Command The Chaos

A Sense of Urgency and Shifting of Priorities in Restoration

Timothy E. Hull, CR

Restoration & Remediation – February 2014


Project management is defined as the discipline of planning, organizing, securing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives. This discipline is employed by countless organizations and industries throughout the world including restoration. It is taught in colleges, universities, and classrooms. Its methods are reliable and proven to be effective whether you are building an airplane or planning a party. Some of the brightest minds in history have used its concepts to revolutionize the way we learn, travel, shop, eat, sleep, breathe, and entertain ourselves. However, this very powerful discipline is severely ignored in the restoration industry.

A previous supervisor of mine once said, “The restoration business is about two things: a sense of urgency and a shifting of priorities.” It does not take much exposure to the world of a restoration contractor to understand that nothing could be closer to the truth. This business is neither convenient nor predictable. The events that drive work flow are not dependant on Wall Street or the current mortgage rates. There is actually very little economic influence on the business that some have called a $212 billion recession-proof industry. Weather may be the most driving influence, but even Mother Nature has a hard time keeping things consistent from year to year.

When property damage occurs and a restoration contractor receives the call about a need for service, it usually happens in waves. Not at 9:00am on a Monday morning, but rather 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon, which also happens to be the date of someone’s birthday party, rehearsal dinner, prom night, or wedding anniversary, and most of the employees have already gone home for the day. In just a matter of minutes the contractor can be forced to redirect his attention and resources, redefine importance, and act with urgency.

Harvard business professor and author, John P. Kotter says, “Urgent action is not created by feelings of contentment, anxiety, frustration, or anger, but by a gut-level determination to move, and win, now.” What Mr. Kotter is saying is that the folks in our business should not need any more motivation than the event itself to act with urgency. Our customers did not plan to have property damage today. They did not tidy up their house just in case their plumbing failed while they were at work. They did not spend the last three months mulling over paint swatches at the local supply store so you could repaint their living room next week, and they most certainly did not set aside savings to pay for your services this month.

For most property owners, their home or business represents their single largest investment. Insurance loss statistics show that very few homeowners ever file a claim. An exponentially fewer number of homeowners ever have a fire. When loss occurs lives are sent into turmoil. Whether they show it or not, they are concerned. These events are critical to them. They represent disruptions in their lives and are very emotional experiences.

In consideration of these facts, property loss represents an unprecedented opportunity for the insurance company. Knowing that most policy holders buy insurance for these unlikely events and knowing that they may never experience them again, the loss becomes a win or lose situation for the carrier and its agent representative. If the remedy and claims settlement process goes wrong they risk losing the policy holder. If all goes well and the policy holder is satisfied there is a good chance they may retain a client for life.

As a professional restoration contractor you are restoring much more than property. You restore lives. You are the gatekeepers between worlds of turmoil and normalcy. You have the ability to mitigate emotional unrest and financial suffering as well as repair property damages. You are given the distinct opportunity to solidify relationships between clients and carriers. All of this demands the same sense of urgency as rivaled by those in medical and military professions.

In the restoration business, acting with urgency is about more than moving swiftly. It is about sharing emotions, setting appropriate expectations and delivering on promises. Every customer is the most important customer. This requires you to be present with them, listen to them and act in a manner that embodies a level of respect and professionalism that you would want in a time of need. This is a sense of urgency.

To respond in this manner requires a constant shifting of priorities. Accomplishing this successfully and with a desirable outcome can be done only through the use of applicable time management. Time management guru, Stephen Covey, taught that the key to effective time management is priority. Time management is not about doing more things in less time. It is about doing the right things, the right way, at the right time.

The priorities of a project manager in the restoration business change weekly, daily, and even hourly at times. Understanding the order of those priorities is important. Understanding how to constantly rearrange them is a dynamic art that is critical to success. A project manager must have vision and instinct that is oftentimes only acquired through experience. Anticipating the next step or course of action can only be accomplished by planning. Some project managers thrive on adrenaline and some survive on instinct. The good ones succeed through flawless execution of a plan. They think about every possible scenario, drawing on past experience, and plan how to react in a manner that meets the expectations of the customer and achieves the goals of the company. This is the essence of shifting priorities.

Life as a restoration project manager is relentless and tiring. It requires a strong commitment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The project manager is the fulcrum of success and failure to the business. He is burdened with the ultimate accountability of the project, its team, and its stakeholders. His understanding and accepting of this responsibility is a monumental choice. Those of you who have chosen this as your career should be commended for your decision and for your commitment.

This is a very exciting time to be a project manager in the restoration business. The industry is rapidly growing and project management is quickly becoming a viable career path. This became evident just a few years ago when Purdue University, highly respected for its project management program, introduced a concentrated program in restoration science. This added an academic credibility that was long overdue. Today organizations like the Restoration Industry Association (RIA), Violand Management Associates, and Kent State University recognize the need for project managers who are educated, trained, and talented.

Restorers profit from other’s misfortunes. This fact cannot be taken lightly. It requires a sense of urgency and a shifting of priorities. Embracing this challenge means becoming a student of the restoration industry, business, the discipline of project management, and above all a student of people. With this knowledge and application not only can you succeed, you can Command The Chaos.