Author Archives: tolu

The beauty of non existence

An amazing benefit of being a cleaner is the opportunity to observe the world without being seen.

Living in a society where you are defined by what you do, cleaners are usually not only untouchable at times but actually invisible.

This gives us the rare opportunity to observe the world as it is, not as it appears to be. We do not see what the rest of the world sees, we see reality because to many people, we are non existent and they do not have to impress us.

At Zenith Cleaners, we have the honor of having some of the most enlightened clients anyone could wish for.

We have clients who have served on the same board with their cleaners!

We also have the honor of serving clients who tend to treat us like trash while the rest of the world sees them as progressive and enlightened. It makes us conclude that the reason they do so is that they do not see us.

This makes us appreciate the more those clients who dine at the same table with their cleaners.

A number of us who clean at Zenith Cleaners are not traditional cleaners but people who lead in other domains and do cleaning as practice.

Our cleaners have had the privilege of cleaning the homes of people who would eventually submit contract bids to organizations run by their cleaner and neither party expected nor planned it.

We have had cleaners who cleaned for clients they consulted for or organizations they helped run in the past, unplanned. They did it not for economic reasons but because they wanted to see the world through a different lens.

It is hard to come away from such experiences and not be forever changed. We experience the joy of being seen and heard. But the pain of not being seen, not being heard and therefore being trampled upon, makes us go away from this practice determined to see and to hear.

Everyone deserves to be seen, everyone deserves to be heard.

Needless to say, these experiences enrich us much more than we can say and we invite others to participate too, to experience the beauty of non-existence.

Two-way fulfillment

If you ask any Zenith Cleaner, they would tell you one of the reasons they clean is that they like to see the results of their work. Most of us do not want to wait indefinitely before knowing that we are making a difference. With cleaning, the difference you make is immediately seen, not only by you the cleaner but also by the users of the space. You can go home everyday, knowing that today, I made a difference. That is fulfilling.

Since we are in a dance with clients, we give and receive feedback all the time, so that even when we are performing below par, it is noticed and can be corrected quickly. We are not the only ones making a difference to the clients, they make a difference to us too, which has to be fulfilling for them.

All of us who work at Zenith Cleaners do many other things apart from cleaning. For us, cleaning is a practice, which feeds and is fed by other areas of our lives. We are constantly looking for how to make a difference that is seen not only by us but by others as well. In addition, we are constantly looking for how to allow ourselves to be changed by others. It takes the two-way fulfillment in our practice to other domains.

Being the change

In my mind, it is absurd for a cleaner to be dirty and unkempt. I have always thought cleaners should be cleaner. I would not feel confident asking an unkempt cleaner to clean my house even if they clean well because I would think “charity begins at home.” You cannot love me your neighbor more than you love yourself. So, if you are unkempt and dirty, you are not likely to make my space really clean. Even if the surfaces are cleaned well, you will probably leave a bad odor behind.

Ghandi said we must be the change we seek in the world and that does not have to be a philosophical concept. As cleaners, the change we seek is cleanliness. We want the spaces we clean to actually be clean, to look clean and to smell clean. How can cleaners “be” the change they seek? Be clean, look clean, smell clean.

If you can clean

I have always thought that cleaning may be one of the humblest activities in today’s world but (and I know I am taking a risk here) what it takes to be a good cleaner is what it takes to be a good teacher, banker, president or home maker.

I believe strongly that at the most fundamental level in the human psyche, diligence is diligence, creativity is creativity, wisdom is wisdom, trustworthiness is trustworthiness, attention to detail is attention to detail regardless of occupation.

I am convinced that those fundamental qualities needed to lead or manage at any level of complexity remain the same and if you have them as a cleaner, you can run a country. I am convinced also that if you do not have them as a cleaner, you will probably not suddenly develop them if you move from cleaning to teaching.

This morning, I read this statement made by Jesus Christ, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”

I think if you can clean well, you can run a country well, you can teach well, you can be a good pianist, you can be a good consultant, a good nurse, a good carpenter or a good CFO. If you can clean, you can do anything.

