- Standards & Certification: A Clear Choice
- By Daniel Wagner — posted 03/28/2011
The past 10 years have witnessed a great many changes in the cleaning industry. Green cleaning and sustainability are rapidly becoming the norm, innovative new technologies have led to increased efficiencies, and emerging partnerships have changed the way the marketplace functions. At the same time, a new call for professionalism, effective management, and increased value has been sounded.
Such marketplace changes have been complemented by an increased prevalence of industry standard and certification programs. Today, there are standards and certification programs for everything from the environmental preferability of products to the traction of floor materials, from the management competence of cleaning organization executives to the overall sustainability profile of a facility. Even ISSA has gotten involved in the standard-setting and certification program development arena with the association’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) and CIMS-Green Building (CIMS-GB) criteria. But why are standards and certification programs so important and how do they provide value to all vertical market segments?
What is a Standard?
In general, a standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something. As such, a standard provides precise criteria that can be used consistently as a basis for comparison and a reference point against which other things can be evaluated for quantitative and qualitative value. Standards, therefore, are designed to increase the reliability and effectiveness of goods and services and to offer a reasonable and agreed-upon road map of industry best practices.
The most effective standards are developed through a consensus-based process to ensure balance, practicality, and market value. Specifically, the development of a standard should involve bringing together the experience and expertise of all interested parties and should allow everyone to participate. For example, CIMS was developed through a collaboration of the cleaning, facility management, and purchasing communities with more than 100,000 constituents being represented in the process, and it involved full peer review.
It is important to note that standards are designed to be voluntary. However, many laws and regulations refer to specific industry standards and, in many cases, require compliance.
What is Certification
Once a standard has been developed and published, the question is inevitably going to come up whether an individual, organization, product or system meets the standard. This is where certification enters the equation, allowing for demonstrated compliance with the criteria and requirements. Certification should be directly based on the provisions of the standard, and—similar to the standard itself—can apply to an individual, organization, product, process, or system.
There are many approaches to how compliance is judged and certification may be awarded. Some programs allow for self-certification while others rely on peer review. Without a doubt, the most reliable programs are those that require demonstrated knowledge or compliance, verified by an independent assessor or auditor. CIMS and CIMS-GB certification, for example, require objective verification by an accredited third-party professional, who reviews documentation, performs interviews, and conducts on-site observations to ensure compliance “in the field.”
Choosing the Right Road
Standards and certification can offer tremendous benefits for all members of the industry. First and foremost, by outlining best practices, standards can act as a road map for building a business and for improved operations and continuous improvement. Both AHI Facility Services and Aetna Building Maintenance have certainly recognized the value of standards and certification in helping them achieve corporate goals and consistency of operations.
“Every organization would like to improve the way it operates, whether that means increasing market share, driving down costs, managing risk more effectively, or improving customer satisfaction,” says Antonio Arzate, quality control manager and safety director for AHI. “Standardization and certification enables an organization to achieve the goals and objectives set out in corporate policy and strategy and provides consistency and satisfaction in terms of methods, materials, equipment, and interaction among all areas of an organization.” As for CIMS specifically, Arzate stresses how CIMS and CIMS-GB is “helping organizations succeed through improved customer satisfaction and staff motivation.”
Darick Brown, regional vice president of operations for Aetna, agrees, pointing to how CIMS and Aetna’s certification has provided real value: “As a fast growing company, CIMS has improved our operations and made our processes more consistent throughout our organization.”
When the decision is made to comply with a standard and achieve certification, however, often it is the potential marketplace value that is the primary driver as companies or individuals look for a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. This is especially crucial in a crowded marketplace where most organizations look similar at first glance and every organization or individual presents themselves as dependable.
“Earning certification has provided us with additional validation of our service delivery model,” states Pat Walsh, vice president of operations: corporate and commercial for ARAMARK’s Business & Industry unit. “It also signifies that we consistently deliver against industry standards in such expanded areas as human resources, administration, training, safety, environmental, and customer service. Combined, certification provides us a competitive advantage both locally and nationally.”
