A Fresh Look at Online Training

restoration business development, restoration business management, continuing educationOnline training, e-learning, virtual classrooms, and other terms are becoming a new norm. In the landscape of education, there are limitless resources that are accessible to us and applicable to a variety of disciplines from technical to soft skills. Although there is a new light, none of this is new. As we operate and adjust to a world stricken by the challenges and changes brought on by the pandemic, in last month’s restoring success, A Cultural Shift, we considered some adjustments and speculate on what a new post pandemic world may look like. As an industry, we can embrace, adjust, and utilize training opportunities in new ways.

Children, college students, and adult learners have been nimble; educators have rose to the challenge to help others learn in new and innovative ways. For the first time, the IICRC has approved certain courses and certifications to be offered online via live streaming. The transfer of knowledge and experience to those that serve our industry’s training needs must rise and challenge the status quo in delivering education. Companies and the individuals can benefit from the value that training and education can bring to careers and company results. As with most things, there is not a crystal ball about the training landscape that may exist at any point in the future. However, we can easily speculate by understanding of ripple effect of the pandemic both culturally and economically. We can also look at trends, other industries, the rapidly evolving learning technology and the understanding of distance learning. As individuals and organizations, we can anticipate, seek opportunities, and shift so that we may best embrace the potential benefits of expanded online and virtual training opportunities.

All good and valuable things require effort and nurturing. Training is a tool and an investment that can be utilized to grow, develop and create opportunity. It does not necessarily define success but can help lead us to it. It has been a long-time hurdle to on-board those new to our industry and organizations in a way that is engaging, efficient and productive. Benefiting from on-line training opportunities starts with choosing engaging and valuable courses that meet your learning and possibly credentialing objectives. As well, our organizations’ cultures and individual’s desires for growth and self-development must be fostered to support training initiatives.

The following is a list of a few considerations in embracing on-line training for your Restoring Success:

  • Online training benefits: The are many benefits that when deliberately embraced can be fully enjoyed.
    • Accessibility: We can access subject matter, skill training and development, educators and expertise, anywhere in the world at any time.
    • Flexibility: In the 24/7 world of organized chaos, programs that offer flexibility can be very helpful. In addition, self-paced learning allows individuals to move through curriculum at a comfortable pace on an individual basis.
    • Cost Savings: Some programs may present the opportunity to save.
  • Choosing Training Programs: Use the proper due diligence and thoughtfulness in selecting courses and programs. Consider specifically what you are looking for from your educational choices:
    • Gain insight and understanding to a discipline
    • Gain or develop a certain skill or competency (technical, soft, other)
    • Consider the level: Fundamental, Intermediate, Advanced, etc.
    • Practical Application
    • Certification/Credential/Documentation of Competency
  • Company Tips: As an organization, training and career development can be proactively managed, celebrated and be a part of the culture.
    • Be Deliberate: In the New Tech Under Your Wing, there are a variety of tips to help incorporate training and learning in your day to day operations. One of the most important that applies to in-person or on-line is to encourage field training and mentoring when applicable.
    • Engage: Reward and celebrate learning and growth.
    • Invest: Time, resources, and attention to the utilization of on-line training as a tool.
  • Individual Tips: There are a variety of resources available on-line to help individuals with being on-line and/or adult learners.
    • Be an active and engaged learner
    • Limit distractions
    • Scheduled your courses and be as committed to your commitment as you would be with a live, in-person course.

The time is now to develop your company and individual training and education programs while enjoying all the benefits in the worldwide land of learning opportunities.

Best wishes for happy, safe, restoring success.

A Cultural Shift

restoration managementLisa Lavender, M.T.R., M.F.S.R., M.W.R.

A quick internet search yielded millions of results on: Proper Handshake. Years of practicing and talking about how to give a proper handshake down the drain? I recall giggling with others when someone is a bad hand shaker…too limp…squeezed to hard…well for now, it’s one less thing for everyone to worry about.

The history of the handshake is very interesting. Many of us have likely been doing this for years when meeting new associates, customers, networking, and more. History tells us the handshake has represented a gesture of peace, a sign of good faith, a commitment to a promise, and even has represented an eternal bond. Now what?

We don’t know if the worldwide pandemic will permanently change our behaviors and culture, but we do know that it is changing it now. A few short months ago, in many circumstances, it was considered a social faux pas to not greet someone in what has become our cultural norm. Today, it is socially unacceptable to shake a hand.

