Proven Principles Today's Leaders Use to Attract and Retain the Best Talent: Part 1

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In this episode of the Restoration Playbook Podcast, we sit down with Leighton Healey, CEO of KnowHow, to discuss our newest book, "Winning With Workers: The 8 Proven Principles Today's Leaders Use To Attract and Retain the Best Talent”. In the first episode of our 3 part series, we dive into the first two principles: Creating a Weird Culture and Advancing the Whole Worker. Join us as we unpack how companies can begin implementing these principles today to revitalize their employee experience and retain top talent.

Get your copy of Winning With Workers, here.

Episode Transcription

Leighton Healey
Companies have to recognize that in an industry that's very, that has a lot of natural stress production, what does that stress do to my workforce? And physiologically, we've known for a long time what stress does. Stress produces a hormone called cortisol. And an oversimplified way of describing cortisol is it's kind of like rust that gets produced in your body. And that rust, it causes a lot of things. It caused, causes our bodies to break down. It causes us to crave food that we probably shouldn't crave. It causes us to have negative thoughts and it really works against us in many ways. And so the body has natural ways of dealing with that cortisol. And if we don't allow the body or present the body with opportunities to deal with that cortisol will have a very negative influence in our bodies. And that will then react kind of impact how we react to situations, our decision making ability, how we interact with people at an interpersonal level.

And so what we're saying in the book is two things recognize that this is a stressful industry and recognize that companies that are going to be the employers of choice are people that find ways to deal with it.

Paul Silliman
Welcome to another episode of the Restoration Playbook podcast. I'm your host, Paul Silliman, and today we'll be diving into three of the eight principles highlighted in Know How's latest book, Winning with Workers. Our focus today will be on the ever-evolving topics of professional and personal growth, effective workplace management, and combating stress in the restoration industry.

We all know that this field demands. Constant adaptation, learning, and growth. And who better to guide us through these challenges than our guest and my friend, Leighton Healey. Leighton is a renowned keynote speaker, workforce expert, and the CEO of Knowhow. With his vast experience in scaling and managing companies across various industries and franchises, Leighton brings invaluable insights and learning to our conversation. Leighton's passion for unleashing human potential and fostering a culture of growth and personal development makes him a perfect voice for our discussion today.

But before we dive into our enlightening conversation with Leighton, let's talk about KnowHow. KnowHow is a mobile-first app that is designed to support, streamline, and strengthen your company's workforce by eliminating the need for time-consuming searches through outdated operation manuals and other documents. By delivering immediate, clear, and concise answers to your team's on-the-job information. Whether that's rapidly onboarding new hires in chaotic situations, breaking down language barriers, or just giving that point-of-need information your team needs out in the field.

But it doesn't just make jobs easier. It makes your jobs easier to do. Our platform is backed with hundreds of prebuilt templates for common restoration jobs, making it faster than ever to become a process-driven company. And you don't have to take my word for it. Schedule a demo at and discover how Knowhow helps restores get the job done right every time. And that's at We'll also have a link in the show notes for your convenience. Now, let's jump into this enlightening conversation with Leighton.

Leighton, Welcome to the Restoration Playbook Podcast. I'm excited to have you on today. So Leighton, tell me about the book Winning with Workers. Kind of the inspiration behind it and a little bit of a connection to this podcast as well.

Leighton Healey
Yeah, absolutely, Paul. Paul, it's fun to be here, and it's fun to sit in the co-pilot seat here as you get to talk with a whole bunch of leading restorers. And that's what the book is about. The book is about what leaders are doing in the industry. What are people who are succeeding with their workforces doing? We just released our newest book, our newest study. It's called winning with workers. And so for those of your audience that are on the video, they can see kind of a snazzy cover. There you got a copy. Good. And we titled it Winning with Workers. The eight proven principles today's leaders use to attract and retain the best talent. And the workforce is changing very rapidly. The largest employment sector in North America is the service industry. And they're in a labor crisis. They're in a labor crisis for a variety of things that are much bigger than any particular market vertical.

