When smart, forward-thinking leaders want to “step up” their impact, they often start with a 360-assessment, an accounting of both their strengths and challenges from different members of their company. That same type of holistic diagnostic holds true for organizations looking to assess current practices in pursuit of performance improvements; it certainly was true of CCS Facility Services’ (CCS) efforts to earn the coveted Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) certification.

Why Make the Effort? The Answer was Clear from the Start

The process for earning CIMS certification means every aspect of your organization—your management, operations, performance systems and processes—will be evaluated. With an objective, in-depth 360-degree view it’s no surprise, the results are telling. Certification or compliance with the standard demonstrates your organization is structured to deliver consistent, quality services—ones a client can trust. As an organization, we knew we had a strong culture in place backed by exceptional training and finely-tuned processes; but we also believed strongly in the value of having an objective, third-party validation of this.

CCS’ journey to get CIMS certified began well before the assessor assigned to us walked into our lobby headquarters in Denver, CO. In fact, to our surprise, we found the nine-month march up to the actual assessment (the pre-work) to be invaluable.

“I think some might see achieving CIMS or CIMS-GB as the end-game, then say ‘we’ve arrived.’ I can honestly say we view it as the starting gun at a big event. A stepping off point if you will,” said Don Buffoni, Procurement & Sustainability, LEED AP O+M, I.C.E.

Here’s a look at how the CIMS certification prep, process and the year that followed unfolded. We hope it offers insights to other organizations considering CIMS certification or those in the midst of it.

Establish a Strong Foundation: Top to Bottom Evaluation

The process for preparing for obtaining CIMS certification was a rigorous one—a top to bottom “scrub” of all we do. Every aspect of our business was assessed with a focus on metrics and possible areas of improvement. We conducted this assessment as a team, with all hands on deck. That approach, we believed, was a critical decision as it ensured all key constituents would be part of the evaluation—and the ultimate changes.

Another key decision early on was to utilize industry benchmarks as a guide for evaluating our own processes. That ensured we had clearly defined markers, ones we could trust to be valued by clients and prospects alike. We utilized those benchmarks to identify what we are doing, spot gaps, and then develop strategies and ways to fill those gaps. Initial analysis proved helpful—a valuable marker and measure. We mapped the key CIMS metrics to our own processes and found that virtually every area the diagnostic covered was an area we were currently monitoring and measuring. That was a strong start.

The element that proved most challenging in this early assessment phase was the process of codifying and documenting each area. Some areas, such as human resources and work-loading, were well documented; yet others, including disaster/contingency planning proved a bit less rigorous. While all were documented, the depth and format of these areas reflected the personal style of the leader in charge versus a corporate-wide protocol. Together, we focused on elevating all areas to ensure CCS-wide standards, guidelines and documentation across all areas and branch locations. For some organizations, this level of “housekeeping” might feel tedious or unnecessary; we found it to be just the opposite. All team members concurred, the investment of time and energy pre-certification paid huge dividends during the certification process and the year that followed.

Training is Key

Once the enterprise-wide documentation was complete, our focus turned to training. Through a series of different training approaches, from in-person team training to train-the-trainer and hands on, our goal was to ensure every team member understood both the mechanics of a process as well as the importance of CCS-wide quality and consistency. While training everyone on the new format adds to the effort, our CIMS team viewed it as necessary to achieve certification.

The Assessment & Outcomes

Undergoing the evaluation for CIMS certification was a four-day process. Our assessor provided valuable insight, pointing out what he thought we had done well and areas where we could improve our process. Based on his in-depth understanding of both the certification steps as well as industry best practices, his candid feedback added a valuable layer of insight. The assessor assigned to us, at the time, was one of only seven assessors, which meant he had broad exposure to many companies during his assessments. He brought unique experience—both depth and breadth of knowledge—that we eagerly soaked up during the days we spent with him.

From our pre-work prior to the assessment phase, we had already identified specific areas we wanted to improve. The assessor’s insights served to both clarify and prioritize that list of improvements. Plus, over the past year, while working to improve target areas we have also uncovered other ideas, tools and practices that we’ve added to our list.

Bandwidth Is Key

Orchestrating a top to bottom evaluation, company-wide training and then rolling out process improvements and associated systems for measuring impact requires bandwidth. We operate on a philosophy of constant improvement: We want everything to be better today than it was yesterday, and better tomorrow than it is today. While our culture and team are open to change and extremely adaptive, mapping out each step proved to be an extremely time-intensive process.

To counter this and ensure continued advancement, we set realistic expectations about what and how much we could change at any given time. Agreeing on the priorities and timeline is key, otherwise teams tend to try to treat all elements equally and burn out when key improvements aren’t occurring. Instead, we followed what Jim Collins has dubbed the “15-mile a day” approach—set your goal (your distance) and do that. Day in, day out. Don’t try to go 30-miles in a day because the weather is clear and the road is open; you’ll burn out and lose the next two days of progress recuperating. Of course, we also believed by moving too fast, we would also be sacrificing a high quality, sustainable transition.

Pacing and setting priorities proved key in the year following our CIMS certification. Deciding what comes first, so as to obtain the best results for the largest portion of the company meant we could “bank” some early wins and generate energy for fueling the next (and next) steps.

Accountability—the Ace You Need

Reflecting on the past year, another element proved critical—accountability. With CIMS certification secured and our focus list of process improvements in hand, one step naturally led to the next. If an area of the organization or team leader was slow to respond, the next steps and team members would be directly impacted. Ensuring that all involved had a deep understanding of the “cascading” nature of the work and how small delays or lack of accountability impacted all was critical.

Accountability on both an individual and team level is part of CCS’ DNA, it is something we have cultivated for well over a decade. It’s a core value that proved instrumental in our first year as a CIMS-certified organization—and will continue to serve us in year two, and beyond. In fact, what we’ve realized as a team is that every aspect of the CIMS certification process has had a lasting impact on our interactions, on the way we do business and, ultimately, on how we interact and deliver value to our clients.


Don Color

Don BuffoniManager of Procurement & Sustainability, LEED AP O+M



daniel bio

DANIEL LOWERY, Director, Corporate Services, LEED GREEN ASSOCIATE, I.C.E