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.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a 19 year veteran of the property restoration industry and a business coach through his organization The DYOJO.