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Restorers Need to Ask: To Reply All Or NOT Reply All

By Lisa Lavender M.T.R., M.F.S.R., M.W.Rcommunication in business, company culture, restoration business leadership.

When I created the weekly tip for success, “Know when to Reply All and NOT to Reply All,” I did not expect to receive so much enthusiastic feedback. After hearing the horror stories, the frustrations and the passion surrounding the topic, it was clear that it demanded an entire article. The topic seems a bit silly and if you are reading it, you may already be reply passionate. I encourage to you to add any reply tips in the comments below for all to enjoy. You can use this article as a tool to help train and inspire good reply to etiquette.

Email is one of the most popular forms of communicating in our day-to-day lives. It comes in all forms: Internal, external, instructions, updates, announcements, junk, and more. For many, it is a critical means of communication that we rely on to function.

It is also a skill to use properly. Like all forms of communication, it reflects on our presentation and professionalism. We have to “manage” the email madness. In my ongoing personal quest to “Stop the Email Madness,”  I estimate that I probably spend about 3 hours a week deleting unnecessary “Reply Alls” or the more complex redistribution of information to others because the respondent did not appropriately “Reply All.”  This can cause a flurry of broken communication and inefficiency. Some of you may have had or observed embarrassing situations from haphazard replying. Some of you may have thought or said, “Stop Replying to All!”  Proper replying leads to improved email effectiveness and efficiency for all.

REPLY TO ALL  

The following is a list of things to consider while applying good judgement: 

  • Small groups of participants
  • Work plans, questions and answers, meeting follow ups, etc.
  • Consider that the creator of the string was deliberate on who was on the initial email
  • Whenever everyone on the email needs to know the response; this can apply to a variety of scenarios. This is my personal number one passion as I have to recommunicate with people who get disconnected because someone should have “Replied All” 

NOT REPLY TO ALL

Another short list of considerations that should be applied with good judgement:

  • Large groups
  • General announcements, Dissemination of information, etc.
  • Thank you. I do like thanking and acknowledging, however, imagine an email with 50+ people and each one replies to all with a Thank you. That is fifty extra thank you emails to delete. If is it a large group and I want to express enthusiasm or gratitude, I will sometimes simply thank the sender.
  • Donotreply senders: This is not a person by the name of Dona Reply; this is from an account that is not designed to Reply to All – Do Not Reply = donotreply.
  • When saying something inappropriate or you may not want someone on the string to see, proceed with caution. Or do not share your thoughts in email at all. Yes, there are many horror stories here. Which leads to….
  • Pay attention to who “All” is…pay attention in general. Someone may have included the wrong contact by mistake (guilty!). Maybe a key person was missed. Maybe the person replied to only you with information that is needed by others.  

OTHER REPLYING ETIQUETTE 

REPLY: This sounds simple. It can be difficult to keep up with our email communications. We also have the added complexity of checking our Junk and Spam filters to make sure that important communications are not overlooked. We cannot ignore emails, or not respond in a timely manner, because it can have a ripple effect that includes straining relationships, workflow issues, and more. Not replying to an email can be the equivalent of saying, I do not care, I am not listening, I do not want to collaborate with you and more. I personally strive to be timely and diligent in my replying. Even with my “reply to” passion, I sometimes falter on my own best practices. I take it seriously, apologize, and work to get better.

MOVE SOMEONE TO Bcc: This is good etiquette when being connected to someone and an email string will ensue that is not relevant to the connector. It may sound like: Jane, I thank you for connecting me to Tom, I have moved you to BCC. I will coordinate the next steps with Tom.

ANNOUNCE CONTACTS THAT YOU ADD: Consider this the equivalent of announcing that you put someone on speaker phone and those who are present for the call. I do this often when needing to facilitate or inform key people that I work with. It may sound like: I have added Joe, Director, who can help us facilitate the next steps.

FORWARD: This was a special request for the article. Be thoughtful and considerate when forwarding emails and/or adding people when it may not have been the intention of the sender to share. If in doubt, ask the original sender. If you do appropriately forward an email to inform others, forward it with an FYI or brief description. This will allow the receiver to know if there is an action item in the email or if you are just passing along information to keep them in the loop.

