The Dirty Dozen: Part 2 of 2

Features - Human Resources

Why do some companies fail and others succeed? Here are 6 (of 12) tips to help you focus on the human side of human resources. Hiring the right people, maintaining their employment, motivating them and helping them grow is a huge factor in the success or failure of any company.

November 14, 2016

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Each article addresses six aspects of the human side of management. Part one appeared in the October issue of PCT.

After 32 years in the pest control business I have learned a lot. I’ve done most jobs in the industry and continued moving up the ladder (in management, district management and national training departments). I’ve been a partner in two pest control firms and started (and still am with) Discovery Retreats, now working with Pat VanHooser. I have been a management consultant for the past 25+ years. I’ve worked primarily with family pest control businesses, from start-ups to national companies (mostly with firms between $225,000 and $100 million).

Most of this article is aimed at personnel in family pest control businesses, but the content is applicable to corporations as well. Two major differences is that in larger companies you have more cash and loan power, as well as a lot of backup resources (trucks, labor, insurance, legal, accounting, etc.). But, in a family business it isn’t as easy to do it all by yourself — and then you have the dilemma of promoting, demoting or firing your relatives. Anyone out there disagree with that? It is very tough on both the business and the family.

This article focuses on the human side of management. Hiring the right people, maintaining their employment, motivating them and helping them grow is a huge factor in the success or failure of any pest management company. What follows are six more tips to help you grow your pest control business:

7. Career Building

Where am I going in this company? What is the future for me and my family? What is my earning potential? When can I afford to buy a car? When can I afford to buy a house? When can I afford to get married? When can I afford a honeymoon? When can I afford to have a baby?

I can already hear some readers yelling at me: “What does this have to do with me? These are not my problems, they are my employees’ problems. Directly, you are right. Indirectly, you are wrong.

The point here is that these are you employees’ areas of concern — not yours. However, for them to move forward with their lives, they are dependent on the opportunities you provide them to move up, monetarily, within your organization.

Let’s explore this further.

If a route technician wants to earn more money, he or she can have increased and more timely collections, make more sales, create more referrals, etc. Doing these things helps them become better at their position. And, they can earn more money as well.

Then there can be an increase in money for becoming a lead technician, trainer or supervisor. This helps the company move forward and helps the employee grow their income (which assists with his or her goals).

Career-building builds companies. This is one of the biggest reasons that companies lose good people.

When I began my career in this business (which seems like it was about 120 years ago — when we were stepping on roaches!) I was married with two little kids. I was able to buy a house, take care of my family and go on vacations that we only dreamed of previously. I continued to move up within the company and make more money. I worked hard and put in more hours than anyone. I worked a half day just about every Saturday. I was not asked to, and was not paid to be there. I was on salary plus bonuses — good bonuses. I was building a career. It wasn’t just a job to me!

I like to hire people for careers. They get it. They know they have to work hard and prove their value through deeds — not just through talk.

Those people need to be tracked and incentivized. You give them goals and training. You mentor them and do anything else you can to help them attain their goals within the company.

When I was a national training director we put together a career-building checklist within the company. Level one was entry level, which included a checklist of specific licenses needed: Pest, Termite, Fumigation, etc. Training in each area was completed. The next level could be supervisory, management, district management, etc.

There were also things like leadership courses (we had one three-day course we developed and four other leadership courses). Additionally we had six two-day courses on business/administrative topics.

It was both a development outline and tracking tool. If you want a career — this is what you have to do to move forward.

It takes time and money (and even some thought) to put this together whether you have a large company or a small company. Attaining talent is one thing; moving them forward is another.

To me, this was costly, but I considered it an investment in the future of our company.

Some might say, “What if I go through all of this and they leave to become my competitor?” You should ask any national company that question. The fact of the matter is, they likely trained most of their competitors. That’s just life. And considering the success these companies have experienced over the years, I don’t think it has hurt them too much, do you?

