Every other company claims that they view their employees as their greatest asset, but talk is cheap if you have nothing concrete to show for it. If you have read “The Dream Manager,” you would have marveled at how a certain cleaning company in Cincinnati models the ideal company culture and you may even have wondered if such a company really exists. The short answer is: it does and its owners and leaders are just ordinary entrepreneurs who were merely trying to do their best to solve a business problem. Listen in as Jesse Cole brings in Mary Miller, the CEO and owner of JANCOA and the very persona behind the dream manager. In this conversation she shares how to create a culture of caring and help your employees achieve their dreams, how to hire differently, how to ask different questions and how to dramatically lower turnover and attract amazing people.
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Hiring Done Differently: Company Culture Insights From The Dream Manager, Mary Miller
Our guest is Mary Miller, the CEO and Owner of JANCOA, the featured company in the book, The Dream Manager. She’s won Lifetime Achievement Awards, Woman of the Year Awards, Women of Achievement Awards, you name it. She wrote the book, Changing Direction. In this episode, she shares how to create a culture of caring and help your employees achieve their dreams. We dive in on how to hire differently, how to ask different questions, how to dramatically lower turnover and attract amazing people. I always say, “Love your customers more than you love your product and love your people, your employees even more than you love your customers.” In this episode, Mary shares the blueprint on how to do it.
Mary, welcome to the show. Thank you for being here with us.
Thank you so much for having me on your show, Jesse. I appreciate that.
I’m fired up, Mary, because I’ll tell you the first time I read The Dream Manager, I went to my wife and I was like, “This right here,” then I go, “This is a real company? This is the real deal, which is fascinating to me.” Now, we’re doing it. We’re doing it with our baseball team. We have our finance director running dream sessions with our team. You’ve made a big impact. For the people that don’t know you and know your story, we’ve got to go back to the origin a little bit. At least give us a little context for everybody.
One of my favorite conversations was I had the opportunity at an industry conference to meet Tom Peters. He’s the guru of greatness and making things better. I got to talk to him a little bit before his keynote because he’s been a big fan of The Dream Manager and he’s done some videos about it. He says, “You’ve got to tell me, how did you come up with this concept?” I said, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” He’s like, “Yeah,” and I said, “We were in desperation mode.” He said, “I love it.” He’s animated. That’s the way life works. When we’re in enough pain, we’re willing to do something different and that was the birthing point. Every birth is painful. It was for us as well.
I would love to tell everybody that I woke up one morning with this great dream and opportunity that we needed to do things differently but it started by getting fired by a consultant. I hired him. I talked Tony into it. My husband, Tony, had started our business when he was nineteen and we got married in ‘91. I quit my job in sales in ‘93 and we decided to put all our energy together. By ‘95, we realized we owned a job. It owned us. It was a 24/7 business and we were living literally payroll to payroll. We were bringing in enough money to cover payroll, taxes and some of the expenses. We were like, “We’ve got to do something different.”
I found a consultant in our industry that specializes in efficiencies, profitability and to help businesses excel. I thought he was the answer to my dreams. On the second day of a five-day contract, he came in and he fired us. He said, “I can’t help you. You’ve got to fix your people problem before you can do any systems, processes or efficiencies.” I was crushed but failure was not an option so we had to do things differently. We started asking different questions, Jesse. It was the first step we did.
I want to get into that but first, what was your people problem? You’re in 1993, give us exactly where you are and the status of your company.
It’s painful, but I will.
I was on an air bed a few years ago. I talked about that. That wasn’t that most pleasant either.
When I joined Tony in ‘93, he had 65 part-time employees. I realized quickly that part-time people come to work part of the time mentally as well as physically, and there are other things. It’s only a side gig. It’s not an intentional thing. We start making some changes. We switch to full-time people. We started offering health insurance and doing background checks after one employee that had been with us for three days, opened the drawer of a desk in a building and took $0.75 of change and we lost a $250,000 contract. We’ve got to fix this filter. Who are we hiring? Who are we bringing in and putting out in our customers’ buildings?
We started doing background checks and drug testing. We were doing the things that were much more intentional and we had started going to the Strategic Coach Program for Entrepreneurs with Dan Sullivan in Toronto, early when we first got together. We’ve been going every quarter to these workshops to pause, reflect over the past 90 days and plan for the next 90 days as well as learn new and different ways of thinking about doing business. That helped us. The Strategic Coach set tracks down for our train to go in a different direction.
By ‘93, it’s been a couple of years with the changes. We had grown to maybe a little over 100 employees. Every night, we were 38 full-time people short. We were hiring 50 people a month and spending money for drug tests, background checks, training and we still never had enough people. The reason Bob, the consultant fired us is that the first night, he and Tony spent all night vacuuming. They didn’t get to talk about a plan at all because we didn’t have enough people to do the work that needed to be done.
