Jon Isaacson was a guest on the Restoration Rundown Podcast which is produced by the team at Ironclad Restoration Marketing. Host Ben Ricciardi drew out:
Ben recently released the updated version of his book, The No BS Guide To Internet Marketing For Restoration Contractors. Check out his book and podcast for quality tips on improving your marketing efforts and being educated when seeking outside assistance with this mission.
In various formats we have heard contractors discussing the idea of self regulating. The terminology may change, where a positive expression might be something like, "We need to raise the bar in property restoration." Or negative phrases such as, "It's disgraceful what we see now-days, something needs to change," are spread throughout industry social media pages. So, what does it look like for members of the property restoration industry to hold each other accountable to established standards of care?
Understanding Industry Standards
SCENARIO: Suppose there is a situation where Manager X of ABC Construction observes Employee D of XYZ Construction doing something that they perceive to be out of line with industry standards.
Let's define a few things first so that we are using the same language when we discuss standards of care?
Standard practices are the lowest level of any form of standards of care. This is similar to saying, "Everyone is doing it this way, so it must be right." This is not a high standard, it is not based upon anything other than what is perceived as common, and is not typically legally binding. The reasonableness standard may apply if someone were in trouble for their actions, i.e. were the decisions made by an individual legitimate and in line with what other professionals would do in a similar circumstance; this is highly subjective.
Standards of care are typically consensus based, meaning the are the guidelines that members of a particular industry can agree to. They are also voluntary in that they may outline the baseline by which activities should The e conducted, but they may not present an immediate civil or judicial consequence if the standards are violated. Certifications within an industry are usually based upon competency in the accepted standards of care.
Regulatory standards have a legal precedence and violation of these level of standards can result in financial penalties or jail time. Regulations are not voluntary and professionals are required to understand and operate within the boundaries of the compliance guidelines.
Examples of Constructive Conflict Among Industry Peers
So, Manager X may need to ask themselves whether Employee D violated standard practices, standards of care, or regulatory standards before they decide to take further action. In either of these scenarios, I think we would all agree that Manager X should do their due diligence to confirm that what they thought happened actually occurred. What would that look like?
In an industry where we treat each other as professionals, a constructive means of initiating a conversation might look something like this:
Manager X knows that Manager T works at XYZ Construction. They have interacted with each other at various local functions and Manager T seems like a reasonable person. Manager X decides to call Manager T. In doing so, Manager X identifies themselves and states that they are having a hard time finding the right words but know that if someone had a concern about one of their employees they would appreciate the professional courtesy of being able to address the issue internally.
Manager X states that they were at a particular job site and believe they observed Employee D doing the following (fill in the blank). It's quite possible that Manager X didn't see it right or have the full story, but it didn't sit right and they thought Manager T would want to know so that they could investigate themselves.
If you are still reading, you probably think this sounds like a fairly tale. I can tell you that in a recent meeting of local contractors in Washington State, two vendors shared that this exact thing happened. Manager X observed Employee D pulling up to a jobsite falling out of their work vehicle. You might think that Manager X should have confronted Employee D on the spot. Manager X called Manager T and shared what they observed, knowing that what they had heard about XYZ Construction, this would not be in line with their internal standards.
Manager T wasn't excited to receive the call, but took in the information as an opportunity to address the issue internally with Employee D and get ahead of it before it became a habit or perception of their organization. Both managers remember the call vividly and have since been able to refer each other work as their territories don't typically intersect. What could have been a negative experience turned into a positive exchange and a reflection of how difficult conversations can have positive outcomes.
Approaches To Conflict With Industry Peers
What other options are there when approaching a perceived wrong by a peer in the industry?
The See No Evil Approach. Manager X could have pretended that they didn't see what they did and went their way without saying anything. They could have said, "That's not my problem." Yet, we all know, how the consumer perceives your competitors can impact how they perceive you. It is important as an industry that we are able to have some earnest conversations with poor performers from time to time.
The Guilty Until Proven Innocent Approach. Manager X could have assumed that this behavior is a reflection of how Manager T and the whole team at XYZ Construction conducts their business. They could bad mouth them to consumers and industry peers and possibly even make a rant about what they observed on social media. Unfortunately, this can be as harmful as the prior approach, as one negative action is not made better by committing another one. The perception of the industry is not helped by contractors speaking poorly of their peers.
The Innocent Until Proven Guilty Approach. How many times have your team members done something that was contrary to your training? How many times have you had a bad day and did something you regretted? What if Manager X was driving by the jobsite and did not see that 2 minutes later Employee D picked up their trash or that it was spilling out because their vehicle will full of equipment or debris (maybe the trash was jobsite waste)? Would you want the benefit of the doubt if a peer or a consumer saw something that they perceived to be negative?