Besides, most of the people who left did so because they had poor managers or supervisors. They didn’t listen to their ideas and didn’t care about those employees. The best managers, supervisors and owners have the least turnover.

The companies that offer their employees great service, great training and great opportunities win.

We are talking here about employees and employers being obligated to one another and benefitting from this mutually-beneficial relationship.


8. Employee Appreciation

Most of us want to feel appreciated, be it at work, be it with your spouse, be it with your significant other, or be it with your friends and family members. When we do a good job at something it is great for your own self-worth but a little appreciation from others is definitely a positive gesture.

It is the same thing at work. Ed Koch was the mayor of New York many years ago. He was often found walking around the streets of the Big Apple asking the question “How am I doing?” People loved the opportunity to tell him. And those New Yorkers had no trouble telling him exactly what they thought. There was always praise and always complaints. His job was to evaluate the situation from his constituents as they saw it. Overall, he was considered by many to be a great mayor and leader.

Showing true appreciation to your employees can be the difference between them just having a job and actually looking forward to going to work.

I know one owner/manager who stays in the office until ALL of his employees return for the day. That means that even though some of them may be out until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., when they come in he is there (usually with a few sodas and sometimes fried chicken). He does this because he feels he should show them that he is there for them and appreciates them. I interviewed his employees and they told me that he doesn’t have to do that (he has a family) but they all appreciated him and they didn’t mind going the extra mile because he does the same for them.

No, I am not telling you all to put in more hours. This is just an example of successful human resources management.

Joni Felts was a partner of mine in a pest control company is Dallas. Joni used to bake birthday cakes for every employee and adorn them with a decoration of something they enjoyed (tennis, skiing, fishing, whatever). They loved it. They looked forward to it and they appreciated the fact she took the time to make them feel special on their birthday.

There are hundreds of ways to show your appreciation — from a simple “thank you” for a job well done, to weekend getaways, to gift certificates and cash. The point is that showing appreciation to your employees is appreciated by your employees.

By the way, organized and standardized performance evaluations should be given at least once a year. Employees need to know how they are doing. Performance evaluations may or may not be tied into pay evaluations.

There is a great software program you can buy for this — Performance Now. It helps you provide a professional performance review. You just fill in the blanks — it is already formatted for you.

You might be saying: “What if the review is bad?” It is what it is. At least it shows where the employee is — the areas they are doing well and the areas that need improvement and how to achieve those improvements.

I know of many companies that have ongoing employee reviews, monthly. The point is “Why wait?” Being honest in your evaluation and expressing your displeasure and/or appreciation goes a long way.

A young man with a fantastic attitude worked for me a long time ago. He was always smiling. The customers loved him, the other employees could always depend on him for anything. He would bring in pizza for the office or sales department or service department. If there was a callback on another route that had to be done — day or night — he would do it with a smile. What an attitude.

One day he came in crying. His wife was in the hospital; she had a miscarriage. I told him to take the entire week off and take care of her. He said he couldn’t afford to take off the week. I told him I would handle it. We had an all-company emergency meeting. Every route person and licensed sales person offered to do his accounts and give the commission to him. The office staff baked and cooked every day and delivered food to his house. When he came back to work — his paycheck was more than he had ever seen.

Needless to say, that was the most impressive expression of appreciation I have ever witnessed in my career.

The point is that we all could and should be thinking about showing appreciation to our employees.


9. Follow Up

The success or failure of many companies I have worked with has been dependent on follow up. Both my consulting career as well as the Discovery Retreats involve a tremendous amount of information. The companies must first be organized and then we work on the growth and profit of the company. Many ideas are developed, along with the information needed to process those ideas.

Then, about 30 percent of those companies follow up and do well. The other 70 percent hold on to that information for the right time to work on it. Unfortunately, more often than not, the right time never comes.

Has this ever happened to someone you know? The owner/manager meets with his or her personnel and says, “Here are my plans for the future…” and then nothing happens. Staff hears from the manager that they all would be reviewed soon... that was two years ago. Employees also heard that the company was ordering two new trucks...and that was over a year ago. The office personnel were told the manager was going to pick up toner for the copy machines...and that was a week ago.

