Secrets to Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining Good Talent in Property Restoration

Property restoration is labor-intensive. As you build your company and scale for growth, you will need good people. Once you have hired all of the friends, family, and referrals from within your inner circles, what are you going to do to attract and retain new recruits? Restorers across the county are having similar issues and hiring is consistently topic number one when professionals meet to discuss their common struggles. Yet, rather than dig deep, look in the mirror, and make some real changes, we often fall into the odd comfort of shared misery. I will do my best to share some ideas that will help you to shorten your DANG learning curve for recruiting, hiring, and retaining good talent. Before we go any further, I will warn you about what you already know, being intentional is key to success but it is no guarantee of it. You will have to STOP doing certain things that are distracting you from your progress and START doing those things that develop the right mindset and habits for growth.

Back in 2017, I wrote an article for YFS Magazine, which opened with this snarky headline, Whenever a business experiences consistently high employee turnover, strong leaders understand that the key to success is to always blame someone else. This was true then and has only accelerated with time and the events of 2020. So, before we perpetuate the narrative that younger generations are lazy, let’s analyze whether it bears merit. Consider the following, a candidate can work for either:

  1. Your property restoration company where they will be on call 24 hours a day, will have to wade through sewage, work in various climates, and be exposed to unnamed hazards.

  2. Or, they could get the same (or similar pay) at a company with predictable hours, health insurance, free coffee, and college assistance.

Restorers need to be honest about what they are offering in comparison to the market.

If you were assessing this scenario without bias to your needs as a restoration company owner or manager, which option would you choose? Would you choose the coffee shop for $______ (fill-in-the-blank) dollars an hour or the water damage mitigation company that still wants to hire technicians at pay rates from the 1990s? While your blood may boil thinking about how the insurance companies haven’t raised their rates to pay you for your services, you would be doubling down on the blame game rather than addressing the issue at hand. It may feel good to complain, but doing so will net you nothing in the recruitment game nor in the compensation for services argument. Money alone will not attract good candidates, nor will it compel poor performers to transform themselves into quality workers. As you hunt for the magic wand that will solve your recruitment problems, you must not allow that pursuit to cloud your view of the workforce you already have within your organization. How many of your proven, or above-average, team members have received merit-based, or even cost of living, raises recently? Lisa Lavender shares some powerful perspectives in our book, Be Intentional: Culture, on the impact of saying, “Thank You.” For your top performers your thank you should show up on their paycheck. I recently had a talk with a contractor who thought paying a technician more than $25/hr was getting into deep waters, yet they will continuously throw money into recruiting, training, and losing warm bodies without questioning the expense.

Just a thought: How crazy is this common practice? Which would net you a better result, six above-average employees who consistently perform at $25/hr or fifteen below-average employees who are hot and cold in their performance at $15/hr? If someone can do 1.5x, 2x, or even 3x what a lackluster employee can do, why wouldn’t you pay to keep them?

Taking a different approach to onboarding your clients and hiring your staff.

This will not be the only article I write on the topic of recruitment, but the question will be similar in all of them, what would happen if you took a different approach? What would happen if you changed (adapt) your mindset and habits from the status quo of complaining about the issues (playing the blame game) and started to embrace them (lead by example)? Often employee issues are directly related to work intake. What would happen if you changed how you intake work? Rather than chasing every job, many of which you know you shouldn’t take, zero in on those projects that have a higher probability of success with regards to customer satisfaction and profitability. As O.P. Almaraz shared during Benchmarks of Growth, start to focus your efforts externally and internally to work for your ideal client. While it takes time to shift your focus, what would happen if (over time) you were better about screening your clientele so that you could cut out your worst clients and therefore minimize your worst experiences? It may sound impossible but, it starts with your intake process, something I wrote about in greater detail in an article titled Garbage In, Garbage Out.

What would it do for your people, processes, production, and progress to have never worked for your ten worst clients?

