Caring for the Human Behind the Hammer with Mike Mooney from Disaster Response Idaho

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In this episode of the podcast, we talk with Mike Mooney from Disaster Response Idaho about the importance of building team camaraderie and creating a company culture that values empathy and accountability. Mike shares his experiences with building a team that cares for one another, and how this has helped his company succeed in a challenging industry. He also offers valuable advice for other restoration leaders who are struggling with high turnover rates and looking to build a strong team culture. Tune in to hear some great insights from a leader who truly values his employees.

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Episode Transcription

Mike Mooney
Yeah, I've had a couple. I almost died a few years back, and I spent a month in the hospital. Yeah, it was brutal. The company stepped up, took care of me. I won't get the details, but they stepped up and they could have said, well, you know what? Because that wasn't much use for about three months. I was in the hospital for a month, and even though I got out for two months after that, I was out three times a day getting the IVs, antibiotics - and they stuck around. They took care of me. 

Paul Silliman
Welcome to the Restoration Playbook podcast by KnowHow. I'm Paul Silliman, and the goal of this podcast is to give you an insight into how the restoration industry's most innovative companies are building a world class workforce one step at a time. We interview the biggest names in restoration and explore in depth how they're building team culture, developing their employees, and strengthening loyalty, all while increasing their revenue. In today's episode, we are chatting with Mike Mooney, general manager at Disaster Response. I've met Mike and the DR crew a few times over the past few years, and the care and empathy they show towards their employees is unmatched. In a cold and callous industry, Mike has story after story about how they've been able to care for the human behind the hammer and the impact it's having in their staff. 

With five locations and growing, Mike has had to think not only about how he personally can care for his staff, but how he can impact those core values in every level of the company. If you're looking to win with today's workforce, especially if you have a younger workforce, this is an episode you do not want to miss. We are going to hop into the action-packed episode with Mike. But first, I want to tell you a little bit about KnowHow. KnowHow is a software tool for restoration companies who want to equip their staff with the information they need to succeed in their role. From tight, structured new employee onboarding to step by step guidance on how to use equipment in the field, Knowhow ensures your workers are doing things the right way every time. 

Plus, with over 600 restoration industry templates on everything from how to use a dehumidifier to how to set up your proper estimating guidelines, you don't ever have to start from scratch to begin equipping your team. In fact, for the listeners of this podcast, I created a comprehensive water mitigation estimating best practices process that we're going to give out to anybody for free - even if you're not a customer of Knowhow, just head over to To view it, print it, or send it to your team that's . We'll also throw a link in the show notes. All right, with that, let's kick things off with Mike Mooney, General Manager at Disaster Response. 

Welcome Mike to the Restoration playbook podcast. So diving right in what's the disaster response story, and how long have you been on the team, Mike? 

Mike Mooney
Well, the Disaster Response story is Beau Value. He's the Owner/CEO. He started it about 11-12 years ago out of his garage, and he worked it into a garage, eventually into an office, and then up in McCall, Idaho, and then bought another office. And we branched out eventually to Boise, Fruitland. I came up in the McCall up in the Lewiston, Lewison/Clarkston area back in 2017. And then last year, we opened up an office in Post Falls. 

Paul Silliman
Got you. Okay. And, Mike, we had the pleasure of actually meeting down at the Core Conference last year in Austin. And one thing that came across to me is you had a great compassion for your employees, for the people you work with. And that's one thing we like to do in this podcast is really drive home how to build that team camaraderie; really build up that place where people want to come to work. How does that kind of play into your view and kind of how you and your employees work? 

Mike Mooney
Well, yeah, I agree. I want a place where people want to come work at. It's not getting any easier finding people. Everyone knows that. It's getting hard to find good employees, and when you find a good employee, you want to keep them. And I want the kind of work environment for the people that work for us that I want to come work for us. I want to work for an owner that cares for the people that work there. I want to work for bosses that care about the people below them. It just so happens that my style: I'm real mellow, laid back. Don't get worked up too easy. It's business, so I don't get too emotional about it. The things they do get emotional about, I guess, is someone's having a hard time in life.

I don't get too emotional, I guess, on the small stuff, I don't get upset. I take that as an opportunity, as a learning moment in a teachable moment on how we can make sure that doesn't happen again. But most importantly, I want my employees and the people in this company to know that we care about them. And the way you do that is you show it. You don't tell it to them. You can't put it up in the poster, up on the wall. It's got to be by actions. You can put posters all day long, core values and how much you care about your employees until you step up and show them, it doesn't mean a whole lot. 