And the question is, when things change, what can we look to that is stable and reliable? And we believe that principles are things that you can rely on. And so, in a changing landscape, we've identified what are the eight principles that are at work in the companies that are not just surviving, but they are really thriving. They're thriving in the way that they attract top talent, keep top talent, and advance that top talent within their organizations. And so a combination of several years of research in the industry, my own experience having built and scaled service-based industries over the years, and then in addition to that, just drawing upon countless interviews that we've done with.

Leaders in this space are just distilling all that down into something that we think is very practical, something very approachable, and I think something that many companies will read, and they'll see some of the principles that work within their company, and it will validate some of the things that they're doing and hopefully identify some other pillars that they can add to their company to really build something that will grow a great employment experience and help them to, frankly, still be here in ten years.

Paul Silliman

And I think that's a great point because, especially in the restoration industry, this is one of the most I always say recession-resilient, not recession-proof, because you still have to be able to run a good business. So when there's plenty of jobs out there, it's really finding those ways to invest in people, invest in your culture, different things of that nature to help really grow the business as well. So with this book, we do have eight different principles, but today we're going to dive in, and kind of take a look at three of these and kind of diving the first one is create a Weird culture. This is a very counterintuitive view compared to what we normally hear in business books or podcasts. Can you tell me a little bit more about creating a weird culture and how that kind of leads to more retention?

Leighton Healey

Culture is such a nuanced, abstract, overused term in business. I've often thought that we just should just pull some synonyms out and use different words for culture. But culture is the word that we use, and it gets so mixed up in jargon and books and buzzwords and whatnot. At the end of the day, the visual that we use in the chapter on that principle one creates a weird culture, we start by asking people to kind of go back to that Indiana Jones scene, maybe for younger listeners that like Jumanji Dwayne, the Rock Johnson scene where they're hacking through the Amazon and then they stumble into a tribe of people that have never had contact with the outside world. And very quickly, you recognize that this is a distinct little group of people, and they dress differently, they talk differently. It just so happened you landed there during a full moon, and so there's these rituals and there's roles that people have, and it's different.

Leighton Healey
And if there's one thing that's clear, it's you're an outsider, and they're insiders, and you might say it's weird. And weird is simply a way of saying it is distinctly different from what you were used to. And when we challenge companies to build a weird culture, the first thing that we're challenging them to do, Paul, is to understand that culture is a lot more than pizza parties. When your team looks gassed and just worn out and frayed and just having reactive Uber eats orders, that's not culture. Well, in a sense, what you're reflecting is that you have a very reactive, very transactional culture. So I guess that is culture. But what we're talking about is we say weird is good. What we're saying is we're really saying strong cultures are thick. You can cut the distinctiveness with a knife in the sense that sometimes it's even hard to articulate until you've been there for a while.

But people that have been there for a while have almost come to just say that's just how it is. And in the same way, we've probably all heard people say in response to some wrecking ball manager that the owner doesn't have the guts to fire, saying, wow, that's just the way it is. I mean, that's ultimately we have a culture of a gutless owner. But really, what we're after with a weird culture is a culture that is distinct. It is a culture that people know when they're part of it, and they know when they're not part of it. And it takes time to grow into it. And there's kind of a honeymoon period where you start asking yourself, are these my people, or are they not my people? And what it's all built upon is something that's way bigger than this industry, Paul, is that people today, particularly young people, are disconnected, and they're disconnected for a variety of reasons.

Something I've said on stage at a number of the conferences in this industry. It's good data that the incoming worker, these workers that are age 19 to 30, these are demographics that don't have a lot of what we would say, traditional connection in the world. These are individuals who don't volunteer much and probably don't go to church. It's been a while since they've been in school; they may have passed on college, maybe did a year. They're on social media. But it's all really superficial. If you were to say, So, who's your people? Where's your tribe, man? They'd say, I don't really have one. Companies have an opportunity to do something that many might think is uncomfortable, which is by really establishing and intentionally deciding that we're going to create, I don't know, for lack of a better word, at home. A place where our staff feel that they belong, that they're part of something that is distinct enough that they could describe it to their friends as they catch up on the weekends.

