[My Biggest Mistake] Underestimating the Value of a Shared Vision

Departments - My Biggest Mistake

September 26, 2013
Peter Wonson Sr.

When I established General Environmental Services (GES) in 1979, I had a clear vision for my company’s growth and success. Every year I set new goals and developed new strategies for achieving them. I hired individuals I believed could help us grow and prosper through their own motivation to succeed.

Then I realized we weren’t on the same page — that many of our managers and employees had their own agendas. We were not working together toward common goals and certainly were not growing the business. I knew that if I wanted to move forward, I needed to take action.

I started making personnel changes, including letting two managers go while I looked for replacements who would understand and work collaboratively toward the goals of GES. While those spots were unfilled, I took over a lot of territory myself, traveling between the two offices we had then in Vermont and Massachusetts. My wife, Marybeth, left college to take over our office operations. Her support was a key element of getting our business back on track and moving toward success.

Then our sons began graduating from college. All three of them, Peter Jr., Tim and Brendan, chose to join the business after they earned their degrees. Today, as part of our management team, they uphold our corporate vision by keeping it in the forefront of everything our staff of 26 does.

Here are some of the steps we’ve taken to ensure that every member of our team understands and works toward our goals:

We hold regular meetings focusing on quantitative goals. We discuss sales, profit levels, growth opportunities — anything that pertains to growing the business into a more successful and robust enterprise. We talk about our competitive strengths here in the Boston market and areas where we could stand to improve. We share ideas and solutions to the challenges that our technicians face in the field or that we face in running the business. The most important thing is that we continually communicate, making sure that all of our objectives align with one another.

We post an easy-to-read goals chart (think United Way).
It’s a quick-glance, we-are-here barometer of where we are vs. where we aspire to be. It also helps us see where we are in relation to last year’s performance. What I try to instill in our team is that every morning when you wake up, you’re starting at zero, and what you accomplish in that day really does make a difference to the organization. That $50 restaurant account is important to the health of the company; that makes it important to each and every employee. Our technicians have come to realize that every effort they make in a day counts. They’re proud to see the results of their hard work and inspired when we are able to continually raise the bar. This is very visible proof that our progress motivates everyone here to keep reaching higher, to be aggressive and focused every day. How well does it work? We have grown approximately 15 percent each year for the past four.

We support our employees unconditionally. Part of building a great team that is dedicated to supporting team goals is ensuring that they can build good lives for themselves and their families based on the income they earn at our company. Although we are always working toward greater profitability at GES, we never do it at the expense of our employees. When customers say they can get a service for a lower price, we explain how important it is to us for our employees to be able to take vacations, send their kids to college and manage the expenses of running a household. Customers come to understand that our prices may not always be the lowest, but our value is always the highest.

We are very selective about the employees we hire. Of course we’re stringent about the standard quality assurance measures — driving records, drug screenings, background checks, etc. — but we also look more deeply. We look for values: Is the candidate telling the truth in the interview? Does he or she have good references? A sense of accountability? The kind of values that will mesh with the rest of our team? We know that we can teach a technician the skills needed to do a great job. You can’t, however, teach integrity.

Keep the Vision ‘In Sight.’ These steps have made GES strong and focused as we head toward the future. We never lose sight of how crucial it is in pest management, as in any service industry, for every employee and manager to share a clear vision of where the company should be — where performance levels should be — on a daily, monthly and yearly basis.


As told to PCT contributor Donna DeFranco.