It is difficult to challenge the notion that good employee morale and strong engagement is important in our industry. In fact, being “happy” may be critical to our customer service. We spend much of our time at work, have 24/7 on-call rotations, and serve people who have experienced disaster, so why not do it with joy? In Is Your Organization Happy?, you will find some considerations and tips about creating a “happy” environment.
Morale and engagement are complex and have many contributing factors. Procedures, best practices, training, etc. will have limited value to your company if the individuals and team lack positive morale and are not engaged. Although there is much we can do in our day to day for Employee Morale Year Round, consider the notion that morale and engagement are built on a foundation of trust.
Trust is a big word that has many elements, synonyms, and influences in a variety of aspects of our organizations and lives. At times, there may be relationships within the organization that have voids of trust. If trust issues become widespread and unresolved or there becomes a feeling of distrust towards the organization itself, it will be challenging to successfully employ any morale-building and engagement initiatives.
Imagine for a moment…
You are with a group of people you trust and are working together, collaborating, getting things done; you probably feel good and happy. If one of these people gives you a cookie and a note thanking you for a great job, it would make you feel good, happy, and encourage you to continue to contribute to objectives or the purpose.
You are with a group of people you do not trust. The mistrust could stem from a variety of reasons, behaviors, and experiences with the people in the group and/or you may not even be clear on what is causing the mistrust; it is possibly just a feeling. If one of these people give you a cookie and note thanking you for a great job, may feel like there is an alternative motive, suspicious, and may not even want to eat the cookie!
Same gesture, same note, but different impact based on trust.
A culture filled with fear and mistrust will be a culture with a disengaged and unhappy team. Feelings of fear and mistrust could be a great motivator when perhaps running from an angry bear but imagine going to work every day feeling this way.
Start with reading “Speed of Trust” by Stephen MR Covey. If you are pressed for time and want to fast track your organization and team, watch the video: The Speed of Trust – Stephen M.R Covey @LEAD Presented by HR.com. You will gain the ability to understand, articulate, evaluate, and build trust within your organization. He presents what he refers to as three big ideas:
Trust is an Economic Driver
Trust is the #1 Competency of Leadership
Trust is a Learnable Competency
Where does it all begin? According to Covey, it starts with leadership.
#1 Job of Leaders
In building morale and engagement in your company, start with the foundation, trust. A person who is expected to engage in the mission, values, and goals of an organization needs to trust the organization and the leadership. As Covey breaks down the elements of trust, he lists the following “behaviors”:
1. Talk Straight 2. Demonstrate Respect 3. Create Transparency 4. Right Wrongs 5. Show Loyalty 6. Deliver Results 7. Get Better 8. Confront Reality 9. Clarify Expectation 10. Practice Accountability 11. Listen First 12. Keep Commitments 13. Extend Trust
These behaviors are a great place to start if evaluating or building your foundation of a happy, healthy, and productive work environment. The men and women in our restoration companies are the most valuable and important assets. They deserve to feel good and happy at work.
Share topics and ideas that you would like to read in future Restoring Success editions.
You may be thinking of something bad or good. Maybe you are thinking about a situation that you saw “Red Flags” and the result was something bad? A red flag is, “a warning signal or sign; something that indicates or draws attention to a potential problem, danger, or irregularity” Is it good or bad?
Red flags built into your systems and embraced by the team can be a very good thing. The restoration world is complex and fast moving. It is very easy for even the best of the best to make a mistake or miss something. When we embrace and pay the appropriate attention to red flags, it gives us the ability to proactively manage things to have a positive outcome. Let us remember that a red flag is only a signal; if we react to a signal of a coming problem or irregularity, we can get things back on track.
True story about the purchase of RED FLAGs
We may think of reports, software, and alerts that present data in the form of flags, but it is equally important that team members understand that they can and should throw up flags. Team members should not lose sight of the fact that everyone in the organization is on the same team and should all be working towards the same positive results. There is no room for defensiveness or a “cover yourself” mentality in an organization that fully embraces red flags into their culture.
A particularly vociferous and enthusiastic supervisor charged with the reconstruction of a home based on a specific scope of work, came running into the building, “Red Flag! Red Flag! I amred flagging this job!”, he screamed.
He approached me and exclaimed, “I am red flagging this job!”
I replied, “Why?”
He said, “There are many things that were missed from the scope.”
I said, “Good job! Now, go speak to the estimator, get it corrected and execute.”
Nobody was offended. The supervisor did his job and reviewed the scope before executing, he threw up the flag, the estimator was open and thankful, they collaborated, got it done and successfully completed the job both from a service and profitability standpoint.
