Principle number two is making sure we are competent to do the task at hand. I’m reminded of the time I went out on an after-hours water damage call to a house that we had recently finished restoring from a previous water damage just a few month before. I was met at the door by the distressed looking owner of the house holding a butcher knife. (Yes, think Jack Nicholson in the shining. It was a bit awkward). When I walked in the house I saw that she had used that same butcher knife to cut the carpet (in a very ragged line) somewhat near the seam in a door way. On the previous emergency visit, I had used a razor knife and a straightedge to cut a seam at that same doorway to allow the carpet to be moved and the saturated pad pulled out. She had seen me perform the task last time and her only explanation was that she felt she had to “do something”. Apparently she had the best of intentions, but good intentions don’t necessarily translate into qualification to do the job right.
Some variation of this is actually a pretty common occurrence in the damage repair business. We often walk into a job that although they found themselves compelled to “do something”, the property owner didn’t really have the skills to successfully complete the action they took. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the panicked homeowner that tries to do something that they don’t have the skill set to accomplish.
While we want to be “quick” in our actions to move the project along whenever we have the opportunity to do so, the second filter we want to use in taking action is to ask the ask “are we competent to do the task at hand”.
In dealing with property damage, there are a lot of things we do as a company on a regular basis. With proper training and repetition certain tasks requiring specific skill sets become routine and we become competent to carry out those tasks in a true journeyman like manner. But one thing about dealing with property damage is that the project is not always about routine tasks. Whether it is a restoring a damaged custom trim package or dealing with a unique piece of personal property like a sculpture with a patina smoked up in a fire or a pen and ink drawing in a damaged condition as a result of excess humidity, we are constantly presented with unusual scenarios that no one person or one company could be competent to handle in-house.
At the entry level, our newest member to the team needs to be able to give an a honest appraisal of the skills that they bring with them to the job. Even the demolition of damaged drywall requires a certain level of skill to complete efficiently without affecting the next trade on the job. From day one, we tell our staff that if they are put onto a project to complete a task and they do not feel they are 100% competent to complete that task, they should stop and make sure that they get the training or the supervision they need before they move ahead.
By the same token, when our most experienced supervisor runs a cross a situation that requires a skill set that they haven’t mastered, we need to be able to turn to our network of experts across the country for advice or hands-on expertise to make sure the project is as successful as it can be.
Property damage is never convenient. There is always some level of pressure to “get it done” as quickly as possible. It can be difficult for the egos of the new guy and the old pro to admit that they don’t have the skills needed to address whatever set of circumstances comes up. But at REE-Construction/First General Idaho we believe that the ability to judge our own competence is a important skill in and of itself.
A couple of qualifiers before we get into a discussion of “Quick”. First of all, it seems that looking for opportunities to be quick quick should go without saying, but it sometimes it seems like some participants in a damage restoration projects don’t have any sense of urgency in getting people’s lives back to normal. Secondly, quick doesn’t mean hasty or not thought out. As Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Always begin with the end in mind.”
The first time we talk about quick is when any call comes in. We want to respond to the call as quickly as possible, particularly in the case of a property damage emergency. Delay often translates into additional damage which may turn into additional time to assess the damage, additional time to come to agreement on the scope of restoration work and ultimately delay people from getting back into their homes and businesses.
With offices in the Treasure, Magic and Wood River Valleys and people working on projects in various places within that service area, we can usually get somebody to the site of a damage emergency within an hour (or sooner) during regular business hours. After hours and on weekends our goal is have an on-call tech on the phone in no more than 15 minutes and at the job site, equipped and ready to start work within 2 hours.
But the discussion of being “quick” is not something we limit to just damage emergencies. In any decision that needs to be made during the emergency, mitigation, remediation, reconstruction or personal property restoration for a client, the first principle we want our staff to consider is will this action move the project along toward completion in a timely manner? .
There are typically several materially interested parties in a property damage claim. There is a property owner and usually an insurance company. There may be one or more adjusters representing the insurer(s). The occupant may be renting the space or the insurer may be representing a third party in a liability claim situation. Often a property manager will be representing the individual property owner or a group such as a homeowner’s association. Building officials from the city or the state are often part of the process. We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge mortgage company’s increasing role in process of navigating claims. We believe that to say that there may be competing agendas working in less than complete harmony would be a fair assessment in many, if not most, cases.