Your client (or new project) intake affects everything, and yet, so many contractors aren’t intentional about this process. Do you track metrics such as your referral sources, carriers, territories, job size, turnaround time, etc? I am working on a book for new restoration contractors which includes a sample Project Tracker, email The DYOJO if you would like to receive a free copy of this resource. The intake process empowers you to better screen projects before you ever step foot on the premises. A good intake aligns your organization with the clients that are the right fit for your vision and values. How often have you made the connection between onboarding ill-fitting clients and issues with customer satisfaction, profitability, as well as your people? We know those bad clients are a costly tax on all of our systems, yet we continue to do the same things over and over again. These habits affect, or infect, all of our processes, including recruiting, hiring, and especially retaining good people. Clarifying your ideal client should force you to also clarify your ideal employee, both of these ideas sound idyllic but they are not impossible. Tammy Birklid found these principles to be true as she built her company, Merit Construction (Tacoma, WA) with the vision of being an employer of choice. If you want to pursue and keep good clients, you must develop an internal process that attracts and trains good people to perform business in your unique way.

Long-term success follows a sequence of clarity, consistency, and accountability.

  • Without clarity, there will be no consistency.

  • Without consistency, there will be no accountability.

Change your mindset and habits if you want to change your recruitment outcomes.

It may feel like we have gotten off track, but I believe that the secret to recruiting the younger generation to work in your labor-intensive team starts with being clearer with your purpose and vision. Restoration contractors have always struggled to attract employees, the events of 2020 didn’t help and there are many factors we could argue, but it will not do you any good to play the blame game. In short, this is secret number one and it applies to any time in history, to any business, and to any generation. If you blame the people that you are trying to recruit, you are inviting and spreading a losing mindset. If you continue to do things the way that you’ve always done them, with regards to recruiting, hiring, and retaining good talent, your failure to adapt is a losing habit. My good friend Gerrett Stier, of GMS Distribution wealth and fame, 2020’s breakout beard of the year, and host of The GMS Podcast, recently did a show with organizational psychologist Dr. Jessica Stahl. In episode 66, they followed up a two-part interview with Young Guns in our industry. She summarized culture as the experience your employees have with your organization. She shared many helpful insights, including that young people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, feel like they are part of a family, but also that they trust the people and the processes of the business. While it may be difficult to keep up with the speed in which things change, these core principles are timeless.

As an important side note, the pricing discussion is one that is actively happening. With efforts such as the Advocacy and Government Affairs (AGA) Committee of the Restoration Industry Association (RIA), the needle has been moving in several markets. There is still a lot of work to do, and it will require continued effort as well as collaboration. If you want to be a part of the positive movement, you will need to contribute time and resources within your own organization as well as work to raise the tides for all the ships in your market.

Start gaining ground in the hiring challenge by identifying what you need to stop doing.

Blaming the incoming workforce may get you applause from your peers who struggle with the same issues and who also don’t want to face the facts that it’s your problem (the organization wanting to hire) not their problem (the young recruits who are not applying or staying in your companies). In their excellent book, Insuring Tomorrow, Tony Canas and Carly Burnham do a great job dispelling many of the myths about millennials as well as shedding some practical insights into how employers can connect with the current labor pool. I would not be offended if you stopped reading this article right now, purchased their book, and never came back to these words. You will be a better manager and leader for having done so; it’s that good. I will warn you if you listen to Episode 66 of The GMS Podcast (The Employee Experience) and you read Insuring Tomorrow, you will have fewer reasons to play the blame game. You will also acquire a deeper understanding of the mindset and habits that will lead your organization to succeed with recruiting, hiring, and retaining good talent. Not too surprisingly, even as things rapidly change, there are foundational principles that you must continually work on in order to be competitive. Be as intentional with marketing and developing internally (to your people) as you are externally (to your clients). There is no easy road nor is there a shortcut; there is no secret. If you will STOP playing the blame game, you will START to own your way forward.

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Jon Isaacson

Jon Isaacson is an author and host of The DYOJO Podcast. He speaks, writes, and coaches through his organization The DYOJO helping the start-up phase owners and growth-minded restoration professionals to shorten their DANG learning curve for personal and professional development. Jon recently published two books, Be Intentional: Estimating addressing mindset and habits for insurance claims estimating and Be Intentional: Culture which is a collaborative work discussing how small things enhance or undermine your efforts to build a strong workplace culture. 

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