It was at a point there where your challenge was you couldn’t find the right people.
We couldn’t find enough people of any kind.
It was basically treading. You were on it on a treadmill and on a hamster wheel going over and over and your company was a little profitable.
I told Tony that we should register for nonprofit because we live payroll to payroll, we get a blended family of five kids and we both were on our third marriage. In 2021, we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary, so this one took.
You said before, no one wakes up and wants to be a janitor. Was that an a-ha moment for you where you were like, “We need to change what we’re doing, we’re trying to find new people every single day because they won’t stay on board with us?”
This was when Bob told us we had to fix our people problem. I was clear on that. Our people weren’t the problem, it was the fact that we did not have enough people that were there. We had to look at things differently. We had to get through the rest of that week because that was Tuesday morning when he fired us. We had the rest of that week. We didn’t have much work on weekends at that point so we bought every book we could find. There used to be a lot of bookstores in Cincinnati and we went to all of them and found every book we could find on how to find people, keep people, train people, anything we could find about HR and hiring.
What we realized as we were skimming through these books and looking for things is, “Let’s take a look at our top ten employees, the cloneable ones, the ones we wanted to have 100 more like them.” Every company has that. If you don’t have that many employees yet, you have an idea of what your dream employee looks like. You use that as your template and you make a list. We made a list of the things that all these people had in common, their dangers, opportunities and these things. What we discovered is the number one problem that they all had in common was transportation issues. Transportation is still an issue in our community that’s why the mayor put me on the board for our transit authority. He said, “You survived the brain damage and tried to figure out how to fix it yourself.”
We bought a fifteen-passenger van and had it painted “Employee Shuttle.” We didn’t have enough employees to clean, so Tony said he had the least amount of work to do so he became our first shuttle driver. Within two days, he was invisible. People didn’t look at him like, “The owner of that company is driving us to work.” It was a means to the end. It was somebody that helped and in the process, Tony saw where they lived. He heard them talking about their obstacles and he would come home and honest to God, he would wake me up because he’s got this horrible rule of, “If I can’t sleep, you can’t sleep.” It’s not a good rule.[bctt tweet=”People are your biggest assets. You need the right ones on the right seats on the bus.” username=””]
You made it for years though, congrats.
Thank you. We talked about what he saw and what he heard and honestly, our hearts were broken. Tony had been in business at that point for twenty years, and he did everything he could to make sure the customers were taken care of. The customers never knew we had an employee issue because we would be out cleaning if we needed to. Trust me, when I was out cleaning, the team members knew we were in trouble. I’m great at talking but cleaning, not so much.
Mary, you did something which is brilliant. You started with the biggest pain points for your employees where most companies which we say eliminate friction for your customers. We start there, but it’s not until you get there to the employees that you can get better at doing it for your customers.
We didn’t do that until we were driving them and all of a sudden we saw humanity. That’s when our hearts broke. That’s when something snapped inside of us. What we realized is that we took such good care of our customers, but our employees, we now call them team members, we saw as another piece of the list we needed to clean a building. You need a mop, a bucket, dust cloths, the microfibers, the chemicals and the people. We don’t have the people. Where do we buy those?
You saw them more as a product and an expense, not an investment and an asset.
It’s like many companies do. They’re a line item. They’re a liability, and Peter Drucker hit the nail on the head. People are the biggest asset. It doesn’t matter what kind of industry you have. You have to have the right people and the right seats on the bus as Jim Collins says. The number one question that we changed, Tony kept saying, “Let’s hire more people.” I said, “No, let’s time out.” What would we have to do to be the company of 104 cleaning companies in Cincinnati? Why would they want to work for us? What are we doing to help them to create value for them? How can we eliminate some of their obstacles? How can we help them capture opportunities to improve their quality of life? In asking these different questions, our hearts changed because once your heart changes, you can’t keep doing business the way you always have. You have to change something.
You started asking better questions. How do you provide more value?
Different questions. The answers may be stupid but all questions are good.
This is Business Done Differently. The more we say different, the more we win here. You started asking those different questions. Where does someone start? You start asking those questions. First, you have to look at the pain points. You have to say, “We’re driving with them and we’re seeing that they’re living in a tough spot.” They don’t own transportation. Maybe they’re not speaking English. There were other life challenges you had. They didn’t have cars and all that. You see all that and the next step is, we’re listening and now we get to start talking and asking questions.
That’s the biggest thing. I always say that there are five key principles to being a dream manager and having a dream manager program, which has evolved from not only a program of dreams, but a culture of caring, which is so much more important than only the dreams. When people feel that they’re cared for, appreciated and recognized, they’re willing to do anything for you. That makes a huge difference. Other people want to be part of that environment.
