Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Both articles will address six aspects of human resources management. Look for part two in next month’s 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 tips to help you grow your pest control business:

1. Hiring

Many companies are formed because a frustrated entrepreneur, who once worked for a large company, decides he can do things a lot better than the overly structured and/or disjointed supervisor or manager he worked for. He (or she) decides, “I can do this a lot better than they are doing it. And I can make a lot more money doing it.”

So off he goes. He gets licensed, buys a pick-up truck and names his company. Abracadabra Pest Control is formed. Sometimes people are underhanded and they will take their customers with them. They may or may not be sued...but that’s another story.

Then one day his firm grows big enough to bring in another employee. Uh-oh.

Rather than getting professional training on how to hire and hiring someone off the streets, he brings in a good friend or — uh oh — a relative.

Unfortunately, if his good friend or relative does not work out, there is a tremendous hesitancy to let this person go (another problem we will discuss later).

How do we train this route person? Is there a job description? A procedure manual? Does your company have a mission statement? Do you need all of this? Yes!

Are there label tests? Math tests? You see, without verifying what they are learning you may be opening yourself up to improper billing or worse yet — misapplications that could lead to potential lawsuits.

Hiring attitude is a major step in the right direction. Checking references is also important. Nowadays, many companies go to Facebook to vet potential candidates. I know a few companies that perform credit checks to see if their personal credit is decent. They figure if they can’t handle their own money, do I want them handling mine? (Check with your attorney to see if this is allowable in your state.)

I often am asked if I think resumes are worth reading. My answer is yes if you like reading fiction! That’s because it’s so easy for a candidate to customize his/her resume to the job for which he/she is applying.

There are books, videos, courses, etc., on hiring. Don’t think you know it all. You need to learn what questions you can ask legally — and what you can’t. (Usually the litmus test is making sure all of your questions are applicable to the job.)

I know it isn’t easy to hire a consultant or find the time to become educated in hiring, but if you make a mistake and hire the wrong person — it could cost you tens of thousands of dollars.


2. Organizational Skills

An office worker received a call from an irate customer who already contacted the Better Business Bureau and complained about the company’s non-response. After calming down the customer and scheduling a follow-up visit with the service technician, it was clear the employee handled the situation really well.

However, the manager and the supervisor had no idea what happened and were out of the loop. There were no policies implemented to communicate this type of issue to the rest of the company. So this could happen over and over again. Why was it that there was no tracking to make sure customers’ complaints were handled? Why was it that the company sent the same person (who had ignored all of the customer’s previous calls) back to the complaining customer’s house to resolve the incident?

Since management was not made aware of this incident they were not able to respond by putting new procedures in place. Thus, it could happen again with other departments. Eventually, you will be served with a lawsuit and wonder why.

Creating flow charts to track collections, cancellations, potential sales and route control is just part of an organizational plan that can yield a better office environment to eliminate confusion and enhance growth and profits.

(A side note: Although I would love to endorse a software program for this industry, one that helps track the issues previously discussed, I have heard pros and cons on all of them. Remember that no matter what computers and software programs your firm uses, they are only one part of helping to maintain customer relationships.)

Along with communication and computer skills, organizational skills are some of the most important for a pest management staff.

How many times did you really know — deep down inside — that this person is not a fit? You knew it but you chose to ignore your gut feeling. In most, if not all cases, when you go against your gut feelings you lose — and so does your company.”
It starts at the top and works its way down, the old “trickle-down organizational skills” problem.

Organizational skills for your office include effective communication, working on transferable job skills, and staying organized and focused on your “prioritized” plans. It also includes keeping your employees organized and focused. Keep tabs on the pulse of the company through reports and reporting systems. Time management, scheduling and having coordinated status meetings along the way helps keep the business running smoothly.

I know one company whose owner changes his priorities daily. It drives his people crazy. He is very creative but he keeps shifting his priorities without completing anything. He just keeps piling on tasks to his management team and many of them leave the company because they just can’t keep up with him. And he won’t hire the necessary personnel to fulfill his daily “commands.”

When you jump on your horse and ride off in all directions, you will have a problem getting anywhere and you will have no idea where you are going, how to get there or where you are now. You have formed a perfect circular firing squad!

And, as in the Hans Christian Andersen short tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” your team will not come forward (in most cases) to tell you that you need to stop and organize yourself so that the company can get organized.

I have worked with many companies where this type of environment exists. After interviewing their employees, I’ve heard about the general chaos that the boss and/or their managers create.

A lack of organizational skills will lead to turnover and create even more chaos. It’s like a feeding frenzy. Before you know it, it’s chaos everywhere.

It is best to slow down and/or stop yourself and take inventory of where you are. How did you get there and what do you need to do to get to where you are going? Make sense?

If you can’t do it, get some support. Get some training. Remember this: What got you to where you are may not get you to where you want to go.

3. Firing

There have been a few owners that I have worked for in the past that actually enjoyed firing people. Personally, I chose not to work with them again. It is rarely pleasant even though it has to be done. It also needs to be done quickly.

If you let someone go and your people say things like “I’m glad you finally let him go because…”; or “It’s about time, that guy had some problems”; or “I was wondering when you would finally get around to firing that guy” — they are giving you a message. Your employees knew you should have let this person go before you knew it.

Then, you ask yourself: “Why didn’t they say something to me about this before?” Good question. Probably because they either thought you were not approachable (another problem to review later) or because, from your track record, they knew you wouldn’t do anything about it anyway. Many years ago, I put together a list for one of our Discovery Retreats about this very subject:

12 Reasons Bad Employees Don’t Get Fired

  1. The employee has a relationship with someone higher up.
  2. The boss relies on the employee.
  3. The employee brings more value to the company than he or she costs.
  4. The boss thinks it could be worse.
  5. The boss is afraid of the employee.
  6. The boss feels sorry for the employee.
  7. The boss doesn’t want to go through the hiring process again.
  8. The employee knows something unsavory about someone at the company.
  9. The employee has everyone fooled.
  10. He or she is not really a bad employee.
  11. That person is a relative.
  12. If you fire that person another one will quit.

