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Warning, this article is full of mumbo-jumbo about self care. You probably should pass on this article (it's not like you've read the others). Our lives in service based industries, especially where responding to disasters large or small, bring us into contact with individuals, families and communities in various stages of trauma. While we understand that stress can tax our ability to maintain empathy or others and the strain of emergency response to water or fire related disasters at all hours of the day can cause us to be on edge, we may be neglecting the reality of the overall toll of this exposure. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is pioneering a methodology outlined in her book Trauma Stewardship which provides An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others.
If you are still reading, maybe you have witnessed the impact of secondary trauma in yourself and/or your response teams. In one profile outlined in the text, Cheri Maples who is the outgoing assistant attorney general for Wisconsin, discusses the revelation in her profession that there was high turnover in probation personnel which wasn’t as much related to training in the skills of the profession but rather a lack of training in personal care abilities. As she notes, “I realized we were losing people emotionally because of secondary trauma (p.138).” This has certainly been true with our teams, we know how to teach and master the skills of our professions but we don't always know how to master caring for ourselves so that we can operate at our full capacity in serving others. The value of being awake, present and aware can be taken for granted or even dismissed as being something for the gurus who deal in mythology but not in the real world. Yet the opposite isn’t seen as dangerous as it is often the status quo across multiple professions, I.E. being numb, detached and disconnected from the cumulative impact of professional stress exposure.
As noted in the book, the basis of trauma stewardship is applying many of those same principles that professionals share with their clients and utilizing those methods to care for themselves. In many ways trauma stewardship is simply walking what you’re talking, or living what you preach to others. We seem better equipped to see and respond to the needs of others without taking into account the impact of that distress on our lives as well as those on our team. Cheri notes that there are three key things to taking care of yourself, first understanding the cycle for what it is, second is having friends outside of your profession and third is developing a daily practice of care (p.141). By understanding these principles we can establish methods to lead by example and enable our teams to care for each other.
There is a cycle, whether you can see it or not, where we are tempted to turn ourselves off to what we are experiencing in order to cope with our daily tasks. It’s easily missed as standard operating procedures but this coping mechanism should be a red flag to ourselves and those that care about us that there needs to be a change in how we approach our profession. Key to caring for yourself so that you can operate within your strengths is realizing that you need to do so. Whether you are a professional caring for others in trauma or someone who is helping others in various stages of need, take the same principles that you would share with those you are serving and make sure that you are applying those concepts in your own life. Walk your talk.
If our social circle is only composed of those who also work with us, there can be a negative reinforcement of the us-versus-them mentality that can prohibit you from seeking additional perspectives. While our friends in our field know the day to day stresses and unique challenges that we face, all parties need additional influences that can help them see things in new ways and perhaps can detect unhealthy behaviors that those in our industry would overlook as normative. Helpful insights can come from good peer discussions or they can also come from seeking mentor relationships. As we have noted previously, “Professional athletes have coaches and trainers even though they are at the very height of their professional skills, earning, and influence. Seeking the assistance of someone who can assist you to tug, carry, or chart your way through the murky waters of personal development can be a very positive and fulfilling addition to your professional adventure (Isaacson, 2017).”
Developing a daily practice of care is something Lipsky goes into greater detail sharing the five directives which include inquiry, focus, balance and community. Tools such as breathing, exercising, utilizing music or sounds, rest and other positive habits are important to helping you maximize your capacity to operate within your values. If we find ourselves in a position of leadership it is important for us to be aware of these issues so that we can lead by example and facilitate practices within our teams that help identify, respond and equip our team members to remain healthy. Whether we lead many or simply lead ourselves, failure to recognize these obstacles and the tools available to positively respond to them we are cutting ourselves short of our full ability.
Lipsky, L. v. D., & Burk, C. (2009). Trauma stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Isaacson, J. (September 5, 2017) How to identify the right mentor. The Daily Positive. Retrieved from https://www.thedailypositive.com/identify-right-mentor/#sthash.N759aPeB.dpuf
Originally published as Peeling Back the Five Layers of in a Restoration Business
June 22, 2016 in Restoration & Remediation Magazine (R&R)
By Jon Isaacson
How many times a day does the phone ring and it's a customer calling wondering when your organization is going to get the work done, when the crew is going to arrive or what the schedule is?
Is it more often than it should be?
Who holds the responsibility in the organization to communicate these details to your customers? Before we start to point fingers, let's follow the sequence of information.
Organization Layer 1
Our customer called the office because they have not been communicated with, the last person at the job was an employee who was there over 48 hours ago. We ask, why didn't that employee tell the customer what the next sequence of work was going to be?
At the conclusion of our investigation into Layer 1, we are ready for a heated discussion with our lead technician assigned to the project. We say our organization values our customers, but we are not demonstrating this with clear and consistent communication.
