Back in the summer of 1997 my brother and I were having a night out with our cousin Irene. We all had a little too much to drink and as you do, tongues were wagging. Irene had for many years been working as an office cleaner in the evenings, offering her a good work life balance around her kids.
Unfortunately, not all was well. She said she mostly felt lonely doing the job; she only met her supervisor if there was a problem. So, she grew to dread her supervisor “popping in for a chat”. Whenever she tried to argue her side of the story e.g. not having the right chemicals or equipment, her supervisor didn’t want to know, telling her to “just get it done.”
Then one day I was watching the news and Richard Branson came on. He was talking about the starting of Virgin Trains. I remember him saying how he loves to come into an existing complacent market and shake it up. By offering better service, friendly staff, doing things on time. And I thought what if?
Little did my brother and I know about the journey we were about to embark on. We had a van, a hoover, a mop bucket and a whole lot of enthusiasm.
The first couple of years were, to say politely, a disaster. If you can think of a mistake to make, then we made it. Working crazy hours we skimmed jobs, we let people down; we were too busy to keep in touch. We had a few employees, but we never spent any time with them. Basically leaving them to their own devices. But we learned a lot; mistakes were slowly sorted out.
Until eventually we were better. Better at doing the job properly, better at turning up on time, better at keeping in touch and most importantly better with our employees. Then one summer’s evening many years later we sat back and looked at the million pound business we had built and realised that our journey had been the best decision we had ever made.
The secret sauce to our success...
However the secret sauce we learned through our journey is surprisingly simple. But like all simple things, it’s overlooked and undervalued.The secret we learned was this:
Relationships are everything, but not the relationships you often hear bounded about, like, “Make your client feel great” or “Anticipate their every need, and you will be a success.”No, our secret is none of them, although we do keep in touch. Our secret is this:
We have a relationship with our cleaner. Irene felt lonely and unappreciated. The only time anyone would visit, was to tell her off. When she did make a suggestion, her opinion was dismissed. She got complaints because no one cared about her. In return, she didn’t care about the job she was doing.
We know our employees. When we “pop in for a chat” it is a chat. A chat that helps them feel like a person. Someone who is valued. And in turn, you get a consistently clean office.