Have you ever seen the kitchen disasters on an episode of Cake Wars? That’s what can happen in your cleaning business when you lose control of your Support Team or don’t have one when you need it.

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I recently had the opportunity to lead a retreat for cleaning business owners on building, expanding and maintaining a “Support Team.” The businesses at this retreat were of various sizes, but all needed at least one new position with responsibilities ranging from receptionist to branch manager. So with my fellow business coaches, we have coined the term “Support Team” because that’s what anyone you hire needs to do: support you – the business owner – in business activities other than cleaning. 

To help us consider all the necessary components to building an effective Support Team, I conducted an exercise where we identified all the necessary steps in baking a cake. What happened next was revealing as we looked at each step in the cake baking process, and discussed how it could relate to building a support team.

1) Identify What Type of Cake You are Baking and Why.

Your approach to baking a cake will differ based on the type of cake and the occasion for which it is being baked. There is a big difference between baking a pound cake for your family’s desert versus baking a wedding cake for a large wedding.  

The type of company you are building and its purpose should be found in its vision and mission statements. This information, especially in the context of a strategic plan that outlines expected outcomes in an objective way over a number of years gives a cleaning business owner a good starting point for what to look for when adding a Support Team member. It is also the basis for establishing expectations with your clients.

2) Select a Recipe.

The group identified that having the correct written procedure outlining the exact amount of the proper ingredients, how they are to be mixed, and in what order, will greatly improve your chances of baking a cake to meet your identified purpose.

Your recipe is found in your well-defined and written processes, with procedures and work instructions for completing every process necessary to run your business on a daily basis.

3) Select a Chef.

A cake doesn’t bake itself.  Someone needs to put it together and tend to it until it is ready. The same goes for developing your Support Team. In both cases, the “executive chef” ultimately in charge of the kitchen/office is you – the business owner. It’s easy to forget that someone has to do the measuring, chopping, blending, stirring, rolling, cutting, shaping and more that goes into making the cake that is your business and service. Building a Support Team is hard work and will take up even more of your time in the beginning, when you are still trying unknown recipes, testing for the right fit, and tweaking the design.

4) Find a Kitchen.

You need space that is laid out and designed for the task at hand. This goes for both a well-designed kitchen and an office which is laid out to support your business needs. Just as a small studio apartment kitchen with 8-10-inches of counter space isn’t sufficient for preparing a standard, multi-layered cake, an office or administrative space with room for one (a common description of the owner’s office) is hardly adequate, even with a clearly scheduled time-share.

5) Gather the Proper Tools.

Have you ever tried to bake a cake at the last minute only to find all of your mixing bowls dirty in the sink? Many business owners find themselves needing and hiring a new member of the Support Team but suddenly without the tools for that new person to do what’s needed, such as answer phones, keep track of invoices, payments, and bills, or take over the technician training. When it comes to baking cakes, you’re looking for clean bowls, spoons, measuring cups, a mixer, things like that. 

Be sure you are not underestimating the importance of providing the necessary tools to be successful when creating our Support Team.  This often begins with a multi-line phone system and shared access to a common set of business email addresses, but can also include job scheduling and client management software, an accounting package, mobile phones and even a fleet of vehicles; for however few or many components, you’ll need to also ensure that your new members are trained well so you can use as many of their supporting talents as possible.   Even beyond that, all Support Team members, including the owner, should continuously develop their skills as a technology user.

6) Collect the Ingredients.

The members of your Support Team are your ingredients, and while we are illustrating that there is a lot more to building an effective Support Team than just to picking the right people, please don’t underestimate its importance. Our group spent the better part of a day discussing how to find the right people, including how to assess your current Support Team’s performance, the strengths of each member on your team, job descriptions with personal, academic, workplace, and technical competencies, the use of online assessments, and how to construct and use a structured behavioral interview.

We also discussed both internal and external hires to fill Support Team positions. External hiring for key positions can take a lot of work. Using the tools previously mentioned, the challenge is to keep obtaining, interviewing and assessing candidates until your requirements are met.  Too often we interview a few candidates, get tired or distracted, and hire the best bad alternative. It’s like picking up a box mix and a tube of frosting and expecting it to still come out tasting like the expert baker made it; without truly knowing and selecting the right ingredients with the right quality and in the right balance, you really can’t expect superior results. The same is true of hiring members of your Support Team.

Filling Support Team positions internally requires advanced planning. One way to get started is to hire cleaning technicians who have other skills and experiences that would be useful in the office at some point in the future. Candidates with call center or retail experience often have skills that would be useful when building your Support Team.  Once they are on board, make opportunities to have these technicians help in the office.   It’s a good opportunity to cross-train and assess who you can put into a fulltime position when one arises.

7) Mix, Taste, Prepare, Cook.
I find a cooking series like Iron Chef fascinating because you get to see some of the most amazing Support Teams at work, under pressure, with a surprise thrown in. It’s at those times that the years of individual training, team development, conflicts and conflict resolution are truly visible. Each team member has his/her tasks, and all are working together toward that final deliverable.

That’s what is required of you and your Support Team. The more people you have, the harder it is to get and stay in sync with each other. So you mix up the talents in various combinations, you taste the results and get feedback, you make adjustments to the mix, you prepare alternatives, you cook and taste again. This is where you get to see your initial training at work and determine the scope, depth, and frequency of ongoing training – both for individual members of your team and for the team itself. And don’t forget that you – as the business owner – also deserve your own special leadership training throughout your career.

8) Present to Client, Guests or Family.

I’ve watched my kids hold their breath at that moment of anticipation on Cake Wars when the team still has to move the cake from the prep kitchen to the display table. That happens every day in your business – your technicians depart their homes or your headquarters and arrive at the service delivery location – the client’s home or workplace.

Some think of this portion of both cake decorating and business as “decoration.” After all, what purpose do icing and piping and uniforms and company cars have on how well our technicians clean? While quality assurance and inspections typically focus on the cleaning performance, a client’s expectations and perception – even during a formal cleaning feedback questionnaire – are informed by presentation of the service. 

This is where a Support Team has a chance to influence your clients’ perception to match their expectations. It begins internally with the vision and mission and core values from the owner and then is translated into branding and marketing. This “decoration” is what appears on your website and social media pages, your flyers and door hangers, your sales kit that you leave behind after an in-home consultation; it’s in the tone of voice used by your customer service rep when she answers the phone and in the tidy appearance of your technicians and their cars and equipment when they arrive at a job location. This is the professionalism that your Support Team creates, the “spit and polish” that is the every day expectation of customers.

 9) Assess Results and Feedback.
Building an effective Support Team isn’t a project; it’s not a once and done event. Building and maintaining your Support Team is a process that can be enhanced by adopting some of the same feedback and continuous improvement techniques you already use for your service delivery. Just as a chef tastes and adjusts a recipe before it’s sent out of the kitchen and then asks for feedback from customers, establishing a routine where you meet with your Support Staff to review results and identify action items for improvement is a great way to grow your team and improve performance.

Building an effective Support Team is hard work and requires constant attention. There will be times when your team will not give you the results you want. You’re going to make messes together that you’ll have to clean up together. Your workflow will be interrupted every time a member leaves the team or a new member is added to the team. When problems arise, consider everything it takes to bake a cake.  While a good chef selects the ingredients, they also make sure all that everything else is in place – including themselves – to turn those ingredients into an outstanding cake.

Tom Stewart and his wife, Janice Stewart, are co-owners of Castle-Keepers, the 1st company to achieve CIMS certification. Tom is a nationally-recognized leader & innovator in the house cleaning industry. He is co-founder and Publisher of  Cleaning Business Today.