It attracts different people to you than what you had before. When we started transporting people, all of a sudden, people were telling other people and friends. We built up this great referral program for our team members where they get a check as well as the new team member gets a check after a time frame. Within the first three years, our turnover reduced in half. Our turnover in our industry is still on average of 400% to 500% annual.
What does that mean? I need to know those numbers. Explain what that means.
It means 500%. If you have 300 employees, you probably print out 1,500 W-2s.
Mary, that’s ridiculous. That’s what I thought it was. I want to do the math. I was like, “That cost, you can’t even calculate that.”
Drug test, background checks, training and efficiencies. The biggest compliment we get from our customers and they tell other customers, other property managers and that is they see the same people in their building regularly and other companies don’t do that. We had a competitor that was competing with us for a building and their talking point was, “We had this great turnover so you never have to worry about having to pay them more an hour.”
What’s fascinating, Mary, from a janitor and cleaning business, a lot of it is happening maybe at night. You’re doing a lot of office buildings and maybe there are no close relationships, but think about all the other businesses that are having one-on-one conversations on a daily basis. If you had 1,500 versus 300% to 500%, the cost might even be higher.
Jesse, it gets better because we do a lot of multi-tenant buildings as well as corporate offices. All of those buildings have top executives that work long hours. They’re out doing their stuff during the day, and they’re back in the office trying to get the office work done at night. The regional president for PNC Bank told me she practiced her Spanish with our employees because she sees them and they have this conversation going where they’re helping her with her Spanish. They are seen and they are our ambassadors.
You’re now at 100% turn around.
Our turnover in 2019 was 100%. I don’t think I can even count what 2020 is because it’s an anomaly. Nothing makes sense for 2020 but in 2019, we were at 100% turnover, which was still high but for our industry, it’s not.
It’s five times better than the industry, which is the best at practice. There are so many there. You talk about a referral program, retention program, and asking the right questions. I want to start, what happened? You started doing this, you got better and the turnover went down dramatically. Give us 1 or 2 stories that would resonate to say, “We need to do this in our office.”
There’s a video that Compassion International did back in 2004 on 2005 but it’s still on YouTube. If you’re on YouTube, search for JANCOA. This video comes up and Sue and Curtis, who still work for us now both have eighth-grade education. When we started doing home buying programs back in the early 2000s, there were a lot of first-time homeowner programs. We helped twenty families that were first-generation homeowners to help them buy homes. They went to Sue and Curtis’ home and interviewed them. Sue was like, “We never thought we were the kind of people that could buy a home. We were in this habit of moving every 6 to 9 months and renting from one place to the next.” They bought that home in 2003 and they’re still in that home. They haven’t moved since they bought that home. It changed the family tree. It changed where Curtis’ daughter became a teacher. Things become possible. Our confidence regardless if you’re a janitor, PhD, or CEO, your confidence grows through your achievements. When you accomplish anything in life, if you take time to celebrate it, it builds up the energy to take on the next commitment and the next hard obstacle that comes your way.[bctt tweet=”If you’re not getting the results that you want, ask different questions.” username=””]
There are many of those stories. I’ve seen some of the videos. It’s fascinating and I want to know where do you start so we see? You start asking the right questions and asking about their dreams. I know you have a dream board, which is amazing. Let’s dive into this starting point for a company right now.
The number one thing is you have to start at the top. I’ve had people call me and say, “My boss gave me this book and told me to reach out to you because he wants us to start this program.” I said, “Is he going to be part of the program?” She laughed and said, “No, this is something I’m supposed to do for the employees.” I said, “This isn’t a plug and play. You have to care. You can’t pretend to care.” It’s like when a dog can tell when you’re afraid of them. It’s that energy. People can tell if you’re faking it or not. You have to care and when you ask them what they want, “What is something if it was a year from now?” Don’t stay with the now. That’s too short-term.
We had one person during orientation when we asked, “What is it you want? What would make you happy?” The top answer is always, “Win the lottery.” That’s the tip of the iceberg so you keep asking the question. If you had more options, what would you want? This one guy, he could have been a professional football player. He’s a big guy and he melted in his chair. He looked at our trainer at the time and he said, “I want to learn how to read. I want to be able to read a nighttime story to my three-year-old daughter.”
You can’t make this stuff up. Rolando came to Cincinnati from Guatemala for a better quality of life and he had two young daughters at the time. Rolando has been with us for more than seventeen years now and both of his daughters have graduated from college and are nurses at the UC Health in Cincinnati. People want to do better but they don’t know how. Do you know that story that Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People about grandma’s ham?
It’s a great short story.
I’m ready for it.