I hear this a lot when I interview employees. They know your intentions are good, but you become undependable at best and a liar at worst. Or perhaps you are just a politician.

These are the people who call me for answers to urgent questions that they have, and then take a week or so to call me back and often forget what the urgency is/was.

Remember, your word is your bond!

Poor follow up is everywhere. I recently was waiting 10 days for the answer to a question I had for the surgeon who worked on my back two years ago. I called for the second time last week and in both cases I was told I would get an answer in one or two days. My gardener missed a week and I spoke to him twice. Both times he apologized and said he would call me back with a make-up time. I know you all have the same problems. It’s everywhere. We get frustrated and cancel services because their inaction or follow up frustrates us and we interpret that as them not caring about us. (But they do remember to take our money.) Unfortunately, this is all too common in business.

There’s an old saying: Underpromise and overdeliver. I truly believe in this. If I promise to get something to someone on Wednesday, I make a note for follow up on Monday. Then I call and tell them I apologize for getting it back to them so soon. That’s an example of underpromising and overdelivering.

An important lesson I learned from Truly Nolen was “Don’t ever tell someone you are going to do something unless you write it down.” That’s why he always keeps a piece of paper in his shirt pocket. He writes down every personal commitment and he ALWAYS delivers. As a result, his employees have learned to respect him and his word. I have kept paper in my shirt pocket ever since.

At the end of the day, I take all my notes and apply them accordingly. I rarely miss.

One of my friends told me a story about when he was a kid and he promised his friends he would bring a bat and ball to the baseball field and meet them at noon on Saturday.

He decided to go fishing instead. All of the kids went to the baseball field, waited and then came to his home. His mother apologized and when he came home she told him that his friends were looking for him. He said he decided he would rather go fishing.

His mother went to the living room and positioned two chairs so they were facing one another, sitting across from him.

The conversation went along these lines. “You are my son and you represent our family name and image as we are seen in the community. John, when you tell someone you are going to do something and you don’t — you are a liar. And no son of mine will ever represent this family as a family of liars. Apologize to everyone who showed up and don’t ever do that again to me or your family.”

John told me that ever since then, his mother’s words ring in his ears if he doesn’t follow up properly.

She was a wise woman in many ways. And let me tell you something, it makes me think before I commit to a date to get back to someone. I try to build in time for unknown little emergencies to pop up. They always seem to appear.

I have been writing on and off for trade magazines for many years and I have never missed a deadline. In fact, I am always early. The point is that your actions speak much louder than your words.

This is not as difficult as it seems. You must be committed.

10. Power Crazed

Some people have such huge egos it is amazing. Yes, I am smart, good looking and suave but I can back that up — talk to my mother. (That was humor.) On a serious note, some people are never wrong and expect you to simply do whatever you tell them to because you are in charge.

Have you ever heard of the term “fragging?” Here’s a definition from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: M26 grenade, issued to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War, and used in many fragging incidents.

Fragging is used to describe the deliberate killing or attempted killing by a soldier of a fellow soldier, usually a superior officer or non-commissioned officer. The word was coined by military personnel of the United States during the Vietnam War, when such killings were most often attempted with a fragmentation grenade, sometimes making it appear as though the killing was accidental or during combat with the enemy. The term fragging is now often used to encompass any means used to deliberately and directly cause the death of military colleagues.

The high number of fragging incidents in the latter years of the Vietnam War were symptomatic of the unpopularity of the war with the American public and the breakdown of discipline in the U.S. Armed Forces. Documented and suspected fragging incidents totaled nearly 900 from 1969 to 1972. Fragging has not been as frequent since the Vietnam War ended.

If there is an officer who doesn’t know what he is doing and/or is totally disliked by their soldiers, those soldiers may “frag” the officer.

No, I am not suggesting that if you are power hungry and your people dislike you that they get their hands on any weapons. In this country they can simply quit.