And to describe a culture, you have to describe things like routines and rituals and language and terms and inside jokes and clothing and behavior and things that, if there's not enough, that's distinct about your company, that gives them enough material to have a ten-minute conversation with their friends and for their friends to say, that's different, that's kind of weird, and for them to respond, yeah, it's just how we do it. And I like it. It's not for everyone, but I like it. At the end of the day, you really don't have what I would say is a culture that's thick enough to retain your people for them to really evaluate in the eyes of a better opportunity or a different opportunity. What am I leaving behind? And who am I leaving behind if I decide to pull my chute after a rough day? So I can talk more about that.

But culture is nuanced. There's a lot that's been said about it. We dig into some data, and we dig into some case studies that unpack that a little bit further. But one of the principles that we believe needs to be at work in companies that are going to win with this workforce is that they need to say we need to create a distinct culture that isn't designed to appeal to everybody, but it's designed to appeal to a certain type of people that you don't want to go anywhere. And we think that it should be a little weird. It's weird in the sense that it should be unique. It should be unique to you. So I can speak more to that.

Paul Silliman
I think you hit some real things on the head there, and it's something that one point you made was everyone has a culture. Everyone keeps talking about, oh, we need to build a culture. This is something we want to have. Well, you have a culture whether you know it or not because I know I've personally worked in a couple of restoration firms where we had a culture, and it wasn't always good. It wasn't something that you went home excited to come back the next day, but it's almost shining a light on. Is that really the kind of people you're looking to retain and dive into? What are some examples of implementing those best practices in business that maybe has a culture or maybe has been stuck in a certain kind of culture for a long way and they're now revisiting thinking, maybe this is something we need to change.

Leighton Healey
As you were talking about that, Paul. It may not be a direct correlation, but oftentimes you'll hear somebody say, I had a good childhood, or I had a bad childhood, but you can't ever say there's no such thing as a person who said, I didn't have a childhood. Right? I know people who probably don't remember their teenage years just the way that they rolled, right? But at the end of the day, everybody had a childhood. And we can all agree that we or people we know had a childhood. That stunk. It was the pits, right? And yet you still had it. And other people I was doing an interview with a candidate this morning, and they had an awesome childhood. And it just, man, it shows, right? Like, it's just deep roots, you know what I'm saying? In a similar way, you can kind of tell when someone's coming from a healthy, just a healthy, vibrant, enriching, rich, soiled place to grow as a human, otherwise known as work.

And you can tell when people have come from these mercenaries. You're in it for yourself. The boss is clearly dealing with a stuff-type work environment. And so when it comes down to just practical things that we can do, that's a great thing about, you know, this book, is we wrote the book in such a way where every chapter ends with things to stop doing, things to start doing and things to invest in. So I'll just pull right from the book.

You can just go to, and get a free copy of this. So the first thing that we say that you need to stop doing is you need to stop thinking that team culture is just events that you do sporadically, right? Even if they're planned in the same way as saying, are you part of a family? And they say, yeah, we have pizza once in a while, you'd say, no, did you have a childhood?

Yeah, I once had a Christmas event. Right. That's not exactly what's involved in it's like, no, you do life, and sometimes we do life intentionally, and sometimes we just get through it together. And so the first thing we say is that understand that culture is not just kind of tossing events and activities at your team members. The other thing that we do is we say, don't delegate the visionary work of defining what it's going to be like to just be part of your team. So often, just an owner, operator, busy executive, or someone who's in a management role knows that Thanksgiving is coming up, or Cinco de Mayo, or you name it. And they look at someone who just seems to have no problem getting things done, and they say, could we get some tacos on Friday? Could you help me with that?

And they delegate it. And they ask questions like, oh, do you want decorations? Should we do some type of activity? And they say, Honestly, just run with it. That is delegating. We're not talking about delegating tasks. We're talking about delegating just the feel of what it's supposed to be like to be employed by your company. And you can't do that once you have a vision, then you can bring people in and say, hey, you know how we all just find it so fun when we get together, and we focus on, say, this common denominator? I have an idea for an event this Thanksgiving that I think will really bring that forward. Could you help me with some of the logistics? That's appropriate, but just delegating a couple of activities is not appropriate. So I can share a few more, but those are some tangible examples.