The nature of the work is that the project usually begins before anyone has a chance to plan it out and details are often handled on the fly. There is an inherent challenge to keep the project moving along, without fits and starts
If we, as a restoration contractor, take into consideration a more holistic view of the pieces of the damage equation from the phases (emergency, mitigation, remediation, reconstruction and restoration) to the interaction of the various parties, we may be able to see what is coming up around the next curve in the road and shape our actions to adjust for bumps or roadblocks that we know are likely to come up ahead. We may not always be successful, but we believe it is incumbent upon us to make the effort to get people back into their homes and businesses in a timely manner.
If we make keeping this principle in mind a priority for everyone from field staff to project managers to administrative staff as we move through the process, we believe we increase the chances for a successful restoration project.
It’s 2AM Saturday morning, you’re the on call technician who has been called out to a water damaged building and one of the things you’re faced with is that some of the carpet in the hall is soaking wet from a water damage that occurred a couple of hours ago. Do you extract the water and set up air movers? Pull up the carpet and pull out the pad? Tear out the carpet and pad, bagging it in 6 Mil bags for disposal?
What if the source of the water is a sewage backup, would that change your mind? How about if the property manager had called and owner was out of town and couldn’t be reached? What if it was in an assisted living facility with elderly residents?
What if it looked like there was mold on the wall? Or maybe it is an obviously high end residence with the same thick luxuriant patterned carpet thoughout both floors of the house? Or a 30 year old mobile home and the carpet is an orange shag that looks like it’s been there since the place was first set down? Does it matter if there is insurance coverage?
Each variable requires a decision resulting in (someone’s) money being spent and/or someone’s being money saved. Indecision may mean wet materials sustain irreparable damage in the interim and whatever decision is made will be subject to kibbitzing by everyone that walks in on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday to assess the situation.
Like any business providing services, we spend a lot of effort learning the ins and outs of our niche, developing skills to meet whatever contingencies we might encounter and establishing systems to do what we can to provide a consistent result to people when they call.
We have binder after binder of protocols from different insurance companies describing how to meet their reporting requirements and more binders of training materials on “how-to” deal with about any damage situation. We have dozens of certificates on the walls from seminars, certification trainings and conferences on best practices.We have books of standards documents that spell out what we shall, should, can or may do on a water or mold damage to meet the definition of a qualified restoration company.
Unfortunately, when we try to come up with a standardized “best” answer for every contingency that might arise, one variable in the scenario changes and the “best” action requires a complete change in approach to bring about that “best” result. It seem the more rigid the rules, the less likely the people that actually go out and provide services at the site of the damage are likely to try and think through the situation to problem solve the best solution.
We realized long ago that, particularly in dealing with disasters large and small, anyone that goes into the field will regularly be faced with making decisions and taking actions at some point in time that have consequences impact the overall success of a project. It may be a marginal decision that turns out to be relatively inconsequential or a situation might arise that requires an immediate action that colors the conduct of the entire project. When that moment comes, we believe that if we can get the person closest to the moment to think about what we are trying to accomplish instead of just what we have “always” done in the past, we have the best chance of making the “best” decision under the circumstances.
We worked to distill what we felt were the most important decision making principles into a sort of battle cry for our employees to use in the field.
From the time a new employee comes on staff and throughout the time they are employed here, we stress that there is only one “wrong” answer if they are ever in a position where they must make a decision on the job and are later asked to explain why they took a particular action. That “wrong” answer is “I don’t know?” followed by some variation of “that’s what we’ve always done, that’s what we did last time, I didn’t think about it, etc., etc. “. To reasonably expect people to produce positive outcomes more often than not, decision makers at every level have to be given the tools to make judgements on the fly commensurate with their responsibilities. We think we have distilled that decision making process down to four one-word principles that, if put into the decision making process, make good outcomes much more likely.
Those four principles are our company battle cry. Over the next four blog postings, we’ll share those four and ask you to comment whether you agree.