BCC: If you were Bcc’d, it was likely the intention of the creator that you are not to reply, and you are only on the string for informational or awareness purposes.

JUNK AND SPAM: I was recently on a string that was a fraudulent invoice. All participants were Bcc’d. Many of those in receipt, began replying and then began replying to all. All the participants became exposed further, and it was an email scam mayhem string of replying to all. Finally, someone said, “STOP REPLYING TO ALL!”

TIPS TO EMAIL CREATORS: To help control bad replying, as the creator, you can help manage the situation.

  • Use To, Cc, and Bcc deliberately. As a rule, the TO contacts have some kind of action item. Ccs are there for the information and possible ensuing communications.
  • Tell the recipients how to reply. Please Reply All with your response. Or Reply with questions directly to me. 

Email etiquette is something we have to train on and talk about. I hope this seemingly silly topic can contribute to your Restoring Success.

Harnessing the Power of Experiential Learning in your Training Programs

restoration business planning
GlobalStock/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

August 31, 2022

Training is an important function in any operation and is critical to our companies’ effectiveness and efficiency. It has a direct impact on our key objectives from profitability to customer service. For all individuals, training is critical to their success, growth, and morale. Field experience, on-the-job training, and apprenticeships are a few types of experiential learning that we likely already employ.

This holds true in all industries and professions. It is happening on an ongoing basis whether we are deliberate about it or not. You can draw a parallel to programs for electricians, plumbers, physicians, and our industries and professions. Can we better harness the power of this type of learning and improve our outcomes? Yes, we can.

In How to Train Someone From Outside or Inside the Restoration Industry, “experience” is part of our training process. Even if you are not proactively managing or executing experiential learning in your organization, it is happening and natural. Your organization likely already respects and values experience. It may be a requirement of positions that you are filling, or a qualification when someone is being considered for advancement.

Experiential Learning is an entire field of study in and of itself. There are many great resources readily available to learn more about it, Northern Illinois University, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning provides the following overview.

You can relate to the value of experience when you reflect on your own professional journey, observe the team, or consider apprentice and intern programs. The concept applies to all positions and skills in your organization.

A few of the benefits of experiential learning are:

  • The more we do things the faster we get. This applies to a wide variety of skills from keyboarding, estimating, processing contents, or setting equipment in a water loss.
  • Learning is enhanced when someone can apply information in an experience-based format.
  • Our ability to troubleshoot and manage complexities often derives from experience.
  • Have you ever reflected on how you said something or handled a situation? Most soft skills are developed through experience and reflection.
  • Learning from mistakes is a cliché for a reason.

The following are some easy-to deploy tips to get the most out of your experiential training:

  • Define with trainees
    • Objectives
    • Timelines
    • Define specific experiences
    • Define specific skills and abilities to be gained
  • Assessments and Documentation
    • Mentors, supervisors, tools to check in throughout the learning processes.
    • Assessments can be utilized to both evaluate the outcomes and document the training.
  • Audits, QC, and/or Reviews
    • If using real work and jobs for training, develop checks and balances so that customers and the company are not impacted by a trainee’s lack of experience. A few examples:
      • Estimator — estimate reviewed by a seasoned estimator before submittal.
      • Water Tech — allow the trainee to set up the equipment, perform other duties, come back, adjust, and explain why you may have made changes to the set up.
  • Training Culture
    • Training Overhead: This is a consideration when your field trainers also have the responsibility for job profitability. Allow for the recording of extra time in the context of training to be recorded to an overhead account.
    • Name It: Give it a name and keep it top of mind. “We are always training and retraining each other in our day to day.”
    • Why: In our busy day to day, it is easy for us simply fix, correct, and forget to focus on teaching opportunities. I refer to this as finishing the sentence as it does not take long and can help others learn and engage them. Take the time to explain the reason behind your thinking. Example: We want to do it this way because…
  • Field Trainers
    • Train the trainers: Some are natural, some are in need training.
    • Reward and acknowledge, In A New Tech Under your Wing, you will find more tips and “What is more valuable than a great technician? A technician that can teach others to be as good or better than they are.” Celebrate those who teach and train in the day to day. 
    • Make it a job duty to be performed.
  • Use Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model 
    • A well-recognized approach to the experiential learning model was developed by David Kolb and provides some insight and understanding that may help you develop and formalize your programs. The articleKolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Cycle, summarizes as follows, “Ideally, activities and material should be developed in ways that draw on abilities from each stage of the experiential learning cycle and take the students through the whole process in sequence.” McLeod, S. A. (2017, October 24). Kolb – learning styles. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

Experiential learning can take place in many different ways, and it can range from on the job, to replication and even using eLearning. To help you develop your programs, the following is a sample from RTI’s Digital Training Solution. It is defining the objectives of field experience for Water Tech Level 2 followed by a digital assessment which will allow a supervisor to determine if the expectations have been met and/or give insight to proceed with the team member’s development.  