Our local group of restoration contractors and insurance claim professionals agreed that many of us is owners and managers do our best to train and hold our people accountable, but there are times when people do the wrong things. Yet, if this type of feedback is going to be beneficial, both sides of the conversation have to act in a mature and professional manner.
As a manager or business owner, trying to get some advice on whether a strategy or service option is right for your business can feel like a difficult process. The development of the internet and social media has provided entrepreneurs with limitless opportunities for immediate feedback from any number of persons presenting themselves as authorities on a given subject. If you go online seeking feedback, you will likely receive conflicting input from the extremes of a given perspective. While there are no dumb questions, there are plenty of dumb answers; so how do you avoid bad advice?
The DYOJO offers Seven Questions to assist you as a manager or business owners to determine whether a strategy or service option is right for your business. These simple questions will assist you to be better prepared to articulate questions in alignment with where you are in your development and where you are trying to go. I believe these questions will help you better determine who can help you on your journey as well as how much credence to give to various sources of input.
Seven Universal Business Questions
Whether you are growing your career or growing your business, you must always remember one key thing – it’s your DANG journey. No one is going to walk it for you. No commenter on social media, no coach, no consultant, no author, no podcast host, is going to take the direct hits when you fail or feel the wins as deeply as you do when you succeed. While it is smart to seek and take in good counsel on any element of business that may be new to you, I think it is important to consider these seven universal business questions:
Questioning Controversial Business Tactics
You will hear many smart people say really dumb things. Often this is related to our shared practice of repeating the platitudes of the day. Something can sound intelligent as it rolls off the tongue while being completely baseless and possibly harmful if applied. These seven questions will help you step back and take a broader view as you work to avoid taking bad advice and harming your business. In the age of fear-mongering, remember that there are differences between strategies that are illegal, unethical, controversial, and safe. Here are a few simple definitions:
In business, many prognosticators want to make controversial items into grandiose arguments over morals or ethics when what drives many of them is their own fears, lack of experience, and failures. I do not promote the idea that anyone should blur the lines with something that is illegal. Business persons should seek out hearty discussions about ethics with their qualified peers. Yet, in the guise of sound business advice, usually for self promotion, the responses to something controversial are too often in the extreme. Pundits within the restoration industry follow the tactics of politicians in making a battle of good versus evil where no deep moral dilemmas exist.
Seven Questions Applied To A Specific Strategy
Recently there have been some discussions, written and in video, regarding direct to consumer fire damage service offerings. You may have heard it by another name, fire damage chasing. Most of the responses that I have observed veer into the realm of indoctrination as opposed to an earnest discussion of the facts related to the topic. While fire chasing can be controversial, I am not hearing disciplined thought leading to the leaps [over logic] taken to reach these predetermined conclusions. Hearsay is not helpful in business or life and should not be promulgated as a diagnostic methodology when advising peers or clients towards a determination for their business.
If you would like to read more on how I applied these seven questions to the topic of direct to consumer fire damage service offerings ("chasing"), please read the article published with C&R Magazine, Industry High Horses: Fire Chasing.
What is fire damage chasing?
What is fire chasing? In its broadest application, fire chasing would apply to any contractor showing up to a fire-damaged structure without being invited. In the extreme opposition to chasing a fire damage loss, the detractors would have you believe that the only ethical approach to such a project would be via the invite of the agent, adjuster, and/or the client. This is laughable at best given that so many of these same people likely would lambast preferred vendor or third-party administrator (TPA) work, which is where the majority of these magical invites come from.
Is fire damage chasing good business?
If you turn to the internet for an answer to the question of whether fire damage chasing is ethical or good business practice, you are in for a variety of opinions. Whether you are growing your career or growing your business, you must always remember one key thing – it’s your DANG journey. No one is going to walk it for you. No commenter on social media, no coach, no consultant, no author, and certainly no mediocre podcast host, is going to take the direct hits when you fail or feel the wins as deeply as you do when you succeed.
While it is smart to seek and take in good counsel on any element of business that may be new to you, I think it is important to consider a few universal questions:
The history of fire damage chasing
It’s comical, and lacks historical perspective, for anyone to label fire chasing as ambulance chasing or any other derogatory term. Modern fire fighting as we know it came out of firefighters literally chasing fires and fighting each other for the right to be paid to fight the fire by the insurance company. Let Smithsonian Magazine paint the picture for you,
In a scene from the film Gangs of New York, set in Civil War-era Manhattan, a crowd gathers in the night as a fire breaks out. A volunteer fire department arrives, and then another. Instead of cooperating to extinguish the blaze, the rival fire companies head straight for each other in an all-out brawl as the building burns.
Providing for your family and growing your business is a battle. No one should look down on another person for trying to do either of these things. In my opinion, fire chasing is not a dirty methodology. Obviously, some people do it in less than reputable ways and it is important for members of the industry to address this. Bad actors are bad for your reputation in a local market and the perception of the industry as a whole.
