Editor’s note: Earlier this year, PCT hosted the Million Dollar Club, a half-day virtual event sponsored by Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators that focused on business development/growth initiatives specifically for pest management companies in the $500,000 to $2 million range. This feature article is a recap of “Building a Company Culture,” a session presented by Eric Gabe, vice president of East Coast Florida Operations, and Tim Pollard, senior executive vice president and COO of Arrow Exterminators.
What does making chicken sandwiches have to do with termite or fire ant control? The answer is that both businesses are culture-driven.
While it is easy to put metrics on sales or the number of accounts on a route, defining a company culture is one of those fuzzy areas that defies dollars-and-cents definitions. However, it will have a huge effect on the company’s bottom line.
“I can guarantee that every company has a company culture,” says Tim Pollard, chief operating officer for Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta, Ga. He has been in the industry, largely with Dow AgroSciences, for 24 years and now with Arrow Exterminators for the past eight years.
Pollard challenges every PCO to think about their firm’s company culture and ask whether that culture is the one that management intended. “If you are not intentional about your culture, it’s not going to turn out the way you want,” he warns.
CHICKEN SANDWICHES. Mark Miller, vice president of training and professional development at Chick-fil-A Corporation, Atlanta, has done a lot of thinking about corporate culture. He distilled his findings into a book called “Leaders Made Here.”
No matter whether you grab lunch at this $10 billion company’s location in Orlando or Chicago or Dallas, you have a uniform expectation of service and quality. And you know your sandwich is going to be good. Chick-fil-A has been able to protect their culture, even while growing above $10 billion, by having consistency and behaving in a consistent way.
Whether chicken or cockroaches, first management has to decide who it is as a company and what the company believes in. “That’s where everything’s going to flow from,” Pollard says.
He encourages managers to write down those beliefs and then to develop a set of core values for the company. “When done properly, everything will flow from this,” he says.
He points out that if a firm decides to build its culture in a certain way, management will be forced to make some tough decisions. “Some of those decisions might be unpopular at times,” Pollard says. But if a company is building its culture, management must make those tough decisions. “If you don’t, you’ll lose credibility with your people,” he warns.
DEFINING CULTURE. “Culture is the repeatable process of the leaders that we work for,” says Eric Gabe, vice president of Southeast Florida operations for Arrow. He started in 1995 as a termite technician and has seen and has helped the corporate culture change and grow.
However, culture is not what you want it to be. “It is what you and your teams do on a regular basis,” Pollard says. “If your actions and your words are misaligned then your words don’t have any credibility. Your team members are going to be watching what you do. To me the key word is consistency.”
Gabe defines six areas that are part of Arrow’s culture: (1) Trust; (2) Vision; (3) Core Values; (4) Generosity; (5) Sincerity; and (6) Follow-through.
“If trust is being built, you know your culture is headed in the right direction,” Gabe says. That might mean that when management tells an employee they are going to do something that it gets done. Workers can trust that and then get back to work quicker and be more productive.
Vision is a two-fold system that defines what the company expects from employees and what the company’s responsibility is to those employees. Arrow’s Vision is posted in each of its service centers, in the hallways at the home office, and is talked about before every single Friday meeting, Gabe says.
Vision consists of two things: a clear vision at the top of the company and hiring the right people to carry out that vision. Both are needed for Trust to develop.
SHARED CORE VALUES. Pollard emphasizes the need for a written value statement. For starters, he offers Arrow’s Core Values. Other companies may have other values — there is nothing magical in any one set. There are eight Values: Motivation, Initiative, Community, Excellence, Passion, Innovation, Growth and Safety. Around Arrow, they are grouped in fours, affectionately known by their acronyms, MICE and PIGS.“It’s a way for us to make these memorable within our company,” Pollard says.
Many of the Values are self-explanatory. Others are not so obvious. Their Community value is demonstrated by Arrow’s 100 service centers that average about $1.8 million annually. “We could have fewer service centers in a lot of these areas,” Pollard says, “but we’ve chosen to have service centers in each of the communities where we do business because it’s important for us to be a part of that community.”
The company tries to do everything with excellence. “We’re passionate about growth. We’re passionate about the way that we operate, the way we do business, the way we go to market,” he says.
Next in Arrow’s culture is Generosity. Generosity can be done through awards, recognition or bumps in pay. However, at Arrow that generosity includes the time that is given by those in leadership roles, including ownership and management.
Sincerity is manifest in wanting to help create a great culture. “It’s a feeling like you’re never bothering anyone at our company when you have a question,” Gabe says. “Everyone pitches in and tries to get to the root of a problem and find the solution so we can move on,” he says.
All of that is empty without Follow-through.
“I think Follow-through is the most important part of anything that we do,” Gabe believes. It ties back to communication. Follow-through is the action that finishes a project. It can also be a conversation had when a process is a bit slower than it was meant to be.
Good Follow-through closes the loop on any project. And it goes back to Trust. Both management and employees need to trust that anything brought up in open Follow-through conversations will not come back to bite them.
WHY IT WORKS. “You cannot buy your way into a culture. You have to live your way into a culture,” Pollard says. He emphasizes that Arrow is very intentional about what they do, the way they lead and the way they operate. “We are very intentional about our culture,” he states. So much so that they go to great lengths to protect their culture. There is no messing around.
“If someone is taking an axe to our culture and chopping it down, we’ve got to take that axe,” Pollard says. “We cannot allow that to happen.”
“I’ve lived Arrow culture since 1995,” Gabe says. He has seen the company culture change through the years. “The culture is a living, breathing part of a company,” Gabe says. “It is ever-changing. Just like a person grows, a company grows the same way and the culture grows with it,” he notes. “What kept me here is I felt like I was at a place that cared about me as a person,” he adds.
He says the culture of Arrow goes back to the beginning when the Thomas family set up recognition programs and emphasized pro-active communication from the top. “Culture is a repeatable process of the leaders we work for,” he says.
Employees do watch culture, even if they do not define it as such. An employee who cannot abide by the Culture probably should be asked to change jobs.
Face it: Everyone charges about the same thing for a service and uses similar materials.
“The reason that we make such a big deal about that is because we believe our culture is one of our greatest competitive advantages out in the marketplace,” Pollard said.
The author is a Cleveland, Ohio-based PCT contributing writer, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.