Scoring high marks by coming clean
Allan Fan Shek-cheung started Pollution and Protection Services some 30 years ago and remains director and general manager of the cleaning company today.
A listed subsidiary of New World Services, the company's 3,000 staff work in more than 200 sites around Hong Kong - from parks to shopping centres, housing blocks and hotels.
'We are everywhere, so we need supervisors and managers to see that daily operations proceed smoothly. This is not an easy operation,' Mr Fan said.
Most of his supervisors join the firm as 16- or 17-year-old cleaners.
'They start out wearing a T-shirt and shorts and sandals. They have low expectations and are on minimum pay. Many only have a Form Five education,' he said. 'Their background is often lousy, but we don't mind because we hire them as minimum-wage cleaners.'
As they grow older, those keen to advance and take responsibility are given training, and if they qualify, promotion follows.
Mr Fan said expectations and standards for supervisors were high, because they have to deal with everyone, from property site managers to mainland visitors.
The managers' training is thorough so they can master the latest trends in green cleaning, and health and safety regulations. Frontline staff working in shopping centres and public areas are taught Putonghua. The secret is to get them young, when they are prepared to work hard and be trained, Mr Fan said.
'I started the company in 1976 and I know everyone and raise them like babies. I instil confidence in the supervisors and I respect them, so they can go out with confidence and respect the others.'
Suitable management candidates are chosen through interviews and trainee supervisors take a written exam. Most managers are between 25 and 40 years old, and manage cleaning crews of five to 20 people.
They must attend monthly meetings to keep updated and must contribute ideas on how to improve their respective sites.
Sixty per cent of workers have five to 20 years of service.
'Staff turnover at supervisor level is below 1 per cent,' Mr Fan said, adding that the secret of keeping managers is empowerment. 'I give them the responsibility to do the job - they are in charge of everything.'
The reason Pollution and Protection Services staff gave the company one of the highest scores in the Watson Wyatt survey is simple, Mr Fan said.
'They are raised within our company and know our culture. They come in T-shirts and go out in a collar and tie, and even suits. This gives them the confidence to show off to their peers.'
He was impressed to see from the survey that his staff were prepared to take a pay cut, should it be necessary.
'I was also pleased to see that more than 95 per cent of them know the company goals and don't want to leave. They are happier than I thought!'
The report showed appreciation for their training. 'And most importantly, I gave them a pay rise last year before they asked for it,' Mr Fan said.
These days, he does not have much time to spend with them. 'But they have their own meetings and I give them training and ask them to behave properly and be good human beings.'
Their training is comprehensive, as the demands of cleaning increase. Computer use is now essential for report-writing and to enhance service, Mr Fan said.
'We also bring in consultants to train them in grooming and how to treat customers, and I think they are very pleased with that, as more than 1,000 have done this.'
Training goes all the way down to the cleaners, with everyone attending seminars held at one of the city's universities.
'I think we are the first cleaning company to do this in Hong Kong, but we ask everyone for professional behaviour, not just cleaning,' Mr Fan said.