How do we adjust our culture, our ways of expressing ourselves, our ways of bonding, and our ways of building and developing relationships? This is a challenge for many businesses and for restorers who take pride in delivering empathetic and compassionate services. To those who have experienced damage to their homes, belongings, and businesses, this is an important element in our service to them.

  1. Individual Self Awareness: As individuals, we need to have extreme self-awareness and be open to working as a team to adjust. We all have our own ways of expressing ourselves and connecting to others and as we shift, we can help each other. We have huggers, we have close talkersand more. Be open and positive in helping each other make the shift. I have a coworker, a hugger, who has extreme empathy for customers and creates bonds in her approach. We have open discussions about figuring out ways for her to express herself and establish bonds. “We can make her signs to hold up?” I myself can be a close talker (not too close…LOL). It is a way for me to express my focus and attention to a person, subject, or conversation. I am extremely self-aware, am now extra cautious to keep my distance, and open myself to others helping me; I will adjust.
  2. Documents/Plans/Procedures: As many of us must develop our systems, processes, and procedures to accommodate the presence of COVID-19 in our day to day, consider the process of integrating these new initiatives into our culture. In Restoring Success It’s All a Matter of Culturewe discuss how to integrate these types of developments into our actual culture. The following are a couple of concepts to serve as a backbone to the cultural shift.
    1. Precautionary Measures: Have a documented and thorough precautionary measure program that can be integrated into your day to day and make them part of the new culture.
    2. Operational Adjustments: There are many general changes from meetings to means of communicating. Phillip Rosebrook’s Creating a Coronavirus Business Action Plan is a great place to start.
  3. Technology and Digital: It is likely that you have all experienced virtual meetings and maybe even a happy hour or two. We have an abundance of technology to enjoy that helps and supports our cultural shift. In this context, challenge yourself and the team to stay up on all the latest; not just in tools but in the use of these tools. We must look beyond the technology and challenge ourselves to consider the importance of engagement, collaboration, and bonding which may or may not be fully replaced with technology. As an industry, we are tactile. If we employ technology without the appropriate attention to this, our relationships, our training programs, and more could suffer.
  4. Training: We should consider training for ourselves and team to help us best adjust.
    1. Soft Skills: I have a few co-workers who are amazing at expressing their care to a customer on the phone. This is just one example of a very important skill at this time. We must be on the top of our game at listening and all means of communicating. Our voice and writing are going to be front and center.

(I mean no offense as some of my favorite people use these terms, but I will use this opportunity and platform to share two words that are my pet peeves, 1) “Hey” – I don’t think it is a good greeting in writing…”hay is for horses” 2) “Yup or Yep” – it could seem flip and insincere in a response to something very important. No “hey or yup” …LOL!)

  1. Other: From technology to body language, keep it top of mind that as we adjust, there could be needs for training to do it best. As an example, at Restoration Technical Institute, we have begun the process of training and developing ourselves to learn how to best engage and train in an online environment. It is more complicated than just buying a webinar platform and we want to be excellent and so we must learn and train.
  1. Be Creative: There is a great opportunity to engage the team to be creative and at the same time keep the need to shift our culture to top of mind. Get the team started and let the ideas flow. Some examples may be:
    1. Pictures: We can do quite a bit with a picture of a smiling face. We can text them to customers, put on social media, and they can even wear them. Not only are we socially distanced, but some of us may look a bit intimidating with a face mask or full PPE.
    2. Proactive Communications: There are all kinds of proactive communications that will let people know how you feel and what to expect. Let people know the masked team they must stay far away from still cares. One idea: send a thank you text with a picture after an emergency.
  1. Company General Environment: There are many general things that could be considered in your organization that could help the shift.
    1. Huddle (far apart or from a distance): Talk about it frequently. Keep the lines of communications open. Keep it all top of mind in a positive environment and it will serve you well.
    2. Openness: Transparency and collaboration are key. There is no place for defensive attitudes and an unwillingness to change or adapt.
    3. Lead by Example: This universal truth is more important than ever. Leadership must exemplify what is expected and necessary during this challenging time.
  1. Eating: Some may call foul on this item being on the list! I am half Italian and breaking bread, eating together, feeding others; food is a big part of my world. I am stumped.
    1. I often recommend taking candidates to lunch because people let their guard down and are more relaxed when eating. It’s a great way to get to know each other.
    2. In our training center, we have food rules! No pizza and sandwiches and we have an ice cream machine because ice cream makes people happy. Now what!?!
    3. On someone’s first day, it is a rule to take them to lunch.
    4. We celebrate, bond, reward with food. I love feeding people. I love eating with others.
    5. I want your advice! The eating situation has me thrown for a loop. A GoToMeeting does not replace this for me. I would love to hear your tips for this big change.