More on the topic of fire damage chasing
This is an excerpt of an article that was published by Cleaning and Restoration (C&R) Magazine, please read the full article for additional information and context.
Additional Resources from The DYOJO
Recruiting and hiring in all industries is an issue and has been for some time. Construction is no different, and specialty industries such as property damage restoration (i.e. water and fire damage insurance claims) it can seem insurmountable. While I recognize these real challenges, I am not hearing many business people or “influencers” speak about the importance of talent retention
If you struggle to bring in new recruits, does this not raise the value of your existing labor force?
Recruitment for construction has been an issue for some time, it was not created by COVID 19. Obviously, there are elements of the shutdown and responses to this pandemic that have had ongoing effects on businesses. Yet, these difficulties are symptoms of a broader issue rather than a cause.
In 2020, prior to widespread news about a new disease or threats of government shutdowns or subsidies for unemployment, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) released a report about hiring complications.
“More than four out of five respondents to our survey said they were having a hard time filling salaried or hourly craft positions in 2019,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Nearly two-thirds of the firms say that hiring will be hard or harder this year. In light of those staffing challenges, costs have been higher than anticipated for 44 percent of respondents and projects took longer than anticipated for 40 percent of them. As a result, 41 percent of respondents have put higher prices into their bids or contracts and 23 percent have put in longer completion times.”
Most of the commentary that I see on a daily basis focuses on hiring and recruiting. There's not as much discussion on the retention side. I think intentional business leaders, especially those in construction, and specifically in property restoration, need to recognize that many of our hiring processes, pay scales, commission structures, and employee engagement mindsets are outdated.
Thought leadership or recycled platitudes?
A lot of the perspectives and habits that I come across are still rooted in the same ideologies and practices that I was when I received my start in this industry in the early 2000’s. If you're still running your company on an early 2000s model, it shouldn’t be shocking that you struggle to achieve positive results. As I shared in my final monthly column for Restoration & Remediation Magazine, “Most of what is shared on the socials is recycled or borrowed from others, even the edgy stuff. The recent packaging of ideas is often referred to as thought-leadership, even though most of the content is insufferably platitudinous with few remnants of either element for which is it marketed.”
A good example of a leader who has been thinking differently from the status quo recently joined us for The DYOJO Podcast. Tammy Birklid of Merit Construction out of Tacoma, Washington was our guest for Episode 59 (aka Episode 3 of our series Benchmarks of Growth). Tammy shared that her employer, who became a mentor and the person from whom she purchased the company, used to say that his goal was to be, “An employer of choice.” Tammy elaborates on what that has meant for her as a business owner and how she has worked to make this vision a reality.
Developing the right mindset and habits for employee retention
I drew some additional insights from Merit Construction for my project management book wherein I also shared a paradigm from Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric (GE). Jack believed in candor, saying that the best thing you can do for an employee is to tell them where they stand and how they can improve. “Failing to differentiate among employees — and holding on to bottom-tier performers — is actually the cruelest form of management there is.” Quoting from his book Winning, Jack shares his belief in the rule of 20-70-10:
While you would not be alone if you do not agree with this “candid” approach, have you ever stopped to analyze how much time you spend working on issues with your lowest performers? Being clearer with your expectations is an exercise that is beneficial to owners, managers, and team members alike.
How much time do you spend in self-inflicted misery wrestling with clients that you should have fired before the job started and lackluster people you should never have hired?
I'm not a big fan of the idea of thought influencers. I am a big fan of the idea of thought and I think influence is important. What I am not a fan of though, is having people think for you, and try to influence you towards their perspective. Our motto at The DYOJO is to shorten your DANG learning curve. I think it's important that you don't replace your dang learning curve.
Many well-intentioned business persons are expending a great deal of energy trying to increase the quantity of employees they have (recruitment). If they would take a step back many of them would find that they are doing so to staff service lines that they would be better off discontinuing. I would encourage you to consider enriching the quality of your employee experience (retention). Retention is no guarantee of success. Clarifying what you do (vision), how you do it (values), and who you need to help you accomplish your goals (quality), rather than just the quantity of people you think you need to keep up with your competition, is a fruitful exercise. I have always been amazed at what a small team of people who are committed to each other can accomplish.
I was invited to contribute to the September 2021 issue of Construction Business Owner Magazine which was dedicated to estimating in the skilled trades. My topic was about how setting clear objectives for estimators will lead to more consistent outcomes — not only in estimating, but also the production process. Consistently top-performing organizations take a holistic approach and view estimating as one process, among many, that leads to a successful outcome. So, whether you are a business owner, training manager, estimator or trades professional looking to develop this
skill set, the following will provide three key ways to elevate the estimating process.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a 19 year veteran of the property restoration industry and a business coach through his organization The DYOJO.