Paul Silliman
Exactly. And especially in restoration, there's some long hours. You spend a lot of time with your staff, and they do become—whether you want to call them a family or whatnot—they basically are, you spend a lot of time and hours in the trenches. Do you have any examples of any stories that you'd love to share on really connecting that empathy and growing that team?

Mike MooneyYeah, I've had a couple. I almost died a few years back, and I spent a month in the hospital. Yeah, it was brutal. The company stepped up, took care of me. I won't get into the details, but they stepped up. And they could have said, well, you know what? Because that wasn't much use for about three months. I was in the hospital for a month, and even though I got out for two months after that, I was out three times a day getting IVs, antibiotics - and they stuck around. They took care of me. And that was in 2017. I only been with the company for about four months, about 4-5 months. It wasn't like they'd been with the company for ten years and they took care of me. 

But I've got a few other situations like that, too, where we've had two employees that I could just think off the top of my head in the last two years that they didn't have any upcoming vacation time. But one of them, their wife went in for a brain surgery, and he was stressed out, had enough to do, and I was like, you got to go take care of your wife. We'll pay for the week. You just go to the hospital, support her. We got you for this week. Don't worry about money. You got enough to worry about. We've done that for two employees that didn't have occasions coming up for the last couple of years. It feels good to do that for people. 

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. And I mean, even the instance you just brought up, you haven't worked there ten years. So when someone comes out and takes care of you or lends a hand in a situation that frankly, in the back of your mind, you're like, I don't know if they're going to do that. I'm going through a lot in my own world, let alone someone actually come along and actually give that olive branch, really help drive that value. So with that in your back pocket, how does that affect your approach to your staff, really, for them to come along and actually help with your situation and then other situations you've had, how does that help grow you work with your staff. 8:31Mike MooneyI don't know how it's helped me, but I'm a pretty compassionate person. I have a hard time talking about helping these guys out without getting choked up. But the book you guys wrote Why Workers Quit. It was a great book, by the way. I've read it. I think anybody that's in this industry should read it. Anybody that's in any industry should read it, really. But I subscribe to that wholeheartedly, and I've read some other books recently; Culture Wins, [unknown] for Leaders. [Unknown] For Leaders is a good book, too, but it all focuses on culture, and to me, culture is king. Culture does win. Like that book said, the title says that it doesn't matter what kind of game plan you have, it doesn't matter what kind of people you hire or what your plan of attack is for revision. If you don't have the right culture in your company, the plan is going to probably fail. 

Paul Silliman
Yeah. And that's something that is really a lot of the lifeblood of what we're doing with this podcast is how do we give examples of growing that team? Because everyone hears, oh, you got to build a team. Everyone wants to talk to us about the X's and the O's and this DQ and this air scrubber, this, that, and the other. At the end of the day, if you don't have the people who are passionate and want to come work, it doesn't really matter. So it's how do you help build that? And restoration is one of those unique industries to where it's not always the funnest job. There's a lot of days where I don't know if I necessarily want to go out and do that, but having that ability of having that strong team culture really can. 

You mentioned one key thing there in the book, Why Workers Quit. I thought they followed me around for six months. Like it was kind of scary to people in the industry. You read it and you're like, man, this is kind of weird. But it's the truth. When you don't want to come to work, you don't feel supported. You don't have people you can lean on. It's hard to get up and go rip that laminate floor out of five bedrooms or go that cat three loss. So kudos to you guys. And I'm also curious, how do you keep driving that human element? Is there anything you do or contests or is it just a matter of having that conversation with those employees that really help connect the human to your workforce? 

Mike Mooney
Well, it's a constant work. It's not something where it's not like a process where you build it, you implement it, you roll it out, and everyone does it. It's a constant thing and it has to be organic. It’s like you just said, it comes down to those conversations with your employees. Knowing them, getting to know who they are, knowing them by their name. I don't spend time in every office. I'm not there every day, I split my time between five offices. Some offices are farther away and I'm in those offices even less than the ones that are closer to home base. Sometimes it's just picking up the phone and calling the manager of that office. Hey, how are you doing today, man? You need anything from me, anything you need, give me a call.

When you're at that office, rather than just walk by somebody say hi to them, asking how their day is, making people know that they're heard, making them feel heard, making them feel cared for, like they're part of a team.