This is a short list of things to consider in the wake of the necessity for a major cultural shift in our world. Although we can only speculate on the long-term impact on our behaviors, we can proactively and positively begin to adjust.

Restorer’s Perspective: Software Is A Tool

restoration management software, restoration managementIn the early 2000s, when I was just beginning my career as a restorer, I recall the buzz about the “cloud”. I am by no stretch a “computer geek” but it sounded like something exciting. Wanting to constantly employ the latest technology in all aspects of the business, I ran around the office declaring that we needed a cloud (totally clueless of what that meant). I came in one morning to a picture of a cloud on my door labeled, “Lisa’s Cloud”. Fast forward to 2018, I became co-owner and VP of Operations Design of iRestore, a cloud-based restoration management software company. It began when I was searching for the right cloud-based system for my company. I found iRestore and began working with Ryan Smith, who literally grew up in the industry and is a former owner/operator of a restoration company himself. From there, we began working closely on developing iRestore for my restoration company. We shared instant synergy as we worked together and quickly realized we made a perfect team. To my husband and business partner, Ted, I continually and enthusiastically chattered about the developments and ideas we had. One day, Ted simply stated, “Ask him if he wants to become partners.” The rest is history. Ryan and I officially joined forces in January 2018.

Joining the iRestore team is a true extension of the passion found in serving other restorers through our training center, the Restoration Technical Institute. We find joy in sharing missteps, successes, and anything else that could help an industry colleague succeed. I enjoy developing and improving systems and workflows and talking to other restorers about their operations. The software industry is where I can put my operations background, observations, and understanding of the intuition of restorers into the design of our software system. My objective is to contribute to the marriage of efficient systems that support the flow of restoration operations and the organization.

Software is a tool. It’s a tool not unlike many of the tools we use every day. It’s designed to be a part of your organization and help you serve others. There are many choices and they are not necessarily one size fits all. Each company must consider the features, price, and what is best for their organization. When acquiring any new tool or technology, consider the following short list:

  1. Cost vs. Benefits
    1. Benefits internally: Efficiency, information flows, improved outcomes, etc.
    2. Benefits to those we serve: Reports, information, communications, etc.
  2. Training and Implementation

Since becoming a part of the software industry, I have developed some thoughts and opinions about software’s place in operations. This may serve to help you choose, implement, and consider its place in your organization.

1.  It’s not a silver bullet. I am the first to tell fellow restorers, “software is not a silver bullet.” A basic customer service principle that I hold dear is to proactively manage expectations. I believe that within companies, the standards and best practices can remain a constant while the “how” may evolve with technology. The company’s operations and the team’s adherence to them is not dependent on software. Software is a tool that can help performance and help leadership manage the operation and team.

A prime example is documentation. Most restoration organizations understand the importance of job documentation and likely have clear requirements. The expectations may be in the forms of SOPs, best practices, or other company standards. In 2000, our company used mini-tape recorders and a person to transcribe the recordings into job records which included all relevant and meaningful job-related updates and communications. The standard remains the same; the means (using software and voice to text) is different. Team members who adhere to  will continue to do so with software. Those who do not follow guidelines will continue to not follow the guidelines with software. When I refer to the “silver bullet”, software does not make people document the job file. Software can make it more efficient and create benefits within the organization like real-time accessibility of information, but it does not make someone document. If the team is not engaged and held accountable to the standards set forth by the company, software will not change this.

2. Infrastructure Only. Software can provide a structure, order, and consistency. It can create efficiencies and offer a variety of features that helps the team and benefits customers. Our tag line is, “Powering your Vision, Values, and Leadership” and this speaks to the point that every company is special in its own way and is driven by something bigger, greater, and more powerful than software.

3. Too Much of a Good Thing.

  1. Software can create accessibility to a wide variety of metrics and reports that serve the operation well in many ways. Much of this can be generated through the natural movements within the organization using software. There is a balance to be met as too much data collection (at a cost) and reporting can be distractive and counter-productive.
  2. Reminders, flags, and other features that help the team move according to specified protocols and best practices is important but must be balanced using good judgement. The team needs to be engaged in doing their jobs and accountable to their organization. Over-reminding can have the opposite affect where the team can begin to ignore everything.