There are many ways to create and innovate your approach to training. Share your tips in the comments below. May developing your experiential learning programs in your company bring you much restoring success! Developing people is one of the most rewarding things we can do.

8 Tips to Manage the Thousands of Details of a Restoration Business

restoration business development
Urilux /E+ via Getty Images

Originally Published at R&R Magazine August 4, 2022

Lisa Lavender M.T.R., M.F.S.R., M.W.R.

You’ve heard and can relate to the saying from Gustave Flaubert, “The devil is in the detail.” It refers to the notion that even the simplest of details can be complicated and may cause problems.

As I enjoy continually developing, defining, and refining processes, and talking to other restorers about operations, I found as you adopt a continuous improvement approach to process and clearly defining expectations that it is quite easy to become frustrated by the thousands of details that can easily trip up the most well-developed systems.

Did you ever just wonder or exclaim to yourself, “What in the world! That was a smooth process that has been in place and working for X years!” I am not necessarily referring to a weakness in your operations, a person, or a department although that could be a root cause. I am talking about what could equate to thousands of details daily that are happening in your operation that could be missed even with the best people, processes, and technology in place.

The details may be symptoms of a deeper problem, however. In the context of strong foundations and people, it may simply be a mistake or missed detail. As an example, someone forgot to lock a vehicle or missed the “referred by” in setting up a new job which could result in lost equipment or in the case of the referred by a failure to properly thank the source and comprised reporting. Managing the details is about maintaining your operation and helping talented team members stay great and/or continue to get better.

My unscientific estimate of thousands can be visualized by considering all the details that are happening in each key functional area. For example: administration, sales, production, project management, accounting, and human resources. I did not do a formal count as I lost track somewhere in the hundreds and decided to go with thousands. The following is a rambling list of detailed related activities and/or information. The reality is that the exact number is irrelevant, managing them all proactively versus reactively is what is important.

  • Job-related information and data, file updates, pictures, contracts, videos
  • Estimates, change orders, invoices, collections
  • Ongoing communications, how to communicate, when to communicate, and how to document communication
  • Training, development, human resources
  • Safety, PPE, compliance
  • Inventories of supplies, PPE, equipment, batteries, uniforms, etc.
  • Vehicles and equipment, cleanliness, repairs, maintenance
  • Accounting, bills, receipts, job costing, payroll
  • Sales and marketing
  • Warehouse and facilities, organized, clean, efficient design
  • We did not even get to field execution and production: floor protection, quality, schedule, subcontractors, contents processing, lots of details.

Being paralyzed or frustrated by the details that could be compromised or allowing them to spiral into complete breakdowns of your well-established systems, processes, etc., is not an option. The following is a brief list of tips to manage the details so you can focus efforts on the development and implementation of progress, growth, and other high-impact initiatives. The following is based on starting with a solid foundation that includes a healthy culture, engaged team, relationships built on trust, and good team morale complete with positive recognition and reinforcement. A team with leaders that buy into the concept of constructive feedback for continuous improvement will be impacted in a positive way by the following tips:

  1. Tacit Approval: Avoid ignoring the problem of the missed detail. This could spiral quickly into a bigger process breakdown. You can learn more about tacit approval in the following Restoring Success. The management theory of “things that get noticed get done” applies to this tactic.
  2. Software Systems and Reporting: Utilizing software to monitor, manage, and report some of the details will help efficiently identify a variety of blips. Once you are using technology to do this, reviewing the information, and addressing any of the details that are out of compliance must be a clearly defined responsibility in your organization and must be consistently done on a schedule or in a timely manner.
  3. Inspecting: In addition to using digital tools/software, developed visual inspections, checklists/forms, and a schedule can help keep the details in check. This approach is effective in evaluating fieldwork, job site safety, warehouse, and vehicles. Inspecting our own work and as part of our SOPs also helps to proactively manage the details and minimizing misses.
  4. Systems by DesignDeveloped systems that support detail success and support inspections will serve the team well. A few examples to illustrate the concept:
    1. The company process may be that the vacuums are put into their designated location at the end of every day. They should be clean and field ready. If there is a designated location and it is labeled, a quick walk-through of the warehouse at end of day (or beginning of next day) will allow for a quick visual inspection as a missing vacuum will be evident.
    2. In a vehicle a shelf is labeled five extension cord reals, it is extremely easy upon inspecting and evaluating if there are in fact five, an important detail.
  5. Responsibility: Clearly defined roles of who is responsible for the outcomes, oversight and, addressing details is integral part of keeping the details in check.
  6. Speed: Addressing details cannot wait 6 months or when we get to it. When addressed quickly, we better prevent the compromised detail from recurring. The timeliness of addressing the detail is the right thing to do for the team member’s individual success. Imagine waiting for an annual review or waiting till the detail has escalated and sitting down with someone saying, “We have a severe problem. You have not been locking your vehicle for 6 months.” And the response is, “I am sorry. Why didn’t someone tell me?” (A dramatization for illustration purposes)
  7. Retraining: Retraining helps solidify details and keep them top of mind. Some of the courses that we have developed I believe are important in the retraining category to help proactively manage details and include but are not limited to: Job Site Behaviors and PPE with a review of proper donning and doffing. You can gain free access HERE.

  8. Tools: As a team, brainstorm, and develop tools and approaches to managing the details proactively and constructively. The following is an example of a tool for leadership to address details quickly and positively, Inspiration Notes:

Click Here for a Download

Do not let blips in the potentially thousands of details that make your company great get you frustrated, or fester. Each detail typically has a chain reaction impacting other areas, details, customers, and people in the company. Make open and constructive feedback part of your healthy culture, keep the details in check and spend your energy on positive high-impact initiatives by having a proactive approach to managing all the details that matter.

Happy Restoring Success and Managing Details.

Constructive Feedback: Delivering and Receiving For Continuous Improvement

May 12, 2022

My entire life I have received what I would consider constructive feedback from special guest contributor, Paul Pinchak, my father. Overall, I can attest to the fact that receiving constructive feedback allows one to see opportunities to grow, develop and feeds a drive toward continuous improvement. In 2004 my father retired from the insurance industry and has helped shape our culture and articulate our values. He has mentored and given counsel to me and many in our organization regarding management, leadership and whenever a little “constructive” feedback is in order. Many editions of Restoring Success are sprinkled with principles and values that I hold dear and were fostered by Dad.

For over 20 years, we have valued the notion of constructive feedback, so much so that it is a stated value that we all rally around. “We maintain a positive and open work environment by providing honest and constructive feedback on job performance.” While chatting with Dad about a month ago, I had said, “I am shocked how many people don’t know how to give ‘constructive feedback,’ maybe we could collaborate in my next article?”

Paul Pinchak on Constructive Feedback  

Managing the job duties, and development, of others is a serious responsibility. That first step into management or supervision requires a major shift in thinking and actions. No longer is it solely your job performance to consider; now you are responsible for others as well.

There are a wide range of approaches to helping first-time managers/supervisors settle into their new roles. Many organizations provide some type of formal training while others will leave the individual to find their own way.

Those who manage others have a lot to think about. While adapting to the new role, deliberate thought should be given to the question: “How can I help my people reach their full potential?” For a first-time manager, the prospect of counseling may be uncomfortable and even intimidating. Whether in the context of an annual review, or a session needed to address a specific performance issue, there are a few recommended considerations:

  • Use a private setting; face to face is best.
  • Prepare for the discussion by carefully thinking through what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.
  • Bring forward facts to support the issues you are addressing, do not judge or make hurtful remarks, and avoid profanities.
  • Present constructive input using a positive approach whenever possible. Good openings include: “There are a few things you can work on…let’s talk them through” or “I’ve noticed you’re having trouble with ……., let’s see if I can give you some pointers so you can do better.”

