By Chuck Violand

January 20, 2014

The name Branch Rickey gained renewed recognition with the release of 42, the 2013 movie about Jackie Robinson. But long before, the real Branch Rickey, savvy businessman and owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, gained fame on April 15, 1947 when he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier by starting Robinson at first base.

Contrary to what some might think, I was not yet around in 1947 to witness that momentous occasion. Instead, it is a quote by Branch Rickey, learned from an early mentor of mine, which has provided me with inspiration throughout much of my business career. Rickey wasn’t just talking about baseball when he uttered “Luck is the residue of design.” He was talking about business and about life in general.

People engaged in the restoration and cleaning industries know a thing or two about residue. They deal with it every day. They know that soot residue on a fire loss is the result of a combustible material that has burnt and soapy residue on a cleaned surface is the result of an action that took place ahead of it. But residue is also found in other areas of our businesses.

From a global view we can say that even some of the fundamentals of our companies are the residue of the way we think and the beliefs that we hold. Advertising campaigns, position statements, even the quality of the services we offer are examples, but it doesn’t stop there. The people in our companies are the residue of the culture we’ve created. In the early years of our companies you can see this played out when the owner is personally involved in hand-selecting employees based on his individual attitudes about work, personal grooming, lifestyle, and sometimes even religious and political preferences, although for legal reasons these last two typically go unstated. You can test this theory by examining your own personal experiences with the early hires in your company. Think about the people who didn’t stick around—either because they didn’t see a future with you or because you decided to free up their future for them. How often were their exits due to disconnects based on one of these factors?

Over and over I see business owners who want to create an environment that attracts only the best talent to their companies. But over and over I see them go back to their businesses and continue to sabotage their efforts by hiring people just like them. For businesses to flourish, diverse backgrounds, opinions, and ways of thinking are needed in order to encourage fresh ideas and inspiration. Without this type of culture, you will find yourselves unable to retain the best talent you tried so hard to attract.

If we want to change the residue in our restoration and cleaning businesses we have to change the actions that take place ahead of them. Simply saying we want our people to perform better, or sending them to training programs and expecting them to perform better, doesn’t make it happen. We must first change our thinking about people, about ourselves, and about our companies. Only then will we invest in the right training, for the right employees, for the right reasons. And only then will we be left with the residue of better performing, more engaged people in our companies.