Once there was an owner who attended one of my Discovery Retreats and after two days he said he wanted to hire me to help him and his company out. I asked what he learned at the retreat and he said, “Honestly. Nothing. But I do think you know what you are doing and I’d like to have you evaluate my company and make your recommendations.”

There are hundreds of ways to show your appreciation — from a simple ‘thank you’ for a job well done, to weekend getaways, to gift certificates and cash. The point is that showing appreciation to your employees is appreciated by your employees.”

I asked if, during the last two days, he had picked up any good information from any of the attendees. He said, “No — nothing!”

I then told him that I wasn’t the guy he was looking for. Why? Because, all of the 23 attendees combined knew a lot more than I ever would know and if he couldn’t learn anything from them — I would be a waste of his time and money.

Needless to say, I never took the job with him and he is probably still bad mouthing me. Fine.

The point is that when you stop learning from others, you will lose.

One of the national vendors I worked for in the past wanted to use my speaking service to do a keynote at a state convention. As we got closer to the date I called my contact several times over a month and he never returned my call. I then got another vendor to sponsor me and I did the presentation.

At the presentation I was told that this guy was really angry with me. So I went up to him and he said, “I thought I was supposed to sponsor you. What happened?” I told him that I had made six or seven calls to him and he never returned my calls, so I went elsewhere.

He sternly said, “I will call you back when I am ready!”

I calmly made an intelligent suggestion as to what he could do with his phone.

Mother Theresa had an enormous amount of power, as did Gandhi and many others. It is best, in my opinion, to treat all people as equals.

In short, a quote from the Bible: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” It’s really quite that simple.


11. Mutual Obligations (Performance Evaluations)

Quite often I have been involved with situations where the boss feels that he or she is a great communicator. When I interviewed the employees, they said the boss’s communication with them was terrible. It was much like, “I am the greatest quarterback in the world. My only problem is that I can’t find a receiver who can catch the ball!”

You can go on thinking that you are doing everything right but they don’t follow through, they don’t listen, they don’t understand, etc.

Whenever I have taken on a new client I tell them that I do not represent them. I represent the company. So when you hire me I may not tell you what you want to hear, but rather what you need to know.

So the very first day or two I interview many employees to get their perspective of what reality is. If the common thread is miscommunication from you to them, they are probably right. The next step is to come up with a workable, agreeable plan to eliminate this clash of opinions.

In my book, “Bug People to Business People,” chapter 18 is titled “Your Performance Evaluation.” When I was in management I used to send out surveys to my employees basically asking how I was doing.

I recall one time when one of my employees asked me to add the question: “Do I give employees enough praise?” I said, “I give you plenty of praise, don’t I?” He reiterated that I should put it down as part of the survey. I did.

On a scale of 1-10 (10 meaning I give praise to everyone all the time) I thought I would get about an 8.

I averaged a 4. I never had a 4 average on anything. I was upset. Angry. Ticked off.

That evening I thought about it a lot. If that was how all of my employees felt — I have to admit that I am not meeting their expectations and I can improve on that.

So for the next six months I went out of my way to praise my employees. I worked hard at it. I figured that the next survey I should average on the scale of 1-10 — probably about a 12.

I averaged a 7! At first I was disappointed but then after much thought I decided I can live with that. A 4 to a 7 is a hefty increase and my guess is that I could reach a 10 but I would be in therapy quite a while.

There have been many times that I thought I was communicating well but I wasn’t. So I had to better clarify my memos, simplify communication and learn how to better train my employees so that they could comprehend more effectively. Once we had an eight-hour day devoted to watching training videos. The feedback was, “Shoot me, kill me.” So I learned from ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) that anything more than two consecutive hours is usually a waste. We altered our training program based on the feedback we received.

Being open to positive feedback is easy. Being open to negative feedback, well, most of the time we get defensive. It takes time and patience to admit that you may be the problem.


12. Family Favorites?

Working in a family business is tough. I say this as someone who has been working in and on family businesses for almost 50 years. I have worked with first, second and third generations. Each transition is unique and difficult.