And so, we bought actual red flags for the team to throw up in the shop with pride.
Perhaps, the person answering the phone notices frequent phone calls from one customer with lots of questions; a flag to the manager that the customer may need a complete review of the process may be in order. A possible communication issue headed off at the pass?
During high volumes, the team is working around the clock, mistakes can happen in the field; put the flags on high alert. Explain to the team that when dealing with high volumes and long hours, it is easier to miss something or make a mistake, everyone is on the same team, keep an eye out and communicate or fix things that someone else may have missed.
The following are a few considerations in using Red Flags to proactively manage positive outcomes:
Culture: Our culture is an important ingredient as there most be unity amongst the team.
Objectives should be clear so that everyone can rally common goals.
Safe: Our environment should feel safe. If an occasional problem or mistake occurs, an individual should be able to see it as an opportunity to improve, learn and grow with the support of colleagues and leadership. We should be able to celebrate the success that the red flag helped the team achieve.
Systems/Data/Reports/Software: The following is just a short list to get the wheels turning; the are many complex considerations to using the flags that lie within this area:
Less is More: Be cautious of looking at too much information at once and losing site of the “flags”.
Proactive and Timely: Workflows, information, and operations should be designed that flags can be used proactively. As an example, looking at job profitability after the job is complete has limited or no use as a “flag” or signal and gives no opportunity to change the outcome.
Accessibility and Communication: The flags must be accessible or communicated to the right people within the organization so that they can use them to positively impact the outcomes.
Training and Understanding: We must understand and be trained on the information that we are looking at to use it properly. There are infinite ways to present information and flags; the key is understanding it. Simple example:
6/1/2020: In Progress – Water Loss – Start Date: 5/22/2020
At a quick glance, by the dates, something is going on with the loss. At 10 days, if the file is reviewed there should be clear documentation that tells the story explaining 10 days of drying. The dates are a flag indicating irregularity. (And someone should be accountable and compelled to look at the job file)
People: As with most things in the operation, our people can be the most important. With the right tools, training/education, and culture, the team can be the best flagging system out there.
Consistency in using flags: Flags should create action consistently when they present themselves.
Praise and encourage flagging with constructive communications and the collaboration of solutions.
Next time something goes off track, consider the systems and culture. Flags help us better proactively manage desired results.
Online 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.
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
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.
Culture! 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
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.
This is the third and final article of a multi-part series on employee burnout in the restoration industry. Part one introduced the nature of burnout and summarized findings from a study on burnout in the restoration industry. Part two was a discussion on things restoration companies can do to manage one of the most complicating factors for burnout among restoration professionals – workload. Part three advances the conversation and discusses what restoration professionals can do at the individual level to manage workloads more effectively.
As we considered the findings of the burnout study and addressed hours worked, we first examined possible solutions focused on volume and capacity at the organizational level. When we consider the same dials of volume and capacity at the individual level, it is in the context of both the design of the operation and its culture. Individual volumes that allow for an optimal work-life balance will be contingent on a variety of factors that include but are not limited to capacity, competence, proficiency, efficiency, stress tolerance, focus, and organizational skills of the individuals. Although we consider adjusting the dials of volume and capacity at an individual level, this ability will be influenced by the culture and capabilities of the organization. There must be a level of personal responsibility for one’s own desire to find the proper work-life balance, commitment to the organization, and their individual roles. The company must share by supporting and creating a culture and operation that supports the adjusting of dials at the individual level.
Due to the nature of the industry, one could say that a certain amount of flexibility and stress tolerance is a trait shared by many – restoration professionals appear to be highly resilient. At times, restorers may seem to be at their personal “best” when the chaos hits, and this may be supported by the finding that participants reported elevated feelings of professional efficacy while experiencing elevated feelings of exhaustion and cynicism – which is unique when compared to patterns in other industries.
1. Open Work Environment: Individuals and supervisors should have open communications regarding the volume of assignments.
Supervisor: “I have another job to go over with you”
Team Member: “I am feeling overloaded. I can take a new job next week but could really use a couple more days to get caught up”
Supervisor: “I will give it the job to Joe. Is there anything that I can do to help you?”
This comes with the caveat that managers need to be able to discern what volume a particular role should be able to manage and individual capacity. If someone has demonstrated they are not able to thrive under reasonable circumstances and with proper training, other options may need to be explored.
