Friday, November 11, 2011

Being the change

In my mind, it is absurd for a cleaner to be dirty and unkempt. I have always thought cleaners should be cleaner. I would not feel confident asking an unkempt cleaner to clean my house even if they clean well because I would think "charity begins at home." You cannot love me your neighbor more than you love yourself. So, if you are unkempt and dirty, you are not likely to make my space really clean. Even if the surfaces are cleaned well, you will probably leave a bad odor behind.

Ghandi said we must be the change we seek in the world and that does not have to be a philosophical concept. As cleaners, the change we seek is cleanliness. We want the spaces we clean to actually be clean, to look clean and to smell clean. How can cleaners "be" the change they seek? Be clean, look clean, smell clean.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

If you can clean

I have always thought that cleaning may be one of the humblest activities in today's world but (and I know I am taking a risk here) what it takes to be a good cleaner is what it takes to be a good teacher, banker, president or home maker.

I believe strongly that at the most fundamental level in the human psyche, diligence is diligence, creativity is creativity, wisdom is wisdom, trustworthiness is trustworthiness, attention to detail is attention to detail regardless of occupation.

I am convinced that those fundamental qualities needed to lead or manage at any level of complexity remain the same and if you have them as a cleaner, you can run a country. I am convinced also that if you do not have them as a cleaner, you will probably not suddenly develop them if you move from cleaning to teaching.

This morning, I read this statement made by Jesus Christ, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much."

I think if you can clean well, you can run a country well, you can teach well, you can be a good pianist, you can be a good consultant, a good nurse, a good carpenter or a good CFO. If you can clean, you can do anything.

This quote is also apt:

"I have always regarded manual labor as creative and looked with respect - and, yes, wonder - at people who work with their hands. It seems to me that their creativity is no less than that of a violinist or painter." - Pablo Casals

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Power of One (2)

At Zenith Cleaners, we are understanding more and more the power of an individual. We place value on individuals, every individual, and strive to honor them as the closest resemblance to the supreme being.

Entrepreneurs intuitively get the power of one because more often than not, you start with just one client or one staff or one partner and how you treat that one person determines the future of your enterprise. In essence, the future of every enterprise is in the relationship with one person at a time. As enterprises grow, there is a tendency to lose that understanding and start to aggregate, abstract and disconnect from individuals.

At Zenith Cleaners, we try to ensure we do not lose sight of that principle, that our future is in one person at a time, one staff at a time, one client at a time, one partner at a time. We see each relationship as a seed. Every staff we will ever have is in each staff and how we treat the one staff determines our future regarding staffing. Every client we will ever have is in each client we presently have just as every client we presently have was in the first client we ever had.

We endeavor to treat each person as though they are the only ones we have to serve, as though our destiny as an enterprise depends on them. We endeavor to nurture relationships. We are very imperfect and we do make mistakes, but we strive to honor each individual and nurture the relationships we have with each person.

So far, we have had positive results from doing so and we intend to continue as long as we exist. For us, the nurturing of every relationship is the foundation for true sustainability. For us, love is the foundation for true sustainability and love, is an individual thing. How can love be woven into the fabric of an organization, even a for-profit enterprise?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Invitation to the dance

Invitation to the Dance is a piece I have loved since discovering it years ago, especially when performed by an orchestra. I love dance as a joyful expression and as a metaphor for relationships. I think dance is also an apt metaphor in business, since business happens in the context of living and at Zenith Cleaners, we appreciate the freedom to provide our service, even cleaning, as whole human beings, rather than just as cleaners.

We clean places where people live, work, play and worship. We are not necessarily performing a service for an audience. We are engaged in a dance with clients, with staff, with suppliers. For us to be truly effective with all parties, we need to be engaged in a two-way relationship. I love the quote from the Australian Aboriginal woman that says, "If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." I think this applies to all the relationships we are involved in. It is a dance.

Our client relationships cannot thrive if one party thinks they are performing for another or being served by another or if all of the responsibility for a great service rests on the service provider. There needs to be continuous, honest and appreciative two-way feedback just like in a dance, and all the client relationships we cherish are like this. The clients consider the cleanliness of their space so important as to participate and let us know when things are going well or not going well, so that just like a dance, we can celebrate, improve or adjust. We also love the freedom to let our clients know when things are going well or not. We think celebration is as important as correction and both need to happen, as in a dance.

We love to invite clients who want to dance with us. Dancing keeps us on our toes for much longer but when we perform while our clients are seated, we get tired much quicker because there is no constructive feedback. We love clients who consider us worthy of being danced with. Even without binding contracts, our clients stay longer with us because of the joyfulness and partnership of the dance. Those who leave are also very free to do so when they need to. Our liberation is bound up together and their interest becomes ours and vice versa. When they need to leave, we joyfully help them leave.

We love it when staff are neither coming to work for us nor coming to be served. We want people who want to dance. Life is just more exciting when we dance together and while we are together, life happens, and we want to dance. In the dance, the success of the relationship depends on both parties not just on one party. In the dance, the narrative shifts from "you" and "I" to "us" and "we". A good dance involves shared joy, shared sorrow if necessary, honesty, spirit, soul and body participation and mutual trust. There is honesty and humility to know when we are not the right partners and to act accordingly because it is in the best interest of "us".

The suppliers we love are in a dance with us. They are empathetic with us as we are with them. We are engaged with each other to nourish our relationship and not to act solely in the interest of "us" at the expense of "them". This obviously goes against business as usual. When we are true dance partners, we can remain partners for a very long time and there is freedom to go our separate ways when it is in the best interest of "us".

Staff, clients, suppliers, you are invited. If you like to dance.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Power of One (1)

It seems much easier in approaching our work to consider groups of clients and staff rather than relating with each as individuals because it tends to avoid the mess of caring. However, since we have chosen to make people our focus rather than the environment or transactions or accounts, it behoves us to deal with the people we come across as individuals and the clients we serve as unique entities or beings, different from all others, even if they are in the same sector or industry.

This deviates somewhat from what we are taught in B-school, where you need to analyze a whole industry and develop solutions that fit the needs of the industry. As I think of it however, I realize how absurd and contrary to common sense it is to treat all our day care clients as "day cares" or all our co-working space clients as "co-working spaces". Each client is as different as the individuals who comprise it. Each staff is different from the other and therefore have needs that differ from each other.

Our solution is to treat each client as a unique entity comprising unique individuals that should be related with as whole human beings and each staff as an individual unlike any other. This can be potentially messy but it is easier when one operates at a "higher level of being" than mere economic, as beautifully expounded by E.F. Schumacher, in his book, A Guide for the Perplexed. At a higher level of being, it is easy to relate with each client as distinct and with peculiar needs. This can be rewarding financially and intrinsically. Recently, by treating one of our daycare clients (the biggest daycare in Montreal) as a unique entity and not as a "day care", we were able to come up with a solution that was unique to them and ended up becoming a solution multiplier because it solved other internal challenges beyond cleaning, unintended. Beyond the potential economic rewards, this was intrinsically rewarding for the team.

Staff members too are related with as individuals, unique and whole beings too complex to be generalized and so complex that our spirits, not just our heads need to be the arena of engagement. No one who works with Zenith Cleaners is a "cleaner" in the traditional sense and even if they were, they are whole beings whose lives have to do with much more than cleaning. It is a privilege to relate with them as such and it is easier to genuinely care when we relate with them, not as "employees", here to do a job and get paid, but engage with each other as human beings whose lives intersect at this point in time but will not forever. We will therefore celebrate each other one to one and the work we do today.