Here’s the bottom line: The less we listen to our gut feelings, the bigger the trouble we are in.

Think about it. How many times did you really know — deep down inside — that this person was not a good fit? You knew it but you chose to ignore your gut feeling. In most, if not all cases, when you go against your gut feelings you lose — and so does your company.

It was rare that I looked forward to firing someone. But, if you don’t do something about this particular person, the situation will become a bigger and bigger problem.

Look around within your company and consistently ask yourself: “Who is my weakest link?” You probably know who that is right now. Then, the next question: “Why is he or she still there?”

In my opinion, firing is as important as hiring. We are not perfect and can make the mistake of hiring a bad worker who happens to present himself well during the job interview. The longer it takes to rectify a hiring mistake, the worse off your company will be.

4. Going Against Your Gut Feelings

As we discussed previously, when we go against our gut feelings we usually lose. It’s not a good idea. However, we talked mostly about our negative gut feelings. Let’s talk about our positive gut feelings.

A young single mom was hired into one of my client’s offices. She started out as a support team member for the sales development team and eventually moved into an office manager role. She did not have experience in this area, but she was a quick study, which is why she was promoted. Her commitment and professionalism was apparent in everything she did — from the way she dressed and interacted with others to her innate intelligence and tireless work ethic. We knew she had potential.

So, following our gut feelings, she is now in charge of the office and the office is becoming more efficient and organized. Additionally, we are following our gut feelings and she will also be invited to attend many of the upper staff’s management meetings where her input will be solicited. We want her to see how the office is affected by both sales and service and vice versa.

Our long-term goal is to potentially set her up for full management and/or keep her challenged — so that as we grow, we can find additional opportunities for her.

Our gut feelings are positive about her and we must keep her challenged and reward her as such. As she grows and profits — so will the company. She has a natural leadership style and people love working both with and for her. She represents the company well and has the brains and guts to not only do the job, but do the job well.

Many companies would keep her in one position and not be concerned about it. But when your gut feeling says that she and we can do more — go for it.

5. Acceptance of Mediocrity

This is a subtle problem that seems fairly pervasive throughout the industry. Companies grow to a certain size — let’s say $1 million in sales — and then they are satisfied. They’re making decent money — enough to support their lifestyle — and they’re content. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But here’s the catch: Many of their employees are making a lot less than they are (which is normal) and they have little chance of progressing towards their goals.

If your firm has just a few people who are happy with the pay and lack of potential for bigger and better goals, then great!

If, on the other hand, your employees want to progress and the company is stagnant — then there is a problem. They will quit and move on.

Some owners figure that’s the price they pay and they’re OK with it. These non-challenged workers leave for another job, or leave and launch their own pest control business, becoming a direct competitor with you.

Either way, there are problems. Even if that person leaves for another industry, the replacement cost is quite high. The lowest statistic I’ve read for the replacement of a technician in this industry is about $10,000.

There are still companies spraying baseboards. It’s fast and easy. In the 1970s, IPM was being adopted throughout the industry. Today, NPMA recommends IPM as a standard. And so do just about all of the manufacturers and distributors. IPM, which features both pesticide and non-pesticide approaches, has been proven to be a more effective treatment method. And yet, settling for baseboard spraying still prevails at some companies.

So let’s say you do baseboard spraying and are making money. Who cares? Well, more than likely you will receive callbacks with this inferior service but — what the heck — you’re still making money.

Then a technician who is trying to learn the trade reads about IPM or reads the label. The technician asks the boss why the company is spraying baseboards when the label says otherwise. The boss tells him to just ignore the label and keep on spraying.

Sooner or later, the technician gets the message that the label is the law! Then what? These clashes quietly keep happening. They are often noticed, sometimes not noticed and/or ignored. Eventually what goes around comes around…

The cumulative effect of these internal incidents is an unhealthy and unhappy company culture.

6. Lack of Vision

There’s an old saying “It is better to have a goal and miss it than to not have a goal and hit it.” This means that with a goal at least you are heading in the right direction as opposed to not knowing where you are going.

Written objectives, like mission statements, help clarify who you are and what you are about, and they often include the company’s goals. Almost all of the Fortune 500 companies have mission statements. Both of the pest control companies I was involved with had them.

Everyone in my companies understood who we were and where we were going. We met with staff consistently and reviewed the status of our goals, such as: reducing callbacks by two percent; generating $1 million or more in sales; opening a new office in a certain area by a certain date; or adding five sales representatives in the coming year.

As motivation you can have daily or weekly reports openly displayed to track your progress towards the goals. The more often employees are reminded of this by you — the more important it becomes for them. If you want to drive from San Diego to Boston in 30 days while stopping at certain sites along the way, you have to have a plan that is tracked or you will never make it in time.

The point is that most people want to work for goals and/or towards goals so they can plan on their future. As an example, if you were planning to open an office in three years at a certain location — a service representative who wants to move up the ladder or earn more money might say, “How can I get to that office?”; “Who will be managing that office?”; “Will you need a sales rep for that office?”

There’s a great old saying that fits here: “Prepare — Prevent or Repair — Repent.”

Involving employees in the future can give them hope and a great incentive to help reach the goals of the company — for THEIR reasons, not yours.

Then you can enter into the wonderful world of career building. (This is a great lead in to the next point, which you can read in these pages next month!)

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 completed consulting work with hundreds of pest control companies throughout the United States. Learn more at his training programs online at www.lloydsmigel.com.