Organization Layer 2
We track down the responsible employee who was last at our under-informed customer's home and it turns out that employee didn't communicate scheduling details with the customer because that employee was not provided with sufficient information to intelligently pass along to our customer. While we were prepared to discipline this employee as the source of miscommunication, we discover that there are additional parties involved with this malady - there are more layers to investigate. In addition to this discovery, our employee brings to our attention that they regularly don't know what they are doing for the day when they show up for work.
As an organization we would say we value our customers, we also would say that we value our employees, we may even have these values posted on our walls, and yet we are not communicating with clarity or consistency to either party.
Organization Layer 3
As a manager, the frustration is turning is now bordering on anger. We march forward to discuss these disturbing findings from the previous two layers with our employee's supervisor. Rather than uncovering the head of the snake, we reveal that our production supervisor hasn't been clearly or consistently communicating scheduling or work details because they haven't been receiving them from their supervisor (in most restoration companies we are now at the estimator level/layer of the org chart).
Our production team hasn't been communicating in the manner we would expect with customers or employees because they are flying by the seat of their pants with the work being handed down to them. We are uncovering that our issues are as much with systems as they are with persons.
Organization Layer 4
Each layer has revealed an additional layer, managers who are willing to investigate may now be fearful of encountering additional worm holes within the system. Not us, we continue our investigation and gather the estimators into the conference room for the final tongue lashings.
As a related side note, everyone serving in the 24/7 emergency response industry knows that work comes in at all times, in all sizes and has no mercy with regards to holidays or special occasions, yet just because we service emergencies does not mean that we shouldn't have as clear a process that we can develop.
Our management team unravels the layers of investigation stemming from the call received by our confused customer, the estimators relate their challenges in working with how the work flow is initiated. Work flow with relationship to how assignments are handed out, especially when our organization is serving the needs of clients who are all in various degrees of distress, is essential to setting our teams up for success. We are faced with a reality that our response process may be broken or at least damaged and needs some TLC in order for our team as a whole to be successful. If we value our customers and we value our employees, we need a system that communicates with clarity and consistency.
Organization Layer 5
The investigation goes full circle and we have determined that there are issues related to a lack clarity and consistency in the work flow process which is affecting us at every level. In order to fix this, we will need to address the system from top to bottom and will need every layer of our organization to be invested in the restoration of our process.
Communication is our organization showing our customers that we value them.
Clarity and consistency is our organization showing our employees that we value them.
Scheduling is the result of a commitment to preparation for success and a successful scheduling system enables everyone on our team to communicate with clarity as well as consistency. Our efforts to create a system of clear and consistent communication from start (receiving a request for service) to completion (creating a happy customer) will require intentional efforts as a workable schedule will not create itself.
The reason we spent all these words (all this time) just to establish the problem, is that while scheduling should be the foundation for any service organization, the commitment to clarity and consistency is rather uncommon. Often we get so wrapped up in the emergency nature of our business, that we forget to build around our values. When a customer calls with a valid complaint, this is an opportunity for some honest organizational evaluation as well as a wake up call for action.
What Must We Do?
Property restoration as an industry requires multiple aspects of technical knowledge in our fields of multiple service offerings as well as communication of multiple work details across multiple data entry points to keep multiple parties involved with a given loss updated on work progress.
Clarity At The Point Of Work Intake
Do we have a consistent process for gathering as much information as we can when a call for service comes in? Regardless of who answers the phone, we should have a clear and consistent process for acquiring the details necessary to set our teams up for success. When we answer the phone, we communicate to our customers that we care by getting the details right and we communicate to our service employees that we care by providing them with the details they need to start a project off with good information.
Clarity At The Point of Work Initiation
The reality In emergency response to disasters, work comes in at all hours of the day as pipes break, fires occur or a host of other scenarios play out for homes and businesses in our area. Because of these contingencies, our schedules can never be fixed to the point that they cannot change at a moments notice. As such we always have to build into our schedules a certain amount of flexibility. Our production managers have to be aware that they cannot send all of our resources to the furthest reaches of our service territory and still be able to reallocate personnel to respond in the middle of the day to a customer that is in need of emergency services. We have to be honest with our customers about what we can and cannot do as we have to fulfill our prior commitments while evaluating our abilities to service new ones. Being busy is a good problem for any organization, this usually means we are growing, but being chaotic is unhealthy and will lead to failure.
Clarity Within The Organization
Establishing a visible joint schedule for our organization is an essential means of assisting all of our teams to prepare for the day ahead while enabling us to update our customers with our strategy for keeping their project moving forward (read our previous article about visible schedules HERE). Our people deserve to know, as best as management is able to communicate, what their assignment will be for the following 24 hour period so that they can mentally prepare and ready their teams to respond to our customers needs. Our customers deserve to have consistent communication of job progress and to know when strangers are going to be in their home. Find the medium that works for your team, but make the schedule accessible and visible by all in the organization as this creates great accountability through transparency. When the concerned customer calls to ask about their job, the person answering the phone should be able to say, "Let me pull up the schedule. Yes, I can see we are scheduled to be at your home between 11am and 12pm today, would you like me to get ahold of the technician who will be responding or the project manager assigned to your loss?"