4. Flexibility in the system. I learned a lot about this from my partner and our software users. It is good for a system to have the proper balance of structure and flexibility to accommodate the unique needs of each company, accommodate growth, and potentially support related lines of business.

5. Think Upside Down. This was almost our tag line because it is of the utmost importance to consider the role and/or the positions of the users in the organization. Whether you are the owner/operator who at any times wears many hats: technician, accounting, HR, marketing, etc. or you’re the Operations Manager of a large firm, the software will not serve the CEO well if it does not serve those in all positions well.

As being part of the software industry, I often joke that my goal in life is that no restorer anywhere will ever need a spreadsheet again. I have also learned that contributing to the development of software has been very rewarding for me and a job that will never end as you are never done developing.

#MOGA: Make On-Call Great Again

water damage restoration, fire damage restoration, disaster restorationIn the restoration industry, being on-call in some capacity is part of the job. In recent years, many seem to view the commitment to being on-call as a drawback rather than part of responsibility and reward that a career in restoration offers.

A positive outlook is where it all begins. The following perspectives, from experienced restorers who serve in an on-call leadership capacity, are valuable. The perspective of the on-call leadership not only allows us to focus on the positive but also influences the rest of the on-call team, company, culture, and the industry at large. Attitudes are contagious; passing along good on-call leadership vibes and positive on-call attitudes will help Make On-Call Great Again.

Pete has been in the industry for over 11 years and he recalls his interview at J.C. Restoration over 10 years ago:

When I interviewed at JC Restoration over 10 years ago, I sat with the Owner and President Warner Cruz. I remember him asking me specifically what I enjoyed most about the restoration industry. The answer I gave him still holds true to this day – emergency responding – the opportunity to gear up, rally the troops, and lead the charge in helping families and/or businesses in their time of need. I knew that we would be one of the first teams out to assist when others needed us the most. We were the first step; we were the knights in shining armor – it’s that exciting opportunity that fuels my passion to help others in the restoration industry daily. I truly believe that the initial emergency response team plays a big part in the end result – how we make our customers feel from the onset will positively set the tone for the duration of any given project.

Jon, an on-call leader for more than 10 years, points out:

I enjoy being able to do what I love as a restorer, without some of the regular pressures and distractions that the normal business day entails.  I have complete focus on the customer and the team, and enjoy mobilizing into action to help others in a time of need. 

Barry, with nearly 15 years in the industry, reflects on a very specific type of after-hour call:

I feel greatly rewarded when I respond to a biohazard/trauma scene. My compassion and empathy are heightened and I am filled with a deep sense of purpose in serving those who have called upon me during what may be one of the most difficult times of their lives. When the remediation is complete, there is deep appreciation from those being served; it is particularly fulfilling and rewarding for me.

A career in restoration demands a commitment to the customers call in need of action, 24/7. Let’s make it great again and keep it great:

  1. On-Call Leadership: The leadership sets the tone and influences how others perceive and view on-call.
    1. The call:  When calling the team in for after-hours duty, it should be done so in a positive and constructive manner. Imagine the impact of calling a team member at 1:00 a.m.: “Hi Joe – You need to get up! It stinks! We just got a big sewer backup an hour away.” Find a better, more positive way to call.
    2. Set a good example: Stay positive and engage the team accordingly.
    3. Teamwork: The thrill of teamwork can be at its peak after-hours. When possible, work along-side the team. Foster the comradery and bonding that can be enjoyed by tackling after hours calls through the challenges and the successes.
    4. Care: Take care of the team and keep them motivated. Food, drinks, and gestures of gratitude and appreciation can go a long way.
  2. Companies: At the company level, we can build a foundation that involves the on-call commitment that will help Make On-Call Great Again:
    1. Interview and On-boarding: In addition to thoroughly explaining the on-call commitment and expectations of a career in restoration, we also want to fully engage and give understanding, Why do we offer fast, 24/7 service?
      1. We do this to “reduce further damage” or mitigate damage. This is true of nearly all the services offered from water to fire.
      2. It is the ultimate show of empathy and support to those we serve. The assurance of trained and caring restoration professionals on site at the time of loss gives people the peace of mind and support they need after they have experienced damage to their property.
    2. On-Call System/Expectations: It is important that the expectations are clear and communicated. The following article includes some useful tips for developing a system: Developing an On-Call System. Included in the system should be a substitution or back up process.
  3. Individuals: While staying focused on the benefits and rewards of a career in restoration, there is personal responsibility to maintain positive balance.
  • Utilize a calendar system to manage your time
  • Plan personal time off in advance
  • Develop or utilize systems for back up coverage (and be sure to reciprocate to your co-workers)
  • Have a positive mental attitude
  • Prioritize time with family/friends
  • Travel,
  • Rest/Sleep
  • Unplug: Hobbies, exercise, sports, music and entertainment

Enjoy the reward of serving as a restorer, 24/7. Share the pride and joy of your work #MOGA.