This quote is also apt:

“I have always regarded manual labor as creative and looked with respect – and, yes, wonder – at people who work with their hands. It seems to me that their creativity is no less than that of a violinist or painter.” – Pablo Casals

The Power of One (2)

At Zenith Cleaners, we are understanding more and more the power of an individual. We place value on individuals, every individual, and strive to honor them as the closest resemblance to the supreme being.

Entrepreneurs intuitively get the power of one because more often than not, you start with just one client or one staff or one partner and how you treat that one person determines the future of your enterprise. In essence, the future of every enterprise is in the relationship with one person at a time. As enterprises grow, there is a tendency to lose that understanding and start to aggregate, abstract and disconnect from individuals.

At Zenith Cleaners, we try to ensure we do not lose sight of that principle, that our future is in one person at a time, one staff at a time, one client at a time, one partner at a time. We see each relationship as a seed. Every staff we will ever have is in each staff and how we treat the one staff determines our future regarding staffing. Every client we will ever have is in each client we presently have just as every client we presently have was in the first client we ever had.

We endeavor to treat each person as though they are the only ones we have to serve, as though our destiny as an enterprise depends on them. We endeavor to nurture relationships. We are very imperfect and we do make mistakes, but we strive to honor each individual and nurture the relationships we have with each person.

So far, we have had positive results from doing so and we intend to continue as long as we exist. For us, the nurturing of every relationship is the foundation for true sustainability. For us, love is the foundation for true sustainability and love, is an individual thing. How can love be woven into the fabric of an organization, even a for-profit enterprise?

Invitation to the dance

Invitation to the Dance is a piece I have loved since discovering it years ago, especially when performed by an orchestra. I love dance as a joyful expression and as a metaphor for relationships. I think dance is also an apt metaphor in business, since business happens in the context of living and at Zenith Cleaners, we appreciate the freedom to provide our service, even cleaning, as whole human beings, rather than just as cleaners.

We clean places where people live, work, play and worship. We are not necessarily performing a service for an audience. We are engaged in a dance with clients, with staff, with suppliers. For us to be truly effective with all parties, we need to be engaged in a two-way relationship. I love the quote from the Australian Aboriginal woman that says, “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I think this applies to all the relationships we are involved in. It is a dance.

Our client relationships cannot thrive if one party thinks they are performing for another or being served by another or if all of the responsibility for a great service rests on the service provider. There needs to be continuous, honest and appreciative two-way feedback just like in a dance, and all the client relationships we cherish are like this. The clients consider the cleanliness of their space so important as to participate and let us know when things are going well or not going well, so that just like a dance, we can celebrate, improve or adjust. We also love the freedom to let our clients know when things are going well or not. We think celebration is as important as correction and both need to happen, as in a dance.

We love to invite clients who want to dance with us. Dancing keeps us on our toes for much longer but when we perform while our clients are seated, we get tired much quicker because there is no constructive feedback. We love clients who consider us worthy of being danced with. Even without binding contracts, our clients stay longer with us because of the joyfulness and partnership of the dance. Those who leave are also very free to do so when they need to. Our liberation is bound up together and their interest becomes ours and vice versa. When they need to leave, we joyfully help them leave.

We love it when staff are neither coming to work for us nor coming to be served. We want people who want to dance. Life is just more exciting when we dance together and while we are together, life happens, and we want to dance. In the dance, the success of the relationship depends on both parties not just on one party. In the dance, the narrative shifts from “you” and “I” to “us” and “we”. A good dance involves shared joy, shared sorrow if necessary, honesty, spirit, soul and body participation and mutual trust. There is honesty and humility to know when we are not the right partners and to act accordingly because it is in the best interest of “us”.

The suppliers we love are in a dance with us. They are empathetic with us as we are with them. We are engaged with each other to nourish our relationship and not to act solely in the interest of “us” at the expense of “them”. This obviously goes against business as usual. When we are true dance partners, we can remain partners for a very long time and there is freedom to go our separate ways when it is in the best interest of “us”.

Staff, clients, suppliers, you are invited. If you like to dance.

The Power of One (1)

It seems much easier in approaching our work to consider groups of clients and staff rather than relating with each as individuals because it tends to avoid the mess of caring. However, since we have chosen to make people our focus rather than the environment or transactions or accounts, it behoves us to deal with the people we come across as individuals and the clients we serve as unique entities or beings, different from all others, even if they are in the same sector or industry.