There is a young couple on their first holiday. They’re going to bake a ham and have the family over and they’re excited. The wife is preparing the ham with the spices and everything, and gets out a big knife and starts to cut the butt of the ham off, which has got a lot of meat on it. The husband’s like, “What are you doing?” She said, “I’m cutting the butt of the ham.” He said, “Why? It seems wasteful.” She’s like, “That’s the way my mom taught me. Let’s call mom and find out why.” They asked mom, “Why are we cutting off the butt of the ham?” Mom says, “That’s the way my mother taught me. I never asked.” They call grandma and ask grandma, “Why do we cut off the butt of the ham?” She says, “I don’t know why you do it but it didn’t fit in my oven the other way.”
That’s the way all humanity is. We get into the cycle of habits and patterns and our children, our team members, the people in our lives watch us. They’re paying attention subconsciously, unconsciously or whatever word you want to use and they’ll repeat it because they see it, so it’s got to be the right way to do it. You have to pause. You have to pause and reflect. Look at the questions. If you’re not getting the results that you want, ask different questions.
Our question was, how do we attract people? How do we help them overcome their dangers? We help them buy homes, we help them with financial literacy, we help them learn English, we help them get driver’s licenses. We had a young man from Nigeria who came to the office and asked if we would take his picture. They wanted a picture of me with him holding his driver’s license that he could send home to show that he got his driver’s license and we helped make that happen. It’s the ripple effect. Life is a boomerang. The energy that you put out to help others helps them. They want to help others but it’ll boomerang back in ways that you can anticipate, the rewards that come about but you have to start by putting value out there and you can’t do it only for the rewards, you have to do it because it’s the right thing to do. That’s what your culture is. That’s what your value system is.
I love it. It starts at the top. You have your CEO, your president, your owner all saying, “Let’s do this.” As we read The Dream Manager and we shared it with our team, I shared it with our finance director, our Fans First director and everyone loved it. They all were doing book reports on it. They were all excited and our finance director came in like, “I want to do this.” That’s part of our model. We want empowerment so I didn’t want to say, “Go do this.” I shared it with them to present it to them and now he’s owning it and doing it which is important. It’s important too on the questions you asked. I’ve heard you say, “In a year from now but also what would have to happen for you to be happy in three years.” Sometimes, we think things can happen either too long too short. Put a few different ranges.
Three years is a good range and reverse-engineer to get to that point.
If someone says, “I want to win the lottery,” and you then ask the question. We love the five whys or the three whys or however many whys, “Why?” “It’s so I can do this.” You finally get to, “That’s attainable now. Forget the lottery. Forget where you want to go.” There are so many things. Dream boards, tell me what that looks like.
Dream boards are different for everybody. I have my personal dream board that I went through magazines when I couldn’t sleep and I still have it. It’s got pictures of stuff and words that jumped out at me. My daughter worked with us and helped us create The Dream Manager. She said, “Mom, we can’t ask our team members to do this if you don’t do it, so you have to do a dream board.” I did one and I love it. It’s so powerful.
At the office, we created a dream board with people that work for us writing out their dreams. In any event, we would have our annual celebration of a work event, our back-to-school bash for the kids to get them excited about education, we would have these cards out, “What’s your dream?” People would write them out so we would put these cards all over the wall of all the different people’s dreams of what they’re doing. Some companies have had their employees put a picture on the card so they can visualize what that is. Bucketlist.org took it to a whole different level.
I did a podcast with them. They were so inspired that they created a technology that if you get a Bucketlist Rewards and Recognition, Jason and Bart do have this amazing program, that whether you have 10, 50 or 5,000 employees, if you’re in that Bucketlist.org they can tell you, “40% of your employees are interested in learning better about how to budget their money for next year.” You then know that you’re doing something that your team members want to do because sometimes they will respond and do this thinking on the thing that they can respond to. If you ask them directly face to face, they won’t always tell you. Bucketlist has created great value for companies through that.
I shared about Disney. I surprised our whole team with a trip to Disney. I’ve read every single book there is in Walt Disney, even ones that are 500 pages. I’ve read it all. It’s been a big impact but in every speech, I finished with, “All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them,” which is a famous Walt Disney quote.
I’ve got that in my office.
Our dream manager, Matthew, who wants to be a part of this, he meets with everyone and finds out what the dreams are and put them on. I saw a video of your offices where you have them say their name and what their dreams are and have them write it out.
That way they own it. It’s theirs. It’s not somebody writing it for them. That is one of the biggest obstacles to the program. Many people love it and get excited and they want to do it for people, but people’s confidence and esteem grow from doing it for themselves. Our role as leaders is to create an environment to allow it to take place to encourage it to help them do it. We don’t make the dreams come true but we will connect them to programs and agencies that have programs so they’re doing the work and we’re bringing the encouragement and the inspiration to keep going after it.
