Better Supervision = Better Productivity = Better Profits (Conclusion)


(Photo: © iStockphoto/Izabela Habur)

Mariah E. de Forest |

EVANSTON, Ill. — I once wrote an article titled Training Foreign-Born Hispanics for Supervisory Jobs in the Dry Cleaning Industry due to the need to teach the growing numbers of Latino first-level supervisors how to improve performance in the face of customer demands for high-quality cleaning and next-day service, all at competitive prices.

The article explained how dry cleaners could boost productivity and speed turnaround times by training Hispanic supervisors to adapt the traditional authoritarian Latino leadership style to a U.S. “best practices” mode of supervision. I also discussed the five key elements needed for effective training of Hispanic supervisors.

Here are those elements, and the continued results of the training from six dry cleaners using this approach. Each had four to seven drop-off stores, for customer convenience, feeding their garments to a single central plant.


The Latino supervisors’ natural tendency toward favoritism based on ethnicity and language was altered by teaching them to focus on goals encouraging teamwork. There was much less concern about language and cultural differences and much more cooperation when supervisors were taught how to reach specific goals. Here’s what a supervisor said:

“It was an eye-opener. I have a mixed group, some Spanish and some English. There was always this attitude that I give the Spanish speakers extra consideration since we talked the same language. When we started concentrating on reaching daily goals, people were more willing to stop bickering and help each other, rather than asking for special consideration.

“With daily goals, we got a lot more teamwork since we were all working to the same thing. Some workers put pressure on others to keep moving and not fall behind.”

Setting specific department goals improved the sense of mutual responsibility among employees. Interestingly enough, being required to reach goals gave workers more of a sense of security than of fear. They knew where they stood. One worker said this:

“Other workers near me didn’t pass along any information from the supervisor. I thought they were trying to make my life harder. When we had targets to achieve, though, people stopped fooling around, and we all got down to work. It made quite a difference in how much we put out.”

Goal-setting focuses supervisors, and subsequently their employees, on quantity and quality and reduces favoritism. The resulting cooperation in all six cases helped foreign-born supervisors to substantially improve their individual departments’ productivity.


Productivity and quality performance was measured in each department before training started, and then several months later. This simple before-and-after comparison showed the Spanish-speaking supervisors the results of their efforts, and gave them a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

In each of the dry cleaners, supervisors’ production and re-do rates were reviewed with them before the training began, raising awareness of their performance. Once they knew senior management was taking performance seriously, they realized they were being held accountable. They took the training to heart and focused on managing their departments to achieve better results.

Some Mexican supervisors commented:

“I never knew from one day to the next how many garments, shirts, for example, we pressed each day. Now I know the exact amount of each girl’s and day’s output. I can see right off by the numbers if we have a problem or if we’re on track. It saves a lot of time and material.”

“I never knew if my department (pressing) was doing better over the year or not. Our annual bonus is based on the amount of improvement, but there was nothing on record to go by. Now I know how I'm doing and can prove it. It gives me a tool to motivate my workers with.”

Make sure supervisors know their performance is being benchmarked. This becomes the basis for realistic goal-setting. Benchmarking underlies meaningful targets to shoot for, and training gives supervisors the tools to hit them. Having metrics available for supervisors to rate themselves also helped improve productivity in all six dry cleaning plants.

Although most consumers are not particularly price-conscious, they now expect next-day service on their garments along with excellent results. They also have fallen into the habit of expecting and using price-off coupons. That hurts profit margins.

Given the uncertain times and high consumer expectations, dry cleaners face continued pressure for better productivity in order to cut per-unit costs while meeting customer demands for quality and next-day service.

What are you doing to accomplish this?

About the author

Mariah E. de Forest

Imberman and De Forest Inc.

Vice President

Mariah E. de Forest is vice president of Imberman and De Forest Inc., a national human resources consulting firm. She can be reached via e-mail at


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