Clarity Within Your Work Communication
For our team, we inherited a system of carbon copies for printed work orders (or field scopes). Carbon copies served a purpose at some point in time...a point in time right around when the dinosaurs became extinct. We were able to adapt our hand printed work orders (penmanship is a barrier to clarity) into a Microsoft Excel format so that they could be typed - allowing us to ensure they were readable and savable which allows us to track and reference these forms.
The first order of the work order is that in order to be effective the work order must be legible, must have sufficient details and must be executable by the team members assigned to the tasks. Notes on a piece of paper are useless unless those composing the document have been intentional to be clear with those who will be touching the project.
As our system for work orders evolved we wanted our system to be easier to input and more readily shareable by our entire organization. We needed a medium that would allow team leaders to communicate effectively with team members the details of work scopes and resource allocation. We looked into mobile and desktop applications as well as cloud based systems, most of the ones that were the most appealing were also fairly expensive. We experimented with free versions of popular systems but found many of them to be a time consuming venture that did not have the return that we needed, especially with our shorter term projects.
Our schedule needed to show management where our fleet would be assigned, which personnel would be responding to an assignment and what production tools would accompany that crew to complete their tasks. We found that some of the best resource were those that we were already utilizing (see a fun video we made introducing our simple systems HERE). Google calendar is an effective means of creating a shared calendar that could be viewed by anyone in the organization at any time with features such as assigning a color to individuals to enhance the ease of visual review. (We gladly borrowed this aspect from a local plumbing company who showed us their production system). Through the shared calendar, each technician had an email that would show up in their email as well as their calendar with details such as the job address (which assists with OSHA compliance), the job number, contact information for the customer and a detailed scope of work written out for each day in the body of the calendar notes. Team members that wanted printed copies for their folders could have those in their hands and those that were savvy with their mobile devices always had records for reference.
Each organization is unique, for us the values we are building around are:
1. Our schedule should be visible - anyone in our organization should be able to see where our resources are assigned at any given time (to the best of our ability)
2. We want to show our customers that we value them by being clear with our communication
3. We want to show our team members that we value them by being clear and consistent with our scheduling
Clarity and consistency in communication requires the commitment of everyone in the organization, top to bottom - from the point of receiving a call for service to the completion of a project. We have to be intentional about improving our systems as the systems (good or bad) do not create themselves. Our systems may never be perfect, but we will reap what we sow.
If the phone rings more often than it should with confused or upset customers, follow the layers to yourself and get to work on fixing the problems with the system.
If what you say you want does not align with what you do then internal confusion will create external turmoil. Clarity + consistency + accountability = leadership [goals].
Election cycles are always interesting as people are a bit more vocal about expressing their beliefs about politics and “how things should be run.” In the presidential season prior to our current one, when Romney was running against Obama, I remember discussing politics with a few people and asking, “Do you think your vision for how the country should be run (IE the things you say you want the President to be doing) is reflected in your approach to business?”
If you dare to take a moment, take a position that you were particularly vocal about when the political debates were raging, got it? Now bring to mind a time when this issue was present in your life - if a) it isn't applicable, then throw that issue out of your dialogue; b) if it is applicable, did you respond to said issue in relationship to your stated values?
I thought to myself, do I manage and lead my own team in the manner that I believe the President should be running the country. Do my actions reflect my utterances? I know I can see inconsistencies between what other people say, especially with regards to political persuasions, and how they lead their teams. I, like many, feel that I am rather good at juding others (Uncomfortable laughter slowly dies off). I am sure others can see the gaping holes of inconsistency in my own actions without having to peer too far behind the curtain.
Maybe it’s just me, but many times we can be hardliners on issues, many of which are real life issues that affect our businesses which in turn affect the people in our organizations, and yet when we are faced with these issues in real life situations – we don’t act in accordance with what we say our values are. Perhaps this is a blessing (ble$$ed #), because so many of us are still learning to lead. I may puff up my chest on an issue, and I am primarily speaking of those political issues that intersect with business, yet I do the opposite when it comes time to make a decision. Either my philosophy of business needs a re-tooling, or my business persona needs an update, or more likely the answer is both.
What I think leads to what I do and what I do needs to be reviewed and revised from time to time. It’s easy to play arm chair adviser to the President from my couch while watching a debate. It’s simple enough to judge my peers from my perch in the back seat of their lives. In the midst of my keen review of others how often do I take my own inventory to judge my own actions against my pontificated values?
Get right son, or at least get clear, consistent and accountable. Leading by example is the most challenging and the most effective because it calls the “leader” to lead themselves first.
Let us help you build and execute a plan for achieving success in your personal and professional development.
Jon Isaacson has a monthly feature column with Restoration & Remediation (R&R) Magazine titled The Intentional Restorer