You mentioned earlier you created a caring culture. You used the word care. In our Fans First playbook, we have the acronym CARE. It’s Communication, Accountability, Recognition and the last one is Empowerment. Empowerment is the important one because they need to feel it, own it and be a part of it.[bctt tweet=”People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” username=””]
That is so funny because ours is C3AIO. Our son-in-law, my daughter’s husband, is our COO. It’s Commitment, Communication, Consistency, Accountability, Integrity and Opportunity. It’s similar.
It’s key for those things because it helps people remember. There’s a reason why our Fans First core beliefs are the Fans’ First way and it goes by the alphabet. Always be caring, different, enthusiastic, fun, growing and hungry. It goes by the alphabet so people can remember it. I love this dream board. Let’s say I start meeting. How often, with your company do you guys meet? You have 500 to 600 employees.
That’s why it’s evolved because our people are in over 200 buildings spread around the city. We get them all together once a year and that’s when we have our celebration each year of work. For our area managers, we created the culture of caring where we decided, as we grew, that one manager could not have all these conversations. We had to have it where it was thread through everything in the culture and the conversation. For example, the newsletters that come out once a month have updates, news, training tips and an employee of the month.
The area managers are tasked to go to the buildings and sit with the supervisor and the team and they read through it in English and Spanish because we have many Hispanic employees. They ask questions or do these different things and typically, several times a year, we’ll bring a treat of some sort with the newsletter as a fun thing to be able to do. We have those conversations of team members, through this, have specific dreams, then they say, “This is what I want to do. Do you know what I can do to help make that happen?” Every year on January 13th is the National Dream Comes True Day. I’m not sure who started it, but it’s a real thing. We give two scholarships of $500 to go toward somebody going after their dreams. In 2019, we had 230 dreams that were submitted that people were wanting the money to go toward and it gets hard.
We have about fifteen full-time staff. Once it starts getting past 10 to 15, you probably have a few. Meeting on a regular basis, it can be every week, every month or quarterly.
At the start, we did monthly workshops on Saturdays. I love group sessions. It’s like with the coaching I’ve done for twenty years with The Strategic Coach. When you have a group of people together having unique and different conversations, one idea will inspire somebody else and say, “I never thought of it that way. What I could do is this.” It’s a group genius. It’s powerful. When an individual might have something that’s sensitive that they don’t necessarily want or don’t feel comfortable right away sharing, then they’ll schedule an appointment one-on-one. We’ve done this as a neutral cost entry-level for some of the nonprofits in Cincinnati as a leadership project that they had a lunch and learn.
On the first Wednesday of each month, whoever wanted to come to have lunch would bring their lunch and they would talk about the different drain categories, what’s working, what’s not working, and where are you stuck, and you create these conversations. They would trade on who is leading the conversation each month. It’s being driven from within and not the leadership saying, “Everybody, come round and tell me what you want to do.” That creates a little bit of angst for the team members as well as for the leaders because the leaders always want to help, but the team members want you to see them through a specific lens. They want you to see the good in them, not the need and not the lack.
How do you not get into a judgmental environment? That’s where it can be a challenge. You mentioned bucket lists. We have everyone put their bucket list trip. We have surveys of all of our staff. We developed a position called the Fans First Director. He’s been with us since the beginning. She started as a 22-year-old. The first three months that she took on a new position, she went so far above and beyond that we turned, my wife and I and our president like, “It’s been three months. She’s killed it. We should give her a bucket list trip.” Her bucket list trip was to go to Ireland. When we presented it to her in front of our celebration dinner, I’ll never forget it. Whenever we celebrate, my wife can write poems and rhyme things.
It’s funny. It could be at a roast too. We joke and we have fun and get everyone laughing. In the end, she opened up the bag and we had two books of Ireland and a six-pack of Guinness beer and we said, “You’re going to Ireland.” She started crying her eyes out and she decided to take her dad. Her dad, at one point, wasn’t too sure about taking on this job with a team that was failing and struggling, “Who are these guys?” She took her dad for a week and I’m like, “It’s not necessarily a dream, but it’s a memory that you’ll never forget. This dream is taking it to a whole other level.”
Entrepreneurs who are probably reading are saying, “How much time? What’s the budget look like? How do we do this?” I’ll share a little bit of what we’ve started to do as far as a budget. I want to know what you’ve done to this. One percent of our top-line revenue goes solely towards our people. If you’re a $5 million company, $50,000. If you’re a $10 million company, $100,000. It goes only to surprise, delight and wowing our people.
We have it. That’s my position towards dreams, whether that’s taking classes or whether it’s doing other things, but it can go in this. Surprising Disney, getting everyone brand new computers and taking everyone shopping as I mentioned before Christmas. Spending $8,000 a day was well worth it. That’s how we do our budget for that. How have you done the budget? How would you suggest to make sure that this is invested in?