According to Forbes magazine, family businesses generate more than 50 percent of the United States Gross National Product and less than one-third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership. Another 50 percent don’t survive the transition from second to third generation.

Working through these transitions can be challenging, and it isn’t for the faint of heart, but it can be done.

Presently I am working with about five of these companies. One of them is transitioning from second to third generation and I can write an entire book on just this transition. It went from the owner facing the dilemma “Should I sell this company to avoid wrecking my family and/or retirement?” and “Can Lloyd salvage this for all of us?” Now, after about two years of quarterly three- to four-day visits, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Next year we may actually have the transition plan in place (and, I might add, a compatible team). You would not believe the fighting I witnessed on that first visit.

First off, in a corporate setting (as opposed to a family business) you fire someone when they are not meeting the company’s standards. See how easy that is? However, if this is a family business and that someone is your son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, niece, nephew, cousin, wife or husband — it ain’t so easy, is it?

When you put up with such behavior, other employees see favoritism, two different sets of standards, blindness or other negative connotations. It just doesn’t sit right with anyone and this causes turnover. Employees will grumble that “He (or she) gets away with everything because they’re related and I have to pick up after them — it isn’t fair.”

I have always believed that when I hired an employee that I was as accountable to him or her as he or she was to me. When I had a new hire that I felt I could work well with I wanted to give that person good pay so that they could enjoy life and support their family.”

Other rumblings you might hear are: “I am tired of playing peacemaker in this family and work is no longer enjoyable. I can’t stand seeing my family fighting anymore.” This is usually when I get called in. They are at wit’s end.

Just about all of the companies in our Discovery Retreats are family operations. Pat VanHooser and I live in this world.

Here’s a typical call from a client:

“We have a drunk driving policy that states that if an employee receives a DUI it will result in termination. But this time it was my son and my wife does not want me to fire him.”

Or, “My brother and I get a company gas credit card and we are allowed to use it on weekends as well. My brother is abusing it by filling up his wife’s car and he rented a Winnebago and used the card on his vacation trip.” I could go on and on and on with these scenarios.

To rectify this, you need a family mission statement along with a family standard rulebook that outlines the “what ifs.” It is easy to establish this before any family members enter the business — it is a lot more difficult after the fact.

I worked for my father-in-law for five years. He had five brothers in the business. His son and me (the son-in-law) were the only second-generation members in the business. We both could have run the company. But the other four brothers didn’t have any relatives in the business so why should they give the business to their brother’s kids?

I left the company. They sold it. My brother-in-law quit.

Succession planning should be done early. There are books on it and there are attorneys and companies that can help you with this task. The Discovery Retreats can help as well.

The point is that the longer you wait the less chance your company will have to survive. On the positive side, the sooner you work on succession planning the better chance your company will have to succeed and continue its legacy.

EPILOGUE. I have always believed that when I hired an employee I was as accountable to him or her as he or she was to me. When I had a new hire that I felt I could work well with I wanted to give that person good pay so that they could enjoy life and support their family. I felt that this person, with my help, could move up in the company and have a career — not just a job and earn a decent living. Never did I consider hiring someone at minimum wage, as I felt my employees deserved more. It was my job to create that learning environment for the employee. It was my job to teach and provide opportunities for them to grow and profit and it was their job to perform to the best of their abilities!

I also understand the ripple effect that a job has on the family. My father hated his job and bitched and moaned about it every day. He came home tired and ticked off. He took it out on us.

If the employee is making a good living and enjoys his job, he will have a happier family and home life. That is the ripple effect.

If this article helps you (as I hope it has) and you, in turn, help your employees, the ripple effect widens and we all succeed.

The author has been involved in the pest control industry for more than 30 years. He was certified in Arizona and Texas as well as licensed in California for pest, termite and fumigation. He was the first national training director for Truly Nolen of America. Since 1988, Smigel has provided consulting services for hundreds of pest control companies throughout the U.S. Learn more about his training programs online at