Writing the Right RFP for Cleaning
Tips for getting the best cleaning services for your organization
By Dan Wagner
On average, humans spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, so the manner in which buildings are cleaned and maintained has a large impact on health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of every three buildings has poor indoor air quality (IAQ) that affects the health of occupants. Communicable infections and diseases such as Norovirus can also spread rampantly without proper cleaning systems in place. For these reasons, the cleaning industry has seen a movement away from cleaning for appearance and toward cleaning for health, requiring many changes in the processes and procedures of cleaning.
For government purchasers who want to protect the health of building occupants but have little time to understand new performance standards in the cleaning industry, this can result in a quandry.
When government purchasers go out to bid to have their buildings cleaned, a number of components need to be considered when assessing the quality of candidates who apply for the job. But what purchaser has the time to be an expert on cleaning when writing a scope of work (SOW) or request for proposal (RFP) on janitorial services? Purchasers who want to enlist a quality cleaning service at the right price must assure the proper internal systems are in place while also assuring the specifications are up to date. A few simple steps at the front end of the process can save a lot of time, money, and frustration. It will also help locate a cleaning organization that has proper management systems in place to clean in a way that protects the health of the building’s occupants—the first time.
Internal Audits and Procedures
Prior to writing the RFP, purchasers should first make sure the cleaning specifications in their SOW are current. Too often, antiquated purchasing specs are used that fail to accurately reflect the needs of the organization. Some might require cleaning techniques for surfaces that have since been replaced, or in areas that have different traffic flows and frequency requirements than the last time the specs were updated. To develop the most useful scope of work, purchasing agents should work with the end users in their organization who will oversee the cleaning contract. They also can use independent auditors to determine the unique cleaning needs of the facility.
Whether an audit is in-house or outsourced, questions to ask include: Where are the high traffic areas that require more cleaning? Where are the low traffic areas that may require less cleaning? Are there specific times throughout the day when certain areas need more attention? What cleaning tasks are “mission critical” versus necessary on an emergency or as-needed basis? How many restroom fixtures are in a facility and how long should it take to clean them properly? Will special cleaning or preventative tasks be necessary during certain weather conditions such as snow and rain in some regions and high dust and pollen seasons in other locations?
The answers to these questions help focus the cleaning on necessary parts of the facility so that cleaning is performed according to industry standards and cleaning labor and supplies are not wasted.
“Many government purchasing agents don’t have the time to peel back the layers of an organization’s proposal to determine whether or not they have the skills and expertise necessary to do the job,” said Rit Thompson, Vice President/CEO of P & R Enterprise, a contract cleaning company based in Falls Church, VA. “Because of this, they need to make sure that they have the proper checkpoints in place and that their specifications clearly delineate their expectations for the work performed.”
A baseline audit and regular inspections of the work performed will help an organization monitor the cleaning services. While a supplier might offer its own set of surveys, internal auditing gives a facility the ability to assure the cleaning service is meeting the standards and expectations of the parties throughout the facility. By keeping the lines o f communication open through internal audits and inspections, concerns and issues will be addressed in a timely manner.
Proper communication also avoids the dreaded “unnecessary and early termination” scenario many purchasers face: The department managing the contract becomes dissatisfied early on with the work performed and wants to fire the provider shortly after the contract is assigned. The department has no documentation or communication with the contractor to ensure all parties are aware of the situation and that steps were taken to remedy problems. The purchaser must then mediate or rebid the work if the relationship is irreparable.
Considerations for the RFP, RFQ and RFI
Often, purchasers require a RFP from potential cleaning providers. While they may believe this is all that is necessary for what is commonly considered a service with low-market difficulty in finding vendors and a low level of technical expertise to achieve, more homework on the business’ inner workings will lead to a higher level of satisfaction. That is why purchasers may also want to consider gathering more information for janitorial contracts, such as a request for qualification (RFQ) or request for information (RFI) on the company’s background, management commitment, and financial solvency. For the purpose of this article, the term RFP will refer to all such requests for information to help purchasers best understand which firm is the right fit.
Many service providers employ proposal writers to make them sound good on paper when they really have very little cleaning experience, financial strength, or management support to back up their claims. Other companies might have the management systems and expertise in place to perform superior cleaning services, but might not effectively articulate their credentials. To differentiate between a good company and a high-performing, customer-focused company, purchasers should be sure that the cleaning organization has strong systems and documentation in five core areas: quality systems; service delivery; human resources; health, safety, and environmental stewardship; and a demonstrated commitment to management.
The International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), a worldwide organization for the cleaning industry, has incorporated these five core management principles in the Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) and has begun to certify contractors to the standard in an attempt to make it easier for purchasers to identify quality service providers with less legwork.
“CIMS certification is due diligence for any building service contractor,” said Thompson. “What it does is make it easier on government purchasers by giving them a baseline for evaluation, enabling them to compare apples to apples.”