Entrepreneurs can get so in love with our ideas that we can run out of money quickly. In Strategic Coach, I see a lot of people that don’t come back because they get such great ideas. They don’t know how to tether themselves to keep themselves safe. Our industry has small margins. Because of the low-income rate and the type of employees we have, we put a lot of money into the benefits they have in their salaries so that they’re getting that money.
Somebody asked Tony one time in Toronto at a Strategic Coach workshop how much The Dream Manager cost us when we started it. Tony says, “I spent a lot of time looking at the numbers and getting my accounting people to look at the numbers and retabulate to see if I was losing my mind. We figured it probably cost us $0.50. He’s dead serious because of the amount of reduction of the turnover with the background checks and drug testing. We never advertised for jobs anymore for people to hire.
We partner with social service agencies who bring us people. At one point, we were cleaning almost twice the square footage per hour because when you have the same people doing the same thing, it’s like your baseball team. When you have a great player and they practice all the time, they get better and it comes naturally. It’s the same with cleaning. It’s a dance. It doesn’t cost us the money, but then in our program, we haven’t spent the money to do the trips and stuff like you have. That’s why I love creativity. We started out of desperation and the amount of people that I hear from and I hear these stories, it’s creative what people are doing and how they’re doing it. I had this vision, and I told Matthew several years back that I would love to do a big Dream Manager conference and have everybody come together to learn from each other what’s worked and what hasn’t.
I’m in for that. Count me in. Here’s my investment. You said the cost is $0.50. There are different ways of looking at it. You can look at the cost versus investment. We have more to the surprise and delight but it’s mostly time, listening and being there.
The biggest part is you care. There’s that old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That’s the part. When we take over buildings, we always give the employees from the previous cleaning company an opportunity to work for us. They apply to us. Several make it through the hoops because of the things that we have and the conversations we have first and almost every time the first feedback is, “You guys really clean,” which always surprises us.
I’ve never felt closer to a family than what I have at JANCOA. I feel closer to the JANCOA family than I did a lot of my own family because that’s the caring and humanity. Homosapiens are definitely a connected animal. We need that social piece. We need to be connected. That’s why I know offices will get filled back up again. People will come back to work as the vaccines and immune systems build up because we need to be with people.
I want to switch gears a little bit and move forward towards this. You know me, I’ve bounced around. We’re entrepreneurs. As I’m thinking about this in attracting people and you’re right, “What would attract people?” I think about, “We help them with their dreams.” I think about the hiring process and how we’ve evolved as entrepreneurs. We have a three-step process. You’ve got to send a video cover letter because number one, we want to see your personality. That’s important for us. We’re always on stage. Number two is a Fans First essay, “How do you fit our six Fans First core beliefs?”
Number three is a future resume because we’re not interested in their past, we’re interested in what they want to do in the future and now it’s all coming to me. I’m listening and I’m like, “It’s not just what they want in the future, let’s get further in their dreams.” Maybe their resume is not their occupation and by their future resume, it’s their life resume. My wife and I got licensed to foster. We know it’s going to change our life. That’s part of my wife’s biggest dream and now it’s become mine. We’re doing this together. That should be part of the future resume.
I’m going to challenge you now. How do we put this dream component into the hiring? One addition we made was we put our five-year vision because we want to know where people want to go and where we want to go. We have a vision video. We have a ten-page graphic design vision. That’s been good. I’m like, “Dreams need to be a part of this. We need to talk about dreams. We need to say, “This is what we’re doing. What I get to do every day is my dream. I love this,” but that’s not the case for everyone else. How can we help them? In your hiring, where does this dream component come into as far as recruiting, interviewing and onboarding?
One of the questions that Oriana does ask them as they start the conversation is we do try to hire for attitude. You can teach the skill and trust me, not everybody can claim, myself included. It’s about the attitude and having a conversation and feeling it out. She always asked them about the future and where they would like to be three years from now. In our orientation, they have a video of Tony and I talking separately and together where we encourage them to go after their dreams. How we had started was out of necessity, but as you move on, you go toward and try to build up dreams to make things better. I love what you’re doing. There’s an IT company that has been doing The Dream Manager. They are based in South Africa, but they now have several offices, including New York and Denver.[bctt tweet=”Hire for attitude. Skill can always be taught.” username=””]
I was on a panel with them with Blueboard once and they are strict on theirs that when they’re interviewing, when they ask, “What are your dreams for your future?” If they don’t have dreams and they’re just stuck in today, they won’t hire them. They do not want to hire people that are just there for a paycheck and the task that doesn’t have a bigger mindset of a future. I thought that was fascinating.
