it works coming into COVID-19?
Being in the medical field for us, and because we are so medical heavy in the way that we clean because viruses and bacteria and germs have always been there if you’re talking about it directly related to a pandemic, those are already there.
Medical overall, they’re dealing with something that spreads a little easier and it’s a little bit different type of virus, but to them, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal. For us, nothing really changed because we’re used to cleaning and disinfecting hotspots, your high touchpoints, and all those things.
So, that was part of our routine, an everyday thing. People ask us all the time, “What are you doing differently?”
Even our clients never came to us and asked us what we were doing differently, especially in the medical field, because they already knew their team was there serving them and doing what they were supposed to. These things were already getting done.
We reached out to them and reassured them, “Hey, here’s some of the little things we’re doing.” Maybe that we’re using a different kind of disinfectant on this list that the EPA says you need but other than that we really didn’t see a huge change.
Yeah, they dropped down and did tele-med but I mean, medical’s medical. People still got sick and still needed to come to see the doctor. Really, we didn’t see a huge change, to be honest, in that arena.
It sounds like your hospitals handled it well. I know around here, our hospitals actually were lower capacity than normal, but some of the bigger cities sometimes doubled their capacity and were overwhelmed.
I think our numbers are actually higher now because the virus is still out there. Our numbers are higher now.
But we don’t clean the hospital. Ours is a lot of medical clinics, like family practice and specialty clinics. The specialty clinics, in particular, they did really drop down because they weren’t doing as much.
Everywhere cut down on all the non-elective surgeries or other ones that weren’t necessary. So there was a change there, but they did handle it well. We were like everyplace else, our hospitals were a ghost town for three or four months until they opened things back up.
That was the shocking thing from our perspective. We heard about New York and all these cities that were being overwhelmed, and everything was shifting due to COVID-19.
But then locally, our hospitals and it sounds like all the clinics as well, they weren’t booking as many appointments. Things were more as needed versus maybe some of them just do it type visits.
Alright, so with the cultural shift, how are you guys now? What changes are you still making to support that cultural shift?
Well, one of the things we really like to do as far as the team- I alluded to the team is what makes the company. One of the things that we do and we’ve implemented is we do what we call an eat and great.
So every other month, we have a caterer come in and we have dinner. The team members and their families can come in. Because in janitorial, we’re all working nights in a different building we don’t know each other. It’s hard to create a team dynamic when you don’t know each other.
To really build that, you really like to help people when you know them, and you can tie a face to “Hey, I need to help them out because their partner called out and they need it.”
One of the things we do as far as having fun- that’s one of our core values- we do what we call an eat and great every other month. We get together and have a dinner catered in. We put some games out and we do door prizes.
Then in the summer, we do a big summer bash. We have face painters and bouncy houses. Anyway, we just try to really do a lot of appreciation things for the team, because look at what we just went through in the examples I gave. This happens all the time.
They just did little things like stepping up and really just embracing what we are. To try to foster that and keep that carrying on, these are just some of the things we can do to show appreciation for the fact that they are living out these core values.
It’s the culture thing that adds to the whole dynamic of getting us all together.
If you want a team, you have to have to support the team. I think it’s easy to forget sometimes those team-building things like the events and just the coming together aspect of what a team is.
Very much so. One of the other things that I love, we do quarterly reviews and tri-annual reviews. We do reviews every four months. That’s really a time for us to give them feedback, but also, I still do these personally, because I think they’re so important for me to get feedback from them.
How can we support you? How can we empower you to be able to do your job better and to be able to serve the client better? Those are some of the biggest things.
Yeah, we talked about what they do and, obviously, there’s the paid side to it. Their pay is based strictly on their performance. It’s all subjective numbers that they hit for their pay, but the biggest part is actually getting their feedback.
Then I think the most important thing is not only just getting feedback, but if it’s viable, it’s good, and it’s something we can do, we implement it. They see that “Hey, you know what? I do have a say in what’s happening. I do have a say in what’s going on here.”
One of the other things we do as far as that goes is we do group interviews. We do all of our interviews as a group, and anybody on the team can be part of it if we feel like they’ve been with us long enough. We can see that they’re really living the core values out.
Anybody on the team can be a part of this group interview process. We have a team of two that they interview and ask questions that bring out the core values as I talked about.
They have a say that “hey, I think you know this person or this person would be a good fit for our team because I think they have the values that we withhold.” So it empowers them that they have a say in who’s going to be their teammate, who’s going to be a part of the team based on the value set.
It gives them that chance to buy into the new team member before they even join.
Yeah, they’re invested. They have a say in what the shape and what the company is going to look like.
We do something similar. When bringing on a team member, they always meet that person that they will be reporting to and working most closely with.
Then more often than not, not so much now because we don’t have people in the office, but when we had people in the office, we would take that chance to introduce them to their future teammates and we get feedback. “What did you think?”
