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In 2004, Chase Hazelwood joined Go-Forth Pest Control. The 22-year-old was straight out of college and determined to bring his father’s High Point, N.C., company into the modern era, but things didn’t go exactly as planned.

“When I came into the company, I really shook a lot of stuff up and I was really abrupt. I was young enough that I had all this fire, ambition; naive enough that I didn’t know what wouldn’t work, and so I tried everything anyway and I broke a lot of the expectations,” recalls Hazelwood.

This approach didn’t go over so well with employees, and about one-third left the company. Only after learning some hard lessons was Hazelwood able to successfully make changes that grew annual company revenue from the single digits to 20 percent.

Changing an organization is no easy task. According to research by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, 70 percent of business transformations fail. Whether you’re making one change or many, success depends on the following:

EMPLOYEE BUY-IN. To paraphrase an article titled “Managing Change: An Overview” by Drs. Nancy Lorenzi and Robert Riley in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (2000), people don’t automatically resist change; rather, they resist having it imposed on them. “It doesn’t work well when the senior leader in an organization tells people what the change is going to be,” explains Dr. Carole Barnett, an organizational change expert and associate professor of management at the University of New Hampshire.

Instead, the senior leader should facilitate and engage employees in the change process. “There needs to be sincere, collaborative, creative interpersonal communication between senior leaders, managers and employees in order for people to understand not just what the change is going to be and what is needed, but also what is the change process going to look like? What do we have to do? What do we have to learn?” she says.

And buy-in may be needed from more than just the obvious people. For instance, a routing software change might not only affect field personnel, but also employees involved in operations, training programs, incentive programs, sales and even accounting. “They all have to be involved, and if they are, then things will work out OK,” says Barnett.

EMPLOYEE FEARS. For those involved, organizational change normally involves a real or perceived threat of personal loss, states the American Medical Informatics Association journal article. This threat may range from the fear of losing one’s job to the annoyance of having established routines disrupted.

A senior leader should take the time to fully understand these concerns. “The senior leader has to be able to learn more than probably he or she knows at the moment about the needs of the employees,” points out Barnett.

It’s also important to understand which parts of the organization may be more resistant, which varies depending on the type of change. Resistance is not just about employee attitudes. “It’s about the function that they are responsible for delivering. Some functions are less flexible than others,” Barnett reminds. As such, employees may resist a change if they feel it impedes their ability to deliver on tasks.

Focus groups and open group dialogue can help leaders understand employees’ specific and not always obvious concerns, adds Barnett.

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WHEN TO PUSH. Early on, Hazelwood and his team determined that Go-Forth’s competitive advantage was its ability to adapt to changes in the marketplace compared to its large rivals. “So, we really focused on being able to change quickly and the speed of change. Some of our people didn’t want to deal with that,” he says.

His urgency for change also was driven by the fact that the company was not making money. Employees didn’t have nice service vehicles or equipment. “We were in debt up to our eyeballs,” recalls Hazelwood, who was frustrated that change wasn’t happening faster. “I had a lack of patience.” He also felt no one cared as much about the company as he did. “That was naive,” he admits.

Typically, employees need time to understand the reason for change and the payoff, and to engage in the change process, unless it’s a crisis situation. “When there’s a crisis, people behave differently; people respond differently to a demand for change,” says Barnett. If the need for change is urgent but not necessarily apparent, it’s up to the senior leader to communicate the benefits of acting quickly.

It’s harder to change a large organization. “The more people there are, the more challenging it is to effect change quickly and effectively,” says Barnett. Large or small, companies with collaborative, respectful, happy cultures are more receptive to change; companies with dysfunctional cultures marked by lack of trust or antagonism find change much more difficult, she says.

DEVELOPING SUCCESS. “In the very beginning, I had completely unrealistic expectations of what people would accomplish. I did not build systems to help people succeed,” recalls Hazelwood, who was more focused on improving performance numbers than developing people to advance those numbers.

He learned the importance of documenting processes and holding people to those standards. “If you don’t teach them how you want it done and then don’t hold them accountable to do it that way, then you’ll never get what you expect,” he says. Consistency is essential, he points out, whether it’s how you maintain vehicles or perform service.

 

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When there are no procedures to follow or checks to hold people accountable, managers get caught in the mindset that they don’t have good technicians, which results in a revolving door of hiring and firing, adds Hazelwood. As such, he has since built systems covering everything “from how we refill the coffee maker to how we do a termite job.” He also has created extensive programs to advance employees’ personal and professional growth.

ENLISTING OUTSIDE HELP. Initially, Hazelwood was inexperienced in the industry. “I didn’t know how to build a profitable pest control business. We weren’t making money. I really didn’t know how to grow anything fast,” he says. He started a lawn care service, but that only served as “a major distraction” and made his other problems worse. He realized he needed help managing people. “I really kind of had to reinvent myself,” he admits.

Now 38, he has a strategic human resources consultant who helps him and his managers focus on employee development. “I would have never considered that in 2005,” says Hazelwood, who bought Go-Forth in 2013. In 2020, the company did almost $10 million in revenue.

In addition, Hazelwood has a personal business coach and participates in a CEO forum attended by leaders of large organizations with thousands of employees. He said these organizations give him feedback that he can’t necessarily get from industry associations.

“There are some leadership challenges that demand the insight and wisdom of external helpers,” agrees Barnett.

According to the Workplace Survey conducted for PCT and the National Pest Management Association that was published in the January 2021 issue of PCT, 31 percent of pest management professionals said their companies offered external mentoring programs.

Three-fourths of respondents said leadership classes provided by the pest management industry would be of value to their companies.

The survey was compiled by independent research firm Readex Research and sponsored by BASF.

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.