This deviates somewhat from what we are taught in B-school, where you need to analyze a whole industry and develop solutions that fit the needs of the industry. As I think of it however, I realize how absurd and contrary to common sense it is to treat all our day care clients as “day cares” or all our co-working space clients as “co-working spaces”. Each client is as different as the individuals who comprise it. Each staff is different from the other and therefore have needs that differ from each other.

Our solution is to treat each client as a unique entity comprising unique individuals that should be related with as whole human beings and each staff as an individual unlike any other. This can be potentially messy but it is easier when one operates at a “higher level of being” than mere economic, as beautifully expounded by E.F. Schumacher, in his book, A Guide for the Perplexed. At a higher level of being, it is easy to relate with each client as distinct and with peculiar needs. This can be rewarding financially and intrinsically. Recently, by treating one of our daycare clients (the biggest daycare in Montreal) as a unique entity and not as a “day care”, we were able to come up with a solution that was unique to them and ended up becoming a solution multiplier because it solved other internal challenges beyond cleaning, unintended. Beyond the potential economic rewards, this was intrinsically rewarding for the team.

Staff members too are related with as individuals, unique and whole beings too complex to be generalized and so complex that our spirits, not just our heads need to be the arena of engagement. No one who works with Zenith Cleaners is a “cleaner” in the traditional sense and even if they were, they are whole beings whose lives have to do with much more than cleaning. It is a privilege to relate with them as such and it is easier to genuinely care when we relate with them, not as “employees”, here to do a job and get paid, but engage with each other as human beings whose lives intersect at this point in time but will not forever. We will therefore celebrate each other one to one and the work we do today.

Counting our blessings: Great Clients

When Roni and I started Zenith Cleaners, we were new in Montreal and a number of the people we call friends in Montreal today, we met as clients of Zenith Cleaners.

We are blessed to have clients who believed in us when we were unsure of ourselves. Clients who believed in us enough to demand excellence from us when we could have followed the beaten path of shoddiness.

We are blessed to have clients who care so much about us as to tell us when we make mistakes and do it respectfully.

We are blessed to have clients who do not leave us or beat us on the head for our imperfections.

We are blessed to have clients who, realizing that we are imperfect, still spread the word about Zenith Cleaners, saving us from the need to advertise.

We are blessed to have clients who realize that we need to be paid on time and ensure we get paid on time.

We are blessed to have clients who write “Thank you” with every single payment. As a service provider, that is more gratifying than any amount of money.

Thanks to the blessing of great clients, we have grown consistently since inception. There has not been a single year worse than the previous year, with or without recession.

We are blessed to have clients who open up not only their homes, buildings, offices, schools, churches, organizations but also their hearts to us. Clients that invite you over to their homes, that invite you for tea or coffee, that send you get well wishes and even visit you when you are sick, that shower you with baby gifts when you have a baby, that give our staff huge tips even though we do not (even subtly) solicit for tips are no longer mere clients, they are people with hearts and they should be appreciated, not just at Christmas but all through the year.

Thank you from our hearts, for supporting and loving these group of cleaners called Zenith Cleaners. Thank you for helping us to make 2010 the best year we have had.

Have a beautiful Christmas and a prosperous 2011.

Counting our blessings: Great Staff

2010 has been a great year at Zenith Cleaners. We consider ourselves blessed to have the best staff in our industry.

Our staff are far from perfect but every year has been an improvement on the previous, because we have been blessed with great people, some of whom are no longer with us. We have and have had people who enjoy doing the work that they do, not minding the lowliness of it. Most employees do not enjoy going to work, even those who do much more “noble” work but we are cleaners and our people enjoy coming to work! We consider that a blessing.

In our industry, dishonesty and theft are common but we have not had a case of theft since inception and we have been blessed with staff who are trustworthy, who are true custodians of clients’ information and physical assets.

It is rare to have staff who go out of their way to cook meals, send flowers, write 5-page get-well letters when their “boss” is ill. We are blessed to have staff who do.

Our staff go beyond the call of duty. They do everything they can to ensure clients are satisfied and to correct mistakes when they happen.

We are cleaners and we are “supposed” to be at the “bottom of the pyramid” but we are blessed with staff who volunteer to clean for non profit organizations, with no less commitment to excellence than if they were paid for it.