Restoring Success: It’s All a Matter of Culture

restoration business managementCulture! I searched R&R’s website for the word “culture”, and it yielded over 200 results. There are lots of golden nuggets from industry experts that lie within. My first Restoring Success in January 2014, Core and Shared Values, spoke to understanding them, putting on paper, and living them. Six years later, I’m now realizing nearly every column I write circles back to one core topic: culture.

We have all read about it, talked about it, and understand how it impacts our organizations. It is a fairly abstract concept and there is not necessarily a right or wrong culture. Can such a gray area like culture be the ultimate key to success as defined by your organization?

Have you ever gone somewhere or to someone’s home and you felt uncomfortable? Have you ever brought someone in your organization and then questioned if they will fit in? Do people in the organization who become ingrained in the culture seem to thrive?

From a business standpoint, culture can impact an organization’s ability to adopt new technology, overcome challenges, provide world-class service, provide opportunities for growth, learning, development, and more. Descriptors of these attributes may sound like innovative, customer-centric, and adaptable. If I was asked to describe the culture in our organization, I would also use the word happy. It’s part of our culture to be happy. I like to work in a happy place, happy people serve others with joy, we attract and hire happy people, and if someone joins the team and exudes “grumpy”, they either get happy or … you get the idea.

Culture: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.

I love the restoration industry as a profession and my passion is in operations. There is nothing I enjoy more than process and order, developing it and the excitement of doing it in a world with intricacies and challenges. I love even more when processes, systems, and orders are followed consistently. In classes, we focus on standards of care that often become integral to companies’ SOPs, safety practices, workflows, and more. The reality is that drafting an SOP and distributing it does not make it so; culture and engagement are the keys.

A good restoration friend of mine, Chris Zahlis, the owner of Restoration 1 of Columbia-College Park-Annapolis, referred to the movements that naturally happen within an organization or in any given moment as “muscle memory.” Muscle Memory is a great way to describe the moment when the processes, procedures, and order become the culture of the company.

Culture is not just the “practices”, but also the attitudes and values and other characteristics that ultimately impact every facet of the organization and its outcomes.

One of our shared values is priding ourselves on our presentation and professionalism as a company. This value applies to our dress, communications, building, vehicles, equipment, and more. Although most of us in our organization think it is never good enough, our warehouse is typically organized and clean. I get on-going positive feedback about our warehouse and there is certainly methodology, process, and order but it is really just part of our culture. Nobody is “in-charge” of the warehouse; everyone naturally pitches in, tidies, and keeps it looking good.

Messy Vehicles and Culture Change

In spite of our values, clearly written expectations, making random announcements, holding individuals accountable, we have been challenged to keep the fleet, specifically the interiors, of our vehicles up to company standards. Why? It is part of our culture to keep our warehouse neat, orderly, and everything in its place and it is not part of our culture to keep the interior of the vehicles in pristine condition? Why is it not part of the company culture? How do you change the culture?

What are the options in tackling this cultural shift? Let’s try consistently leading with some standby clichés that have a track record of being effective:

  • Inspect what you expect
  • Keep it front and center (consistently)
  • Lead by example
  • Publicly praise

It is time for a change. The leadership talked about it and showed passion. We committed to weekly inspections, publicly praised, tweaked forms and processes, and after a couple of months, the culture started to change. People would walk up to me with pride and joy, “I cleaned my vehicle!”

Then, for the leadership, everything else became more important and the momentum of the cultural shift stopped. As soon as the elements that contribute to the culture shift stop or are inconsistently (Inconsistency, The Silent Enemy) exemplified it will unravel.

Culture is complex and the backbone of your intricate organization. Next time you are challenged by something in your organization, in addition to the process, people, and systems, consider it as a matter of culture. Be inspired by others, be observant, be thoughtful, and check out some of the great ideas found within the R&R archives.