If you don’t have dreams, you’re not hired. With everything we’re doing, if you see our vision, we’re not thinking small. How are you going to fit in the company if you can’t even think of yourself that way?
Some of my team members would never have come to JANCOA if we were just a cleaning company.
What business are you in?
We’re in the people business. We’re in the people development and helping them dream big. When we switched that focus, it changed our hearts. Our second generation, we did not realize we were training them for many years. We outgrew our office and moved to skyrise in Downtown Cincinnati and the biggest room in the office space is what we call the family room that has enough room that we can get 40 to 50 people in there to have a monthly celebration dinner, which I can’t wait until we get back to. We can’t do it now with COVID.
I want to do some rapid-fire of a few things. I want to think about the sports world. You had part-time but now, correct me if I’m wrong, are you 90% to 95% full-time?
We’ve got the most full-time people ever because of COVID and the reduced needs. For the most part pre-COVID, we were at 98% of full-time employees because we want people to budget when they know how much money they’re going to have. Most of our competitors don’t have full-time and don’t have benefits of any sort. We’ve offered health insurance since the mid-‘90s. It’s the right thing to do. Having vacation time and time off is important.
I’m talking about pain points and you have to experience them yourself. The first team that I was with, we had PTO. It was twenty days and everyone paid attention to us too much and it didn’t work. It was uncomfortable. People try to max out lunchtimes. We got rid of all that. We said, “Whenever you want to take off, take time off unlimited and be an adult about it. We didn’t put any rules. That was a big deal. We’ve had our health insurance, which has been great coverage.
One time, my wife, myself and our child went to the dentist and we got a bill for $600. I was like, “This is a pain point.” She reached out to our president and she said, “Whatever it costs, dental insurance for the rest of our team,” because we had to experience it first. Do you experience or do you get extra benefits as a CEO or owner? No. My pay is right where everyone else is. It’s the same thing. Put yourself in their shoes so you know, “This dental bill hurt.”
That’s why Tony and I were the creators of The Dream Manager Program to start with for our team members. A lot of people’s dreams have been around forever. We didn’t create the word dream, but we took something that existed and packaged it in a different way to help employees and be able to help companies to work together. The year I turned 30, Jesse, my life turned inside out. It imploded. I started with bankruptcy, my second divorce, unemployment and an eviction notice on Christmas Eve. All of a sudden, I was a single mom with no job with three kids and no support coming in. I had to do things differently.
Tony was nineteen when his dad died. He left school and started JANCOA to support his mom and three siblings. We both had been where it felt like the lowest of lows. That was tough. We started seeing what our team members had in common with us in our past. We were in survival mode as newlyweds working together trying to support a blended family of five kids that were young at the time. We started seeing their pain points and it brought us back to ours. We do have more in common with people than what we give ourselves credit for or willing to acknowledge. When we help others, we are helped in such a bigger way.
Sometimes the greatest accomplishment, achievement and purpose come from those challenges and adversities. When this happened for COVID and every live team was shutting down, I got excited. I go, “What’s going to happen because of this short-term pain?” You have all full-time employees, full-time team members. We use the term teammates as well. If you own a baseball team, so let’s get you in that context, with a ton of part-time staff. We’re talking 150 part-time staff. That’s not part-time staff annually. It’s part-time staff for 40 games for a season. How would you incorporate this Dream Manager role and get them to think about their dreams in such a part-time position?
I could come up with an answer because that’s what I do. How many years have you had the team now?
We’ve been in the industry for more than fifteen years, but we’ve had the Bananas going into our sixth season.
Go back to your past team members. What could you have done differently to make it better for them, make them want to stay there and make them want to tell other people to come work for you?
Not even the dreams at first, more on a better experience.
You always look for the dangers that need to be eliminated and the opportunities that can be captured. That’s the foundation for dreams. When we started this program, we had a catchy name for it. It was the Incredible Employee Retention Program. I did some presentations for chambers and stuff. A friend of ours from Atlanta was like, “What you are doing is helping these people achieve their dreams.” It caught us and it started out as The Dream Engineer and then developed into The Dream Manager. When Matthew came along, introduced by a friend, and approached us on what we could work out with a licensing program for him to write the book and create Floyd. He’s helping companies all over the place and people achieve their dreams. That’s his number one focus with Floyd.
I’ve connected with him too. It’s unbelievable. We’re going to finish a little rapid-fire here. If you want better answers in business, you’ve got to ask better questions. We’ve already mentioned some of the questions. What are some of the questions you’re asking these days?
The one thing that hasn’t changed is we still are looking for good people. Where are we missing the people that are waiting to know about us and want to work for a company that cares about them that will help them in their life? Where can we find the people that are needing a company like ours to help them?
