Law Review: What We Can Learn from Geese
By Greg Crosslin
June 1, 2007
Several days ago, I was up late preparing for a trial and had the Animal Planet channel on the television in the background. A reporter began a segment about geese, starting with the question, "Why do geese fly in a 'V' formation?"
Training, documentation and teamwork are areas that we can always work on. The better we are at each ... the higher we fly.
The report went on to tell us that the geese fly in a V formation because by working as a group, they create an uplift to fly 71 percent more efficiently then if they were flying alone. Wow! What we can learn from geese.
Working together, for a common cause - flying in unison, in the same direction, toward the same goal - what a novel concept. What would an efficiency increase of 71 percent do for your business?
LEARNING TO FLY
There are at least three immediate areas that we can apply the simple, yet incredible V formation strategy of geese to increase the quality of our business environment.
Do your training modules or systems have uniform, understood, focused, targeted goals that are the same for all of your people? Or do you send new technicians out with "Willie" for two weeks to get training? The level of detail, planning, preparation and quality of your training programs directly affect the thoroughness, detail and quality of your work.
After nearly 10 years of representing pest management companies, I believe nearly half of the lawsuits I've been involved in would not have occurred - or would have been resolved much more efficiently - if the service technicians involved were properly and/or better trained.
We have a unique opportunity in our industry to obtain training, guidelines and resources inexpensively (and often free of charge) from our national, state and local associations, and industry trade publications. Don't forget the most-overlooked training resource: Our chemicals and equipment manufacturers.
Fellow Pest Control columnist Lloyd Smigel has said that if you are not devoting at least 5 percent of your budget to training employees, which includes retraining and cross-training efforts, your training programs most likely will not be successful.
I hereby challenge each of you to randomly pull 10 customer files, review each one from front to back, and compare them with one another. I will bet lunch on the Emerald Coast that you find inexplicable discrepancies.
For some reason, we often allow our documentation systems to fall well behind our standard of care requirements. Over time, we develop shorthand systems, allowing employees to use their own shortcuts or modify systems as they go. Yet uniform, well-planned and properly identified documentation practices may be the difference between winning or losing a lawsuit.
I once had a client whose technician was writing on some work tickets that he was using termiticide at the 0.10 percent application rate, while on other tickets he was writing 1.0 percent. See the difference? So did the state auditors. The client had a written system of review where the technician's supervisor was to check and sign off on each daily work ticket, then send it to the office manager, who reviewed and formatted it for the proper requirements. She would then submit them to the billing department for invoicing and filing.
It appears that all along the way, no one recognized through their own documentation review, which was quite properly designed, that a problem existed. No one along the way bothered to do their jobs. Had they followed the geese model, however, they could have worked together to have identified what could have been a tragic misapplication of chemicals as opposed to just a documentation error. They could have corrected it after one episode and would have avoided a state audit - which came about as a result of lawsuit claim - also would have had better records, would not have had the embarrassment of facing dozens of customers who required retreatment, and would not have created the opportunity for the plaintiff's lawyer to interview potential new claimants.
By contrast, I have another client who owns a company that has grown to nearly $1.6 million in revenue a year. He began the company in his house, driving one route in his pick-up truck. To this day, he still personally reviews 10 percent of his customer files every month to make sure every document is the way it is supposed to be, says what it is supposed to say and is reviewed by management to ensure the information is correct.
He takes the time to analyze records, document trends, revise his training manual and tweak his service training based upon what he has read and reviewed. He tells me that the records review now takes much less time and presents many fewer surprises than it did just three years ago. Apparently, all of his geese are working together.
A third area we can apply the geese model to our businesses is a little more extended from our daily practices in that it applies to how we work together as an industry. By becoming more involved in our local association meetings, continuing education training, and working with local regulatory officials and individual field inspectors, we learn from one another. If we can combine this attitude and allow our state and local associations to fly as the "lead goose," all of our companies can benefit from one another. So will our customers.
When we attend meetings, training seminars and conventions, we should be there to do much more than pick up door prizes or free samples. If we correctly and fully use these opportunities to learn from one another and uplift our industry, perhaps not only will our customers benefit but we very well may realize decreases in insurance rates. We assuredly would experience a decrease in claims because we would see an increase in satisfied customers, which would fuel recurring business and referrals. Isn't that what we want?
Training, documentation and teamwork are areas that we can always work on. The better we are at each, the more efficient our businesses become and the higher we fly. Good luck in managing your "V" -- or should I say we -- today.