It is a blessing to have staff who clients love to see and have around. It is a blessing to have staff who clients notice are happy to work, even while cleaning up dirt.

We are blessed with staff who spread the word about Zenith Cleaners. Almost every one of our staff today learnt about Zenith Cleaners from a current or former staff.

We are blessed with staff who show up for work! As simple as that may sound, it is not that easy when you have to clean dirty floors and bathrooms in a public space on a snowy Sunday morning, when you would rather be in bed. Our staff show up!

Thanks to the staff we are blessed with, Zenith continues to go from strength to strength in a virtuous and unending upward spiral. We could not possibly compensate them for who they are. When they have to leave us, we are not sad to see them go but we are glad for who they have been with us and happy to see them flourish elsewhere.

Merry Christmas.

The mystery of freedom

At Zenith Cleaners, we intentionally give staff and clients equal freedom to be engaged and to disengage at anytime they choose, and to choose how they want to be engaged, so long as it does not compromise our essence. This should create enormous instability on both sides but not enough to stop us from doubling every 2 years (As at when this was published in 2010).

2015 Update: freedom and flexibility now helps us attract the best staff in the world and while there was instability in 2010, it has reduced significantly on the staff side. We still lose clients because of the industry we have chosen to play in and are learning a great deal from how our clients leave us but we increasingly get clients who understand who we are. Having said that, we have clients who have been with us from year 1. And 5 years later, we are as committed to freedom as we were in 2010.

It definitely puts us in a seemingly precarious position because our reality is that every client has the freedom (without penalty) to discontinue their relationship with us at this very moment. Every one of our staffs also has the freedom to leave anytime, anyday, without notice. Yet, we have no fear that we will lose all our clients and staff.

Why do we give this freedom?

Providing the freedom that we do to clients and staff benefits us first, just as the giver of any gift is really the first beneficiary of the gifts. When we provide freedom to others, we experience that freedom first, internally. It is impossible to not be blessed when we truly bless others. This is why providing freedom to clients and staff frees us from fear of the worst and in a mysterious way, prevents the worst from happening. In a way, we are a sustainable enterprise because we create freedom for instability.

Another reason we give freedom to disengage is because there can be no true freedom to do what is right without the freedom to do what is not right. No one has the freedom to succeed without the freedom to fail. No one has the freedom to love without the freedom to hate. We realize that the freedom to be fully engaged, loyal, committed and responsible must come with the freedom not to.

While interviewing a potential associate last week, she mentioned that no one can really control or restrict another human being and I thought that was true. I think attempts to restrict people in contracts and other means are essentially futile at least, because human beings are created to be free and are essentially free. We cannot have sustainable relationships without nurturing that fundamental human attribute of freedom.

Life happens and life is not always straightforward and smooth. There are detours, bottlenecks, sticky and messy situations from time to time. Providing freedom takes real life into consideration because there is freedom of growth and of death, in life. We are all healthier when we create room for what needs to grow and what needs to die and do not restrict either.

When people are free to do whatever they like, they show their true colors, almost without fail. For an organization like ours, that values relationships, it is a true blessing to know the true nature of everyone we engage with since we can easily decide who we want to develop a relationship with and who we do not want to develop a relationship with. Honest, reliable people will show themselves as exactly that. Dishonest, unreliable or lazy people will show themselves dishonest, unreliable or lazy because freedom is a fertile environment for everyone to thrive, for good or bad. I think people show up the way they really are, in an atmosphere of freedom. The benefit for us is we can easily choose who is good for us and leave who is not.

The fact that our clients and staff stay with us shows that something commits them. That thing is much stronger, much deeper than any contract we may sign. It is an understanding that we truly care and are not paying lip service to service. We make mistakes but our clients know deep down that we care. We are far from being perfect employers but our associates have a sense that we want to treat them as whole human beings and in the words of my friend Tana Paddock, we have “equal reverence for clients and staff”. Our clients are not more important because they pay us. Our associates are not less important because “they cost us”. So, it is easy for staff to forgive us when we fail.

These and many other reasons some of which we know and some which we have no clue about are why we provide freedom the way we do at Zenith Cleaners.