Paul Silliman
And those are good. And we can definitely talk on this for hours on end because especially when it comes to, let's be honest, especially in restoration with after-call hours, sometimes a hurricane comes through, you get storms. You spend more time with these people than you do with your actual family. So you're in that building with them every day. And when you mentioned delegating those tasks, you might have someone who's just barely hanging on. They're running on fumes, and it's like, okay, great, now can you handle this? When it just turns into a burden, instead of we get to celebrate something. Like, we actually get to have fun at work for once when this is one of those very intense industries where there are peaks and valleys of, you know what, I really could just use a pizza party to where we turn things off.

When you go about it the one way instead of, let me just throw something else on someone's plate. And this is kind of a good segue into kind of our next chapter we're going into on advancing the whole worker. This is something that's talked about in a lot of business books, having that being able to separate from work, having your own personal priorities in this industry, sometimes that's tough to do. I know I struggle with it a lot. At one point, and I ran a mold remediation division and was helping run the water mitigation. And the minute you get home, your phone's still ringing, you're still in those jobs, you're helping with the on-call text, or you just never turn off.

I'm curious, why is it important in this day and age to kind of advance the whole worker as well?

Leighton Healey
So when we talk about advancing the whole worker, really what we're saying is that there's obviously more to this person than just what they do between nine and five. And we know that nine and five is just a silly placeholder for when you start clocking your time and when you end clocking your time. Behind every person, there's a life, and there's often relationships, sometimes there's a family, sometimes there's children, and sometimes there's a partner. And at the end of the day, it's difficult for a stressed out, under-resourced, over-capacity manager to care about their own life outside of know, nevertheless care for their staff's lives. And we're also not saying that you need to become Dr. Phil for your staff and help them through all their burdens. That's not what we're talking about, right? What we're talking about. And I like allegories, and I like pictures because I think it helps anchor things.

And so one of the stories we tell in this chapter, I've mentioned it before, is this idea of what I refer to as a brick house on stilts. So just stay with me for a moment here. I remember one day I was in the gym, and there was just this enormous man who was moving all this steel beside me and one of the biggest humans I'd ever seen. And he was doing his thing in his muscular shirt, and he had this kind of slim and trim pants on. And I just mentioned, between all his screaming and grunting, I said, man, you are an enormous human, and you have done some work. And he looked at me, and he had this kind of movie British voice. And he said, I'm not going to replicate his voice, but he simply said, you see all this? This is a brick house built on stilts.

And he just kind of pulled up his pants a little bit, and he just had these tiny little noodley legs, right? And it kind of stuck with me. And here is somebody who has ignored a part of his body quite consciously for a significant amount of time. And to his detriment, when you fail to advance the whole worker, what you're doing is you're building a workforce who are brick houses on stilts. And so this is an industry that understands, Paul. As you know, we did the biggest study ever in restoration. One of the things we identified is one of the most important investments that employers need to make is in the education and skill training of their workers as a motivator to stay and retain them. Industry responded. In our State of the Industry Report of 2022 that we do with CNR Magazine, it indicated that one of the strongest investment areas in the industry has been education and training.

Now, that tends in this industry to lead to a lot of certifications, and a lot of technical letters beside your name. And those things are great, but when you don't balance that with caring about their progress and their advancement at home, you're building brick houses on stilts. And that person who you want to be a key contributor at work if they don't have a path to knock down their student debt, to pursue vehicle ownership, maybe to get to a place where they have a reliable vehicle. A place where they're in a position where they're really content with where their kids go to school. Or there's a path towards maybe one day owning their own home. At the end of the day, you're not building a whole worker. You're not building a whole person. We use this other visual. I live in a part of the world where we produce a lot of oil and gas.