Of course, there will be times where a more direct approach is called for: “It has come to my attention that” or “As I am sure you can appreciate, this is not acceptable. Going forward you need to address this. Do you have any questions?”

There is no one standard approach to giving constructive criticism. Always, it is designed to bring about improved job performance. Considerable skill, and thought, is required. Sessions will vary in length and complexity depending on a number of considerations. There is a time and place for creating a helpful and supportive theme, and there is a time to be firm while sending a serious message.

One important lesson that experienced managers will agree on: When it is time to address an issue, doing so should not be delayed. When a performance issue is not addressed in a timely manner, it will leave the impression that all is well. Unfortunately, it is all too common that managers put off that difficult discussion. By doing so, there is quiet acceptance of the unacceptable behavior. This is called tacit approval. Addressing a problem long after it presents itself will make it that much more difficult to deal with. Also, there may be a negative effect on others who can see that the issue has not been checked.

There is a wide range of acceptable styles to counseling. As managers and supervisors develop, they should become more comfortable dealing with a variety of personalities and challenges. Most people want to do their best and should be open and receptive to constructive input if presented properly. If not, you may have the wrong person in the job.

Lisa’s Constructive Feedback on Paul Pinchak’ s Brief on Constructive Feedback

Although I like the focus on new managers, there is opportunity for all levels of experience to reflect and consider their ability in providing constructive feedback.

The concept of “helping people reach their full potential” is an important frame of mind of those in a leadership position, however we must also understand that the concept of being constructive is to deliver the feedback in a way that evokes a positive reaction and behavior change. If you deliver feedback and do not get these outcomes, it may be indicative of an opportunity to improve. The ability to positively coach and deliver feedback to others not only influences the individual but can have an impact on the morale of the entire company.

It is a great starting point to focus on managers delivering feedback, but I also think that every individual regardless of role and position needs to be able to accept and embrace constructive feedback as the receiver. Sometimes ego, perspective and other factors get in the way of one’s ability to receive constructive feedback. When receiving constructive feedback, it is important to stay objective; do not let emotions get in your way and look at it is an opportunity to grow and improve.

Constructive feedback when viewed as an opportunity to improve can come from a wide variety of relationships, a few examples include:

  1. Direct Report to Supervisor
  2. Customers
  3. Colleagues and Peers

I once recall a customer who had a fire that resulted in the extensive restoration of both their home and contents. Once complete, the customer reached out to me extremely happy and grateful to the team and then said, “I am an operations person. I am extremely pleased but would like to share with you some notes that I have that may be opportunities to improve.” I invited him to share his feedback at a company meeting. He connected with the group by sharing the positive impact that the team had on him and his family. He shared specific special moments. He also shared opportunities areas for us to improve. Even if using a surveying tool, you may notice all exceptional marks of 10and then a dip to an 8 in “communications,” this may be an opportunity to accept constructive feedback.

The tips presented for a single interaction are excellent, but I would like to add that the delivery and receipt of the feedback is best when there are healthy relationships between the individuals. An organizational culture based on trust will best provide the safety and security to accept feedback as intended. My father’s stream of constructive feedback is consistently delivered with nothing but the best intentions and that is another reason it is so well received and effective both to me and others.

May delivering and accepting constructive feedback bring you much continued Restoring Success.

When Failure Is Not an Option: A Mindset Powered by Passion

Photo courtesy of Restoration Technical Institute

(Originally posted March 31, 2022 at R&R Mag Online)

One of the many things I like most about being involved in the training side of our industry is the opportunity to meet people new to the industry who are on a mission. Whether it is a new owner or a person who has been challenged to make an impact in their organization, the drive and excitement is infectious.

I recently met an owner/operator of a new restoration company and afterward thought, “What if I could bottle that and share it – the mindset and the passion?”

To clarify what I am referring to as “When Failure is Not an Option – A Mindset Powered by Passion,” it does not mean that you will not fail, make mistakes or suffer setbacks. It means you are focused on a mission and a vision. Even when you may be learning the hard way, by error, you remain intensely focused and driven toward the mission at hand.