One thing you do is you have a strong retention referral program, correct?
Can you briefly share what that looks like?
In over 90 days, the referral person gets a check after 60 days and then another check at 90 days. The new hire gets a check after 90 days.
There are three checks given out.
They’re $100 each.
It is a big deal to a certain extent.
The one thing that I did not mention that is important is that five years pre-COVID, our business doubled with no sales team. It’s total referrals. We did $22 million in 2020 and we were up to 650 employees.
What was the biggest reason for your growth from a practical standpoint?
Getting the right customers. There are a lot of dirty buildings. We don’t try to clean them all. We know our niche and we fixed our niche. We do large office buildings like Class-A office buildings and medical office buildings. We want people to work for us that are willing to do the work, be accountable and take pride in the work that they do.
You were clear on who your target was and the right people to do it. I’m guessing the business grew without salespeople because the referrals are from the customers.
Our team members refer team members and our customers refer customers. We’re involved in our industry associations, so they hear about us.
People want to work with people that have a purpose in what they’re doing and then are doing it the right thing and you guys are doing that. Mary, the fact that you’re sharing like crazy. I’ve seen some of the speeches and I’ve seen some of the podcasts. By you, doing that is good because it’s making an impact. They look at me in this yellow tuxedo and I’m like, “I know it’s making an impact. The more I talk, the more it will impact people.”
One of the things that I realized and I didn’t have time for it right away, but probably about a decade ago or so, I dove into community work. As I built the team to do the things that I used to do when I sat behind a desk, I got out from behind the desk and I started networking like crazy going to all kinds of business events and getting involved in programs that would benefit our team members. Like the YWCA programs, United Way programs, the Transit Authority programs, the chamber of commerce. I got involved in a lot of different things. That created a new energy source of people wanting to know more.
It’s the Who Not How by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Hardy. You’ve got to have the right who’s in your life. It’s not just who are the vendors that are doing work for you, but who are your connectors and multipliers that will help you to be able to do it? I was at an award event that I was a finalist along with this other CEO with a large office building. We’re talking and he says, “Do you clean our office?” I said, “Not yet.” He said, “Have you ever called on us?” I said, “This is going to sound a little egotistical, but we don’t cold call.” He said, “What do you mean you don’t cold call?” I said, “We only talk to people that call us, that get referred, hear about us and they want us to come to look at it.” He gave me the who-to-contact. Our team met with them the next week and we started 30 days later.
That’s the way to do it. We don’t think of any of our people as salespeople. They all serve people. We have a waitlist. People come out and reach out to us to ask because you’re attracting the right people and you’re not reaching out. I want to finish with the final rapid two here. Many people from the outside would think what you’re doing is a little crazy and I’m sure you’ve heard it. I hear it all the time. I’m going to ask a question that’s a little wild here. What does going bananas mean to you?
Going bananas is something that I did when I stopped caring about just the bottom line and making more money. It’s when I stopped selling and started caring. A lot of people thought I went bananas. I started taking care of people because not everybody gets it, but it makes such a difference.
The final one is what makes someone unforgettable?
When you see the impact they make and when their number one thing is not just about seeing how great I am, but you see them and you hear about all the work they’ve done to help others. The minute they worded about how great I am and I should do this, I’m gone and I’m lost. That’s why I could never be in politics. You have to sell yourself too much.
I’m right there with you. Mary, this was outstanding. This was an unforgettable episode. I would call this an all-time episode because of the lessons here. I hope that everyone reading can come back and say, “There’s no reason we’re not doing this. Why aren’t we doing it? Let’s start asking more questions, different questions, better questions, and push the envelope because it’s the right thing to do. We have time to do this.” You’ve proved it. You’ve created an amazing business and an amazing impact. You’ve impacted us. Mary, thank you.
Thank you. Stay outrageously curious and feel free to email me at [email protected].
- The Dream Manager
- Changing Direction
- Strategic Coach Program
- Compassion International
- Sue and Curtis – YouTube Video
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Who Not How
- [email protected]
About Mary Miller
CEO of JANCOA Janitorial Services, a local certified WBE that is family owned and operated. JANCOA is a commercial cleaning company that her husband, Tony, founded 45 years ago and she joined over 20 years ago. Through efforts to create an environment to attract the best in the industry, they created The Dream Manager program, popularized by Matthew Kelly’s bestselling book by the same title. In addition to running a business with more than 500 full-time employees, Mary is an Associate Coach with Strategic Coach working with entrepreneurs at quarterly workshops in Chicago.
As a keynote speaker, she motivate audiences to work toward a fulfilling life by achieving dreams and focusing on the positives in life. In her speeches and workshops, she encourage attendees to turn obstacles into opportunities and work in the direction of their dreams.
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