Then if we’re on the fence with a couple of people or it’s a bigger position, we will sometimes do a shadowing day where they actually sit down for intervals with team members and see what the job is. Then we get feedback from everybody.
We do something kind of similar. Once they go to the group interview, and those two team members recommend –
Let’s say, six people show up and these two would be good core value fits. Then they sit down and get a one-on-one interview. Once they’ve done that, we do a two-week working interview where they work with two different trainers and they’re there.
Anybody on the team, once they’ve been with us for 30 days, should be able to train somebody else, and get a look at how they think that person is, how they react, and how they play on the team.
So they give us feedback, too. You don’t actually get on board and become a team member until you’ve gone through a group interview, a one-on-one interview, and then a two-week working interview. They get paid during that time. They come in and say, “Do I get paid?” Yeah, you get paid.
Yeah, like an orientation probationary type experience.
I feel like I haven’t heard too many people doing it that way in particular, but that is so smart to make sure that you do have that fit both ways.
The employee feels that they can do the work and they’re comfortable with the company, but then you also find the team member that can actually be a part of the team and do the work.
Yeah, very much. So we’ve had people that for one, maybe the style of work that wasn’t a fit, or they just didn’t feel like they were fit for the team. It gives them an out too, without actually having to feel like they’re quitting.
They’ve got that two week period where they get to come to work and for whatever reason, maybe whether it’s that they just don’t feel like they’re the value fit, they don’t like the people, or the hours or whatever, it gives them an easy way out.
They don’t have to quit and have that point on their record if they’re worried about that.
Oh, they’re really not quitters. They came in and they tried it. Before it strained the relationship on everybody else’s side, you’re able to assess if that worked or not.
I like that. I don’t think I’ve heard too many people using something like that. So it’s very interesting to me. I used to do recruitment, just a little tidbit and I’m very curious about that process.
Outside of this recruitment and hiring process, what kind of training do you do know that’s maybe different from what you did before?
Going back to the idea that everybody should be able to be a trainer within 30 days, this is actually an evolving process. We have a set system for the way we train, but now we empower the team.
It’s not that we have these one or two trainers that are having to train all the time. Everybody should be a trainer and so they get to train each other. Then we also have a video series that we just implemented and launched that everybody gets training from also.
That kind of makes it more standard. That way nothing is missed but even then when they get to the field, somebody still has to train them on the job. You can watch a video all day long, but until you actually go there and do it you don’t truly know.
Like I said, the team’s empowered. We use everybody as a trainer. That’s part of the process.
We tell them, “Within 30 days, you should be able to train somebody and on that note, you should be able to inspect somebody. You should feel like you can go to their job site, check it, and be able to give them honest feedback and let them know good, bad, or indifferent about how they’re doing.”
So you’re checking on your peers. They’re checking on each other.
That’s good. I feel like it’s one of those things where people who can teach in something and people who can inspect, in your case, or assess something, have probably the best understanding of that area than if they can just go in and skate through being able to do it.
Yeah, and it really helps with complacency. We all say, “Oh, we don’t want to get complacent.” We don’t get complacent, but when you’re doing the same thing in the same building every day, sometimes complacency can set in.
If you know somebody’s regularly going to come through and train on your building, you’re going to train them on our systems, it keeps you sharp on your skills and the way we do things.
We also have a checklist. Plus it helps with that team building, right, as you see new people coming in, and we’ll have people train around, move around buildings, and train other people too to try to get to know the teammates to keep that camaraderie and keep people sharp with their skills.
That’s great. That’s probably the best kind of training you can do, too.
All right. For me, that’s a lot of what I wanted to talk about. Did you have anything else that you want to touch on before we wrap up?
With culture, one of the things I really recommend as far as it making a difference is you’ve got to know what you want, what you want your company to be known for, what you want it to look like, and it has to really be a value set of who you are.
Because if we would have implemented values or tried to have core values that weren’t who we were, how do you live something that you’re not? That would be the biggest piece of advice I would give them.
One of the things we did to figure this out is we wrote down things that were important to us as far as values. One way, if you really want to know what other people think your values are, pick about five to ten people. Just shoot him a text and say, “What are the first four or five words that you think when you think of me?
Get some honest feedback from somebody else and it really kind of puts things into perspective of who you are. Because your company is a reflection of you.
As I said, you don’t want to sit here and try to be somebody you’re not and you don’t want to hire people that aren’t what they are. That would be my biggest piece of advice. Make sure you’re sure of what you want your company to be known for and who you are. Don’t try to implement something that you are you know that you’re not.
Halie Morris 31:53
Alright, thank you. That was gonna be my next question; was what advice you’d give, but I don’t think there’s any better way to end this.
Well, thanks for coming on, Jason and thank you everyone for tuning in to The Business of Cleaning podcast this week. I want you to know that we appreciate you listening, but I also want to request that you leave a review so we can continuously improve, and don’t forget to download your favorite podcast, which is this one.
We’ll see you next week and have a good day!