Larry McAlpin, director for Rite Way Service, Inc., also recognizes the ability of certification to offer “proof” that an organization or individual has instituted industry best practices and validation of its capability to perform. “For years, we believed that the people at Rite Way were using and sharing quality standards in an effort to serve customers and benefit the industry,” McAlpin says. “One of the many benefits of achieving certification is that our story is now validated by an outside, unbiased third-party.”
In-house cleaning operations have also stressed the importance of third-party validation. The University of Maryland-College Park (UM)’s Residential Facilities department achieved CIMS and CIMS-GB certification in 2009 and is thankful for the role the program has played in demonstrating the value the department provides. “The CIMS program has been a benefit by adding validity to what we do as professionals in the field, says Jeff McGee, UM’s manager of building services. “In recent years, the university was looking at bringing in an outside firim to evaluate what we do and determine if there were any efficiencies to be gained. I was able to demonstrate through CIMS that all of our policies and procedures are in place, that all staff are trained, and that we have achieved a great many efficiencies that went unpublished.”
By offering third-party validation, certification is also able to offer unparalleled value to customers. With every candidate claiming to be the best, it is quite a challenge for customers to distinguish between those that can truly get the job done and those that cannot. And while it is easy for customers to require compliance with an industry standard, what the standard is and assurance that compliance has been achieved is vital.
Certification to an industry standard can offer precisely what customers are looking for, and, in fact, an increasing number of them are requiring certification in order to gain a level of assurance that their expectations will be met. “Our customers have shown great interest in our certification and view it as a manifestation of our quality and commitment to the industry,” says Jeffrey Packee, president of CleanPower. “This gives them greater confidence in our ability to deliver consistent service; a true value-added.”
Aetna’s Brown believes that certification will take on an even greater role in the future: “In a world of increased competition and choices, customers will more frequently select companies that have achieved third-party certification as they compare and contrast their options.”
The result is increased business and higher levels of customer satisfaction. Arzate points to the new accounts that AHI has secured and stresses that certification has definitely weighed in the company’s favor. Similarly, ARAMARK’ Business & Industry unit and Held’s Janitorial Service have enjoyed increased business opportunities as a result of their certification. “Achieving certification is allowing us to continue to expand our base business with clients who are also committed to excellence and want to partner with high quality service partners,” states Walsh.
Meanwhile Dan Hyman, human resources manager with Held’s, stresses that his organization’s CIMS certification has “helped us expand and opened doors in other markets by continuing to strengthen our presentations and growth.”
Perhaps most important are the industry-wide changes that can flow from a comprehensive and industry-accepted standard and a well-designed certification program. Brown and his teammates at Aetna have certainly noticed how CIMS and CIMS-GB can make a difference. “The CIMS and CIMS-GB programs are raising the professional bar to new heights in an industry where standards have been lacking,” Brown says.
The end result can be positive image enhancement and a newfound sense of pride by all stakeholders. “A CIMS and CIMS-GB certificate enhances company and industry image in the eyes of customers, employees, and shareholders alike,” AHI’s Arzate agrees. “It gives a competitive advantage through the rigors of an independent, external audit.”
From an in-house perspective, organizations point to the changes they have witnessed in the attitude and enthusiasm of employees. “Certification has really made a great difference for the housekeeping staff,” says Rose-Marie Walley, housekeeping administrator of housing and university life at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Standards and certification are certainly not a new phenomenon, but, with marketplace competition becoming more and more fierce and individuals and organizations looking for new ways to differentiate themselves and validate their capability, they are taking on increasing importance. Certainly those who have invested in cleaning industry standards and certifications have enjoyed the benefits. “Adhering to standards is likely to result in better conformance to environmental regulations, greater marketability, better use of resources, higher quality goods and services, increased levels of safety, improved image, and increased profits,” summarizes Arzate. “With regards to CIMS and CIMS-GB, certification ensures that two important requirements are met: The customer’s requirements and confidence in the ability of an organization to deliver the desired service and consistently meet needs and expectations; and the organization’s internal and external desires to be successful and do so at an optimum cost savings and with the most efficient use of available resources.”
Dan Wagner is director of the Cleaning Industry Management Standard—CIMS—and director of facility service legislative affairs for ISSA. He can be reached at email@example.com; phone, 800-225-4772 (North America) or 847-982-0800.