Defining the problem of staff retention from my marathon training


October 2, 2023

Bob Williamson

Bob Williamson

I have completed 34 marathons in my career with very limited running ability. I have shuffled and grinded my way for a 20-year period and was able to qualify seven times for the Boston Marathon.

I did this based on a very consistent training program where I was able to run over 2,000 miles per year for 25 years. I practiced two concepts to get this done. First, I ran most miles with other people – often in packs of runners to stay distracted and allow for some limited conversation. Secondly, I told myself the race would be 30 miles and not just 26.2, the actual distance. The lesson here is to figure out how to simply “force yourself” to get something done without allowing excuses to take over.

I speak with pest management professionals (PMPs) across the country every day. They all seem to love what they do and feel like they have a secret sauce to provide a competitive advantage. Far and away, their largest concern and reason for not growing is a lack of trained staff. They often feel overwhelmed due to a staffing shortage. They spend more money and time on recruiting and retaining employees. They hang on to low performers. Allowing this to happen enables others to lower their standards. Managers hesitate to reprimand other staff for fear that they will leave and go somewhere else.

Most managers I speak with are doing a very good job working with staff. They are appreciative, they are reasonable and they generally care about their staff. They develop pay systems and incentives to attract and retain, they buy lunches, they sponsor their employees’ kids’ youth sports and will often allow staff to leave early on Friday.

These managers often feel defeated and some blame the millennials for their selfishness and lack of loyalty. They attend seminars and read books on how to better recruit and retain employees. Before you read the rest — don’t ever stop working on developing ways to hire and retain. Work is better for all when we care about our staff.

The solution is to take away the human element and treat this like a marathon runner might approach it. Just force yourself to hire more staff than you need and treat recruiting and retention the same way as marketing your business. Remember, humans are considered the most unreliable machine ever assembled. Compared to a machine we can be irrational, emotional and we develop bad habits easily.

You just need to focus resources on recruiting and hiring until you have 15 percent more delivery technicians than you need. Never allow this number to be less.

Consider what 15 percent extra delivery staff allows you to do:

  • Get to new work faster
  • Manage out staff that is not cutting it – a great help with retention
  • Reduce OT and Saturdays
  • Staff routes with 2-person trucks that could use the help
  • Schedule vacations easier
  • Let supervisors manage and train more and fill in for routes less
  • Provide a part-time position for staff when they need that status and they can be valuable as an additional route filler
  • Improved retention based on all the above factors

Being constantly understaffed is like a having a chronic, self-inflicted disease. I see so many companies that never grow past $500k because of staffing limitations. You need to get out in front of staffing — unlike a vehicle, you can’t buy or rent a new employee quickly.


About the Author

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Williamson is pest & lawn director for Cetane Associates. He serves on the Pennsylvania Pesticide Advisory Board, is former president of the Lawn Care Association of Pennsylvania and former president of Warrington PA Rotary Club. For over 30 years, Williamson worked with Moyer, a large Mid-Atlantic residential service provider. Williamson has managed services including heating oil, propane, HVAC, plumbing, home security, swimming pool, lawn and tree care, and pest control.

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