2. Assignments: The operation should be designed to manage assignment volume appropriately.
It sounds simple but without accessible information and/or understanding of workflows within the company, it will be difficult to manage individual workflows. A simplistic example is to consider a CAT event. The workload first peaks in the field operations. Several weeks later, the peak in company volume may flow into the administrative functions and affect administrative workloads (bills, invoices, and collections).
With the objective of assigning volume appropriately, we must understand the individual team member’s capacity and be mindful as we make assignments. We cannot arbitrarily make assignments based on job titles/descriptions. At any given point, we must consider the complexity of assignments and the individual’s capacity. For example, one team member may be able to manage 10 jobs effectively and another in the same position may be able to manage 20. A side benefit of this is that the company will likely be able to deliver services more consistently to the organization’s standards and objectives.
3. Workflows Adjustments: In consideration of the labor shortage and the fact that much of the workload within the restoration industry is technical and specialized, there may be an opportunity to control workload by challenging the current workflows and reassigning tasks. There are functions and flows within many parts of our organizations that require a combination of training and experience some of which are highly specialized. There are functions that may be easier to train and may have more accessible resources available. Workflow adjustments may be made within the organization as a response to workloads increasing for the individuals. As presented in Part 1, organizational level cross-training may give the ability to adjust workflows within, when deemed appropriate in controlling the workloads. An adjustment may also be approached by adding team members or outsourcing. Consider the following examples:
Crew leaders and technicians are working a high number of hours. One of their responsibilities is to clean and restock the equipment after a loss. This function can be easily trained and facilitated by team members other than the crew leaders and technicians.
Estimators are overloaded and one of their job responsibilities is to prepare the invoice. This is a part of their workflow that may be reassigned allowing them to contribute their specialized skill and relieving workload.
The organization must recognize the concept of capacity within the individual team members. A combination of encouraging, valuing, and investing in the development of individual capacity is a key ingredient to the ability to improve it. Individuals must take ownership of their capacity and understand the economics of it. It is in the best interest of individuals and the organization to increase individuals’ capacities. As one’s capacity grows, the individual can handle more work in less time, essentially reducing hours worked at a given volume of work. Individuals could also increase their value to the company. This basic principle can be observed in the practice of piece-rate work, where people are compensated based on output. Although the restoration industry does not lend itself to this method, the economic relationship between output and value is illustrated by it.
Resourcefulness: By definition, resourcefulness is “having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties.” Be resourceful, challenge the status quo, and contribute to all aspects of adjusting workloads for you, for others, and for the organization. Applying resourcefulness includes but is not limited to evaluating and employing technology, evaluating workflows, finding new resources, and improving efficiencies.
Management Principles and Work Habits: The organization should support, and the individuals can be driven to increase their capacity, by developing skills like time management, email management, and being organized. Consider the time wasted looking for supply, piece of equipment, finding an email, touching the same document 10 times before we act. There is an opportunity to increase our capacity and possibly reduce the inherently related stress by developing ourselves in these disciplines.
Proficiency: The more proficient we are the more we can complete in a given amount of time. There are a variety of skills needed within a restoration company from monitoring a water loss to computer keyboarding. Companies should celebrate, develop, and encourage individuals to increase their proficiency in their skills and trades. In addition to executing our responsibilities with quality and consistency, we can grow and improve our proficiency in our skills and trades and be driven to do so. As an example, an estimator who is a novice will have to practice and be diligent, as a $5,000 estimate may take two hours to sketch and write. As proficiency is developed, the same $5,000 estimate may be completed in 30 minutes. At a given volume, the improvement in proficiency provided a net gain of 1.5 hours.
Organizations and their members can proactively manage volume and capacity to have a positive effect on the hours worked as a contributing factor to burnout within the industry.
As an industry, we can bring to the forefront the necessary skills, competencies, and practices that help its members enjoy the reward and opportunity offered. In consideration of the burnout study, by adopting these notions not only can we help professionals within our industry better enjoy the benefits and rewards of being a restoration professional there are additional benefits. In a time when finding new people to enter the industry is a challenge, we can better manage with the resources we have, we can help make our organizations stronger financially, and we can better serve those who call upon the industry in times of need. Beyond technical and soft skills, strategic operations, execution, workflow training, theory, and development can be actively pursued.
Avila, J., & Rapp, R. (2019, January 2). Restoration industry burnout study. https://doi.org/10.5281/zendo.3404108
Bakker, A., & Demerouti, E. (2014). Job demands-resources theory. In C. Cooper, & P. Chen (Eds.), Wellbeing: A complete reference guide (pp. 37-64). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.