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Perfect partners

31 October 2023

We look at what made one of last year's PFM Award-winning partnerships - between Principle Cleaning and the Crick Institute - so special...

At last year’s PFM Partnership Awards, the judges were blown away by the partnership between Principle Cleaning, an employee-owned London-based £54 million cleaning business, and the Francis Crick Institute, a state-of-the-art, one million square foot biomedical research facility in central London. The judges commented that they were “particularly impressed at how the Crick Institute went out of their way to celebrate the success and performance of Principle’s operatives, tangibly demonstrating an embedded relationship which, by the supremely clean working environment, clearly works.” Principle and the Crick went on to win their category, Partners in Cleaning. 

Principle Cleaning’s Operations Director Victoria Jamarillo and Account Manager Hugo Brito are two of the key figures involved in the day-to-day running of the Crick cleaning account, together with the Crick Institute’s Facilities Manager, Michelle Lappin. 

When the Crick Institute account came up for tender in 2019, Michelle was looking for more than an efficient cleaning company – she wanted a company whose values aligned with those of the Crick. Just as importantly, she was looking for people she’d enjoy working with. She says: “I listened to five tenders and five presentations, and when Principle came into the room, they said, there’s a presentation that we can go through, but let us tell you about the company. Their pitch was very focused on staff, very focused on the clients they’ve been building long-term relationships with. It was a very heart-to-heart kind of response, rather than ‘this is what we can do, this is the money, these are the cleaning products.’ It was more about, ‘what do you want us to do?’”

Her decision to choose Principle was very much based on the potential for positive collaboration. “Top priority is working together, working in partnership. Being polite to each other is really important for our business as well.” And of course, collaboration is a two-way street. “Our CEO is all about working together,” Michelle says. “Don't use the KPIs as a stick to beat our service partner with - if there are issues, let's get down to the bottom of what's causing the problem. You know, are we paying for a good service? Are we paying our service partners on time? And if we do that, they'll deliver the service. He’s very much of that opinion that we need to just work very closely together.”

Can-do attitude

Five years later, she says she’s been proved right. “We’ve both got the can-do attitude, and nothing's a problem,” she says. “It's just a job we need to do, that we need to get on with - we're supporting the scientists. I'm very much of the opinion that we all work very closely together for one goal. And that, to me, is incredibly important.”

Certainly, this has been challenged. No sooner had Principle won the tender, and its team dispatched to clean the Crick Institute with Hugo running the account, than the pandemic struck. The Crick Institute, which brings together experts in biology, medicine, chemistry, data sciences, physics and engineering to further scientific understanding of human health and disease, stopped all its research into non-essential science and switched its focus to Covid-19. They also opened a vaccination centre. 

Where other cleaning companies were having to furlough teams that were no longer needed to clean office buildings, Principle was asked to increase the presence of the cleaning staff by 20 at the Crick. Already subject to rigorous health and safety compliance, the cleaning required at the Crick during the pandemic was taken to whole new heights, with surgical-level ‘amber’ cleans required as many as 20 times a day.

Not only that, but the cleaners were brought in as lab assistants during the pandemic. “Our guys were helping out the scientist in the labs cleaning down,” Victoria says. “That was because they wanted to keep the scientists safe, because obviously the work that they were doing was quite valuable at that time.”

For Hugo, who’d just taken on the job as account manager for the Crick, it was a baptism of fire; he had to be alert to the ever-changing circumstances and rules around lockdown, as well as reactive to the very specific needs of the Crick Institute. Staff took PCR tests twice a week and required full PPE. “During the pandemic, Hugo didn't work at home from day one, he was on-site every single day alongside the team,’ Victoria says.

People first

One of the key reasons for the successful partnership between the Crick Institute and Principle is that they’re aligned in their approach to people. To deliver a dynamic and agile service of the type the Crick Institute requires from its service partners, you need dynamic and agile people.

“People are a whole are our number one focus at Principle,’ Victoria says. “In Hugo, they've got a permanent manager on site at the Crick that really nurtures their talents. The whole management team - the assistant manager, the two supervisors - they're all such a family and help the staff in many ways, not just professionally, but in their personal lives. If they're having a hard time doing something, and they need advice, then these guys are here for them. That’s what we’re about - we're not here to give Hugo such a massive contract that he can't offer that kind of service to his staff. He has the time to do that. And what Michelle wants as well, ultimately, is happy staff. Happy employees make a productive team.”

“Hugo does a lot for Michelle and vice versa as well,” Victoria adds. “It’s a real deal partnership, it goes both ways. It's very informal, but at the same time, we do have our formal catch-ups. And Michelle's lovely; if the team have done really well clearing up a flood for example, she'll pay for them to have breakfast.”

Following the waning of the pandemic, the Crick Institute has since returned to its former research work – although it remains, as Victoria says, ‘a building like no other.’ With the relationship between Principle and the Crick stronger than ever, what is the secret to a successful FM partnership?

The importance of trust

“For me, it's very much about trust,” says Michelle. “Obviously, value for money comes into it. But if you don't have the trust, then you're looking at every invoice, you're looking at every piece of equipment, you are managing with a tick list rather than knowing that you can rely on your service partners. You shouldn’t need to dig deep into the monthly reports to see what hasn't been done – it should all be very open and honest. Instead, we’re clear that we've covered all elements of the cleaning contract, and I have no reason to question it.”

“I think being open and honest is probably my number one priority,” Hugo agrees. “Health and safety is such a huge priority, it’s harnessed to having that trust. And of course the personal relationships that we have in place are crucial, they helps develop the relationship and make it more trustworthy too.”

With this particular partnership going from strength to strength, it’ll be interesting to see what the future brings for them – and whether they scoop up more awards, like PFM’s Partners in Cleaning, along the way!

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