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. And now making people feel heard. That's a huge thing, because in today's day and age, everyone wants to be heard. They want to have their opinion out there or just be heard if they need help. They're trying to grow. I don't understand this. Is there anything that you can see in your team where giving that ability to be heard, giving that ability of having that has helped people grow in your company? Where does that help you guys as far as growth and scale and building that human team that you guys have? Being able to talk to each other, leaning on someone? Have you seen any examples where people have really flourished with that? 

Mike Mooney
Yeah, I mean, one way of letting people know that they're heard is including them in projects. Like, if you need to write up a process, get those people below you that have to perform this process is involved in writing that process, and that's what they are being heard by writing that up at that particular process. We had a guy not too long ago that he was doing good as a mit guy. He was doing really good as a Mitigation technician, but he asked if he can be the facilities manager, too. We had another guy stepping up in another position, and then we assigned to that and sit down and have him talk and listen to him and put that trust in him taking care of our facility and the fleet at that facility. He seemed to really step it up in the last month and a half, even better than he was before we listened to him, he came to us, and he wanted to become that, wanted to move into that position, and we put him in that position because we felt good. He came and said the right things to us, and they earned it. 

Paul Silliman
Awesome. So it sounds like not only having that personal touch with someone, but almost that ownership principles, letting people take ownership of their role and letting them be communicate and feel across your different offices, is there any other examples you can think of where maybe that ownership mindset or helping that it's all team, culture, ownership, communication. Any other examples that pop in your head where you see people excelling? 

Mike Mooney
Well, there's all kinds of examples. I can't think of any in particular. Since I've taken this position over. Took it over January 23, we restructured the company. It went from having two regional managers, one the northern part of the state, one in the southern part of Idaho, running about 50-50 of the company. And we decided to move me as the GM and running all offices so we could solidify all processes, make them uniform throughout the company. Things we felt were almost like two separate companies. So with these other offices, I've only been with them for about six, seven weeks. I'm learning a lot about them, but hopefully this role is going to allow us to be uniform throughout the entire company. And having done that in this position, we're putting more trust and more responsibility onto the branch managers. 

Before, it used to be, hey, you have a regional manager that's running only a handful offices that can give you a lot more attention. And now I can give an office less attention. But we've got very capable branch managers. Hire the right people, and the best thing to do is let them be branch managers. 

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. And you hit a big thing. There is kind of McDonaldizing, getting everybody on that same playbook, getting everything consistent across the board, but also letting your people do their job well. You hire those people for a reason. Let them do it. Yeah. 

Mike Mooney
Empowerment. Not that were micromanaging before, but not micromanage them and really give them here's what our desired result is. You let me know how you're going to get it done. 

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. No, that's fantastic. So kind of bringing it in here. What steps do you take at a leadership level to help keep that empathy going as far as growth in the different divisions? But what are some key values that you want to help drive across different locations? Because I know now you're managing multiple areas, multiple locations. What are some of those key values that you really want to see regardless of what location you're in, that they're kind of following. 

Mike Mooney
Key values? I mean, accountability is a big one. People need to be accountable. Accountability is probably number one. Aspire for excellence, we don't expect perfection, but we do expect a great effort no matter what they're doing. Being a team player, one of our core values is we are one, and it's something that we really believe in. It's not uncommon for us to take employees from one office and send another office to help out. If one office is a little bit slow and the other office is overwhelmed, we're trading off employees and equipment and trucks and stuff all the time. It's just for being a team player. And I think some other team values, I think it really comes down with two excellent communication in a way that breeds consistency on expectations of what the employees expect from you.

I want to be able to know that. I want an employee to know that what kind of conversation they can have and expect from me. If they do have a conversation with me, no matter what the situation is, I don't want them to be afraid if they wreck the truck, they don’t tell me because all Mike's going to blow a lid. I want them to know they can—I hope they don't wreck a truck—but they can come and have a talk with me. We can have a discussion about it, figure out how it happened, what we can do to keep it from happening again. And the conversations with anything should be like that, I feel should be respectful.

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. And it's a two way road. You want people that are comfortable to talk to you, but also how do you grow? Well, sometimes you got to make mistakes to grow. I'm the first one to admit it. Was I the world's greatest estimator when I started? No. I was phenomenal at ripping a house up. Had no idea what I was doing, putting it back together. That's how you have those conversations. You grow, you learn, you get those expectations and you kind of go from there. But no, this is awesome, Mike. I mean, hell, I'd run through a brick wall for you. I've only met you a couple of times, but that's just kind of that personality. You bring that to the table. 