Purchasers can require contractors to be CIMS certified in their specifications. If service suppliers are not yet certified, they can contact ISSA and a third-party assessor will be assigned to review their documentation and do an on-site audit to assure the standard is met. Further, the standard has been designed to assure that companies can meet its requirements in a level most appropriate to their size and scope, allowing even smaller or more rural providers the opportunity to have a well-managed operation.
Requiring comprehensive quality assurance programs is another way to make certain that the company awarded the bid is the best candidate for the job. Because government contracts are often performance-based, proof of extensive quality assurance plans should be included in the RFP. Among the components of a good quality assurance plan are processes for documenting complaints, monitoring feedback, evaluating progress and continual improvement, and a program for measuring service quality.
“There are a lot of companies out there who have a book on their shelf that says ‘Quality Assurance Program’,” said Robert Hurd, Director of Contract Services for Opportunity Village, an organization for people with intellectual disabilities that are sometimes hired to clean government facilities. “Just because they include this in their sales presentation doesn’t mean they necessarily have the proper programs in place.”
Another safeguard in assuring that the work performed will meet expectations is to make sure the selected company has a service delivery plan. While each cleaning company that submits a bid is unique, there are fundamental components that should be included in all quality service delivery plans presented in a bid. Some of these components include a work loading plan, a system for bidding/costing, cost controls, a staffing plan, a work plan, a contingency plan, an emergency response system, and a disaster plan.
“Earning CIMS certification requires evaluation by a third-party auditor, so it gives purchasers an additional assurance that the company they select will have the right tools and processes to do the job,” added Hurd.
A qualified cleaning organization will also have measures in place to ensure the quality of the equipment they use in the process of cleaning. Product performance evaluations, standardization, inventory control policies, equipment maintenance and repair procedures, and financial controls are things that a qualified cleaning company should do to assure that the equipment and products used in a facility are up to industry standards.
While all cleaning organizations will claim to train their employees to ensure their safety and technical expertise, in reality, many companies neglect to do so properly. To assure the integrity of the employees working at the facility, a qualified cleaning organization will have a comprehensive human resources plan that details the employee selection process, when and how individuals are trained, the continuing education they receive, and how labor is documented and paid. All of these components should be required in an RFP to optimize the value of the organization.
Health, Safety, and the Environment
As safety is of paramount importance within government facilities, any cleaning operation considered should have clearly documented systems and processes for assuring the safety of employees and all facility occupants.
Regulatory compliance measures must adhere to all the federal OSHA Hazard Communication Standards (or a country’s equivalents) along with relevant state requirements. Qualified cleaning organizations will have a comprehensive hazard communication program, readily available MSDS sheets, an inventory of all chemicals maintained, and documentation for training and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
A cleaning organization should also have a carefully documented workplace safety and health program that extends beyond a simple statement acknowledging the organization’s commitment to such concerns. That program should include a comprehensive employee training component, methods to avoid workplace injuries and illnesses, and systems to reduce the likelihood of repeat incidents.
In order to assure that the organization will remain in business and be able to continue delivering cleaning services throughout the duration of the contract, it should demonstrate a clear commitment to a dedicated mission and to a set of core management values. The company should also provide an organizational chart clearly delineating the division of labor along with a clear communication and risk management plan.
“When government purchasers procure on a national scope, they have no real idea of knowing if the company is really who they say they are or not,” said Thompson. “Assuring that a company abides by CIMS serves as a forensic background check on a company. It validates that a company has some history and a future, so a purchaser does not have to go through the RFP process again if the company goes bankrupt in a short period of time.”
Write It Right the First Time
Ultimately, all government facilities need a quality cleaning organization that serves to protect the health of the building occupants at a reasonable price. With myriad of companies submitting proposals, it is extremely difficult for purchasers to discern the quality of the candidates without better understanding of what industry standards they should use to qualify providers as well as having a solid SOW. When writing the janitorial service RFP, purchasers should make sure to include not only performance-based objectives, but also those that mandate proof of the organization’s commitment to quality and overall management excellence. CIMS serves as easy guide to assuring the integrity of the organization. Further, leading clean ing industry associations such as ISSA can provide purchasers with cleaning times, work loading tools, benchmark information, and other resources to update specifications. The results will be an easier bid and review process, the development of a long-term strategy, less supplier churn, better quality performance, the confidence that the final supplier is truly protecting the health of building occupants throughout the life of the contract and satisfaction throughout the life of the contract.
About the Author
Dan Wagner is the Standard Development Manager for the ISSA—with more than 4,800 corporate members representing in-house service providers, building service contractors, distributors, and manufacturers from more than 80 countries. For more information on ISSA visit www.govinfo.bz/6780-198 . To download a free copy of CIMS, along with other purchaser tools such as a compliance checklist and specification tip sheet, visit www.www.govinfo.bz/6780-199 .