Eric Sprague shared his reflection of starting his Blue Collar Nation Podcast two and a half years ago with Larry Wilberton. “You have to be OK with being bad at something before you can be good at it…We had no clue what we were doing. We had one borrowed microphone, and the only guests we could get were friends and former employees of our restoration company. Now, two and a half years later, we have a top-rated podcast, better equipment and an amazing roster of past expert guests; all because we decided to start even though we were not good yet. So, if you have a dream, go after it. Be bad. Take your lumps. Learn. You will be all the better for it.” Eric and Larry had a dream and intense passion for delivering resources, stories and skill development to their industry.

After 22 years in the industry, my husband and business partner, Ted, and I enjoy sharing successes, lessons learned from failures and anything else with our mission-driven friends. During one conversation, when Ted was reconstructing the start of our restoration company, he summarized his thoughts with a chuckle, “Failure was not an option.”

Over the years, there have been many moments that I feel the intensity of failure is not an option or have been reminded of it by those I am surrounded by. It is a mindset that can help you overcome challenges, stay grateful and respectful for every opportunity to serve, and give you the courage to expand or try something new.

When we started out, we had no money and no resources. What we did have was a fire in our belly, passion, drive, kids to support and quite simply, “Failure was not an option.”

Meeting new leaders on a mission is an invigorating experience. There is passion combined with a specific set of traits. Maintaining this combination of passion and traits throughout our careers, or drinking it from a bottle as needed, could be a game-changer. It could also bring us and those around us success, however you define it, and joy.

Consider passion as a driver that is powering the mindset. Passion can be defined as a strong, powerful or uncontrollable emotion. This may not sound very business-like or of strategic value. I once heard a subject matter expert state that it is not a good quality in business – that it implies chaos and lack of discipline. I actually was worried about our tagline (ha-ha): “Knowledge, Passion & Inspiration for your Success”.

Although it is an emotion and can be described, at times, as uncontrollable, in this article by Forbes, “The Importance Of Passion As A Business Leader” many arguments for the power of passion are presented including, “Passion enables you to keep pursuing success in the face of adversity longer than anyone else.” As my dad always says, “Don’t let your strength become your weakness.” If we can harness our passion and balance, along with deliberate action, it can power us to do great things. Passion will also help lead, engage and get buy-in from those around you including those you serve. Passion is a genuine emotion that not only powers you as an individual but also allows you to connect with others.

If passion is the driver, what else can be said about the “when failure is not an option” mindset? The following are a few common traits that seem to operate at peak performance and are fueled by passion in those with this mindset. This shortlist can be used to reflect, develop and/or self-assess:

  • Resourcefulness: There is a strong desire to learn and gather resources, along with a curiosity that drives information seeking. The Curious Restorer expands on this notion and how it helps us grow professionally.
  • Drive for results: There is an unwavering focus on action and getting things done that leads to positive results.
  • Confidence and humility: The presence of confidence without the barriers brought about by arrogance gives us the ability to absorb and focus on new information and opportunities. This is a highly attractive quality in leaders.

If you have lost touch with your passion, feel defeated, or frustrated, I will share with you some thoughts to help reconnect with the mindset. If you are currently in the “when failure is not an option” mindset, embrace it, run with it, bottle it and share it with others.

  • The vision and mission: Have a clear and positive vision. The law of attraction and visualization of positive outcomes are some of the key takeaways in a top-selling book, The Secret. Balance the passion for the vision with doing. “As Gary Vee says, ‘The law of attraction only works if you do.’ So, think positive thoughts, prep for success, pay attention and then work like a madman to get what you want.”
  • Surround yourself with successful and positive people: In Who Are You Hanging With, the story of a failing and frustrated restorer who realized he was hanging with the wrong people tells the lesson of success creating more success. Successful people help other people succeed.
  • Engage: Read periodicals, get to industry events, take classes, and utilize opportunities to collaborate and network in the industry.
  • Mentor: A win-win could be the pairing of a seasoned industry pro that may be facing a bit of burnout with a passionate new leader. Both have much to gain and learn.
  • Consultants and coaches: If you lost your passion, find a coach that can help you re-spark your flame and find deliberate approaches to move forward.
  • Reflect: If you have lost your passion, reconnect with it. Tell others about your first job, how you got started in the industry, and share the stories of some of the mistakes you made.

When Failure is Not an Option – A Mindset, Powered by Passion brings you much restoring success.