Leading Your Company in Difficult Times

Features - COVID-19 Coverage

As the country continues to open, the question of preparing for additional waves of coronavirus this year has emerged. What should PMPs do to prepare their businesses?

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“How do you know there will be a second and third wave?”

The unsatisfactory, simple answer to this question is that we know there will be a second and third wave because humans are involved. You know what we mean. When you are attempting to implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, the most common frustration we hear from PMPs is that they cannot get customers to cooperate in key areas such as sanitation and exclusion. Often the lack of cooperation is because our customers truly do not understand that pests are pests because of human behavior. We humans cause pest problems. Recall that IPM is also Integrated People Management.

The pattern of lack of understanding and cooperation continues with COVID-19. Not understanding the factors that spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are dire. It only takes a few people who do not understand and/or will not cooperate to negatively impact many others. As an essential service, it is important that members of the pest management industry protect themselves, their families, customers and community.

Data (and science) is the new currency. This statement could not be truer today. As we read the papers behind several of the models that have been discussed in the news and as cities and states re-open, we couldn’t help thinking that opening too early would be like pulling a termite bait system from a house before the termite colonies were eradicated. There would be a rebound.

What we cannot seem to answer with accuracy is how severe or how long a second and possibly third wave might last. Here’s why: Models have limitations. You may have heard us use this quote before: “All models are wrong, but some are useful…” This quote is attributed to Dr. George Box, often called “one of the greatest statistical minds of the century. What did he mean? Models are approximations of reality, based on the data that we have at the time. In the case of COVID-19, scientists agree that the dataset is incomplete and changing rapidly.

STEPS TO TAKE. What can PMPs do to prepare for the potential second and possibly third waves? Until there is a vaccine, operating in the era of COVID-19 will require innovation, discipline, diligence and vigilance — all qualities that this industry knows well, because we are resilient. Tactics that can be immediately employed include:

  1. Take care of your employees. We have covered this topic in detail in previous articles. See this article.
  2. It’s a good time to hire. There are millions of good people out of work. If you are hiring, this is a good time to find talent or level up.
  3. Build your information technology (IT) capacity. IT will be key to survival for businesses and families. The digital divide is real. Not everyone can afford new computers, routers, web cameras and the like. Please keep that in mind and donate usable and cleaned IT tools (phones, computers, tablets and so on) to your favorite local charity. Greater automation already was occurring before COVID-19. In late 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 60 percent of all jobs would see more than 30 percent of their key tasks automated, affecting 400 million to 800 million jobs around the world by 2030. According to the Brookings Institution, over the three recessions that have occurred in the past 30 years, the pace of automation increased during each. COVID-19 seems to guarantee an escalation in automation in all our lives and businesses.
  4. Data is the new currency. Data and information will support your innovation. Rely on sound sources as a foundation going forward. This includes trade journals, primary literature and podcasts by credible sources.
  5. Know what other industries are doing. Global consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company have excellent guidance. An article from May 6, 2020, feels very applicable to the pest control industry: “Fashion’s digital transformation: Now or Never” discusses how and why some companies won’t survive the current crisis.
  6. Earn customer loyalty. PMPs know this but it’s always a good reminder: Loyalty is directly correlated to customer retention.

FINAL THOUGHTS. As we think of a possible second wave of COVID-19, we believe the science suggests it is coming. When and to what degree may be anyone’s guess. However, we as industry leaders have more control than we may believe. The guidelines and observations we are suggesting should help. From a robust IT infrastructure you invest in, PPE for all team members, supply chain awareness, financial oversight, and simply listening to and meeting customer and competitive demands, we can drive our businesses through a second, third or even more waves of COVID-19. It is possible there is not a COVID-19 “cure” short term and as such, we need to consider how to lead our businesses and industry through this difficult time not only today, but for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Faith Oi is an associate extension scientist at the University of Florida who specializes in urban entomology. Kemp Anderson is founder/president of Kemp Anderson Consulting. Theresa Childs is an associate with Kemp Anderson Consulting.

Authors’ note: The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is provided with the understanding that the authors are not herein engaged in rendering financial, legal, tax, accounting or other professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with the reader’s professional advisers. In no event will the authors be liable to any person, company or entity for any decision made or action taken in reliance on the information in this article or for any consequential, special or similar damages.