So kind of one of the big questions we always have before we leave people off is what advice would you give to other restoration leaders who are seeing this or seeing a high turnover or looking to grow, looking to build that team, looking to really build that company culture? Any advice or any steps that you would advise them to take to get that started? 

Mike Mooney
Well, without knowing these particular offices, these people in particular, but I would say, like, one thing you do is, like I said earlier, read that book, Why Workers Quit. Read the book, Culture Wins. There's leadership classes out there. There's people that professionals that can teach you and train you to be a good leader. Mentors out there, life coaches, whatever you want to call them, whatever they fall under. There's even consultation companies out there that are specific to this industry that can help groom you as a leader. And it really comes down to what your core values are. If you don't have good core values as an owner, you're probably going to not have good core values. You're not going to find people with good core values that come work for you. 

It's something that we've been pushing more and more towards in our hiring process. Not so much looking for people with all the acronyms behind their name, with all the qualifications of looking for people that really fit our core values. I can get somebody with the right attitude and the right core values that are in line with ours and train them and teach them whatever I need them to know. It's hard to, when you get someone with all the certs and if their core values aren't in line with years or their attitude stinks, it's not going to be a good fit. 

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. And I tell people that all the time. They say that we’re struggling to hire people. Well, what are your core values? Do you have them written down for starters, and then if it's something you follow it by. Anybody can teach someone how to set up a dehumidifier. But getting someone out to follow core values have values to live by. There's people at 5:00 a.m. pouring some pretty good tasting coffee that are with a smile on their face, ready to go. I guarantee you they would probably do pretty well in your organization, but how do you get that information to them? How do you help build that?

Mike Mooney
Building a great culture isn't just about people getting along. It starts with onboarding, with a really good onboarding and impressing the hell out of them, making them feel welcome, making them feel wanted, and then having those follow up meetings through the onboarding process. Our onboarding process, I think, is three months long here. Having follow up meetings, like I said, are they making people feel wanted, feel heard, having respectful conversations with them, clear conversations, laying out a pathway for their career, hey, you got to do this and this to get to this level and giving them a light hitting of the tunnel. So they don't just feel like they're the job collecting a paycheck. They feel like there's a pathway to them stepping up throughout the company and it's really important to have a conversation with them and listen to them and find out what they want to do because they might not want to move up in the company. Maybe they just want to be a field tech over the next ten years. 

Paul Silliman
I think that's a great point you just made there. Not everybody wants to be the CEO, not everybody's trying to be. Some people do just enjoy coming out. There's a lot of satisfaction to being that first on site responder as Mitigation. You're saving the day, you're there on somebody's homeowner's, worst possible day. But also having that conversation can help you align that. Maybe someone wants to be a project manager or hey, I really enjoy working with you, Mike. I really want to grow my career. Maybe one day I can own a location, but if you don't have that conversation, it's easy to get lost into the shuffle. Next thing you know, it's, well, there's no career advancement, so I'm going to go find somewhere else, even though it may have been there the whole time. So I think you hit a great point with the open communication there as well. 

Well, Mike, this has been absolutely fantastic. Tell the people where they can find Disaster Response. Where can they find you guys online? 

Mike Mooney
Where can they find us online? We got a Facebook at Disaster Response, on Facebook. And then I don't know the URL. 

Paul Silliman
You're good. We'll end up putting it all down in here as well. is the address. That'll take it to our main page.

Paul Silliman
Awesome. Well, Mike, I really appreciate this. I think there's some great insight here and we're looking forward to seeing more from you guys.

Mike Mooney
Cool. Well, I appreciate it. Thanks a lot, Paul.

Paul Silliman

There you have it. Thanks again to Mike Mooney with Disaster Response for sharing those incredible insights with our listeners. If you want to learn more about Disaster Response, you can head to, that's As always, if you like this episode, please share with friends and give it a good rating wherever you get your podcast. And remember, you can get free access to my comprehensive Water Mitigation Best Practices Checklist for free by heading to  

We've also got some exciting new functionality coming to knowhow this summer that I can't wait to share with you all. Tune in next time to hear how we're making it even easier to answer on the job questions with KnowHow without a phone call. Thanks for tuning in and we'll see you guys soon.