And one of the things that's not one of our best characteristics is that once we extract all of the resources from the ground, sometimes companies will just essentially walk away, and they'll leave this kind of. We would say, unmitigated piece of land with this hole in the ground that's empty. And we call them orphan wells. Essentially, we sucked out all the value, we got what we wanted, and then when it couldn't produce, we walked away. Sometimes that's what this industry does, is this industry. It can be so stressful, it can be so intense, and that intensity is born on the shoulders sometimes of our people back at home, our families and our loved ones, and our physical health. That is when we can't keep up. The storms keep coming; the work keeps coming, and the pipes keep freezing. And we look sometimes, even with heartfelt well intent, and say, we've got to get to the next job.

So thanks. Right, nice having you here. And what you do is when they're skinny little legs which represent an ignored home life and we've extracted all the resources, we kind of abandon these people. Not only is that just poor leadership, but workers today, they look for that in a job. They say, is this just another place that's going to just wear me out like a frayed garment and then kind of toss me out? Or is this a place where I'm going to be able to make some progress in my personal life. What it looks like when we say companies that win with workers today, they advance the whole worker. I'll just give you a practical example. It's one thing to sit across from someone in an interview and say, hey, I hope you like working hard. It's a whole nother thing to say, hey, you've got choices.

And if you commit to a two to three-year timeline with us, here's what we would love to talk to you about. You've got to roll up your sleeves, but we would love to see you be in a position where you're further ahead and knocking down your student loans, where you're in a position where you're driving a vehicle that you're proud of, and you've got that vehicle paid off. Maybe even you're thinking about a path toward homeownership. And this job has helped you get there. And then at work, we'd love to see you in a position where if you're interested, you have some responsibility for others, you have some responsibility for assets in the company. You've gained some credentials in this industry that can help you drive to some increased earning potential. How does that sound? If you invest in this company, we'd like to invest in you and see your progress in both your home life and your work life.

How does that sound? Of all the interviews they did that week, what do you think, Paul? I mean, that one's going to stand out.  

Paul Silliman
Oh, I mean, night and day. Hit it right on the head. I mean, I had the same scenario with my wife when we first met. I was still a technician at one of my first restoration companies. And our first couple of weeks into dating, it got to a point where I had so many after-hour calls. I had left movies in. I left dinners. I was always kind of on call. I was always that person that people would call. And we had to have a conversation of, like, do you see yourself doing this for the next ten years? Because I don't know if this is the life I want to live. And it was something that kind of forced me to have that conversation of, hey, are there any other roles I can go into? Because this really isn't working for me. Like, how do I find something to do?

And it really is. As you said, you want to be able to get the most out of your employees, but also not wring them out like that wet garment and really flourish in a home life. And that's something that in a lot of the companies we interviewed in Winning With Workers, they mentioned investing in worker's families, children's activities, communities, and really bringing that whole family unit into the fold to where they understand, here's the important work you're doing. But also, there's a face to the name. This isn't just you getting called out at the house at all hours. They understand what's going on. What kind of benefits do you see that providing to a business who, while their employees are on the job, they are investing in those family activities or if it's barbecues on the weekend, kind of like we spoke about in culture, but really making it that community feel?  

And where do you see that kind of tying in?

Leighton Healey
I think that there's a risk of some people listening to this and saying workers are soft, they're softer than they used to be, and now I have to deal with that. Or gone are the days when people would just work 70 hours a week and shake off their jackets at the end of the day and say I'll see you tomorrow. Which was code for I'll be back here in 4 hours. Right at the end of the day, people are different, no question. But whether people know how to act on it or not, there is just a general sense in the population that there are more options available to people today than there were even 510 years ago. Some of that is this gig economy. Some of this is everybody seems to have a cousin who apparently is making bank on Amazon or YouTube somehow, and yet they'll never tell you how much money is in their bank account, but they're making it's smoke and mirrors.

But there is just this kind of in the back of the mind that I've got options. And you know what? Some people don't have options. Some people like just the way they played their cards. They don't have a lot of options. But it's the sense that there is greener grass out there. Employers today, they just have to be competitive. Not to trivialize them. But business is a game and sometimes the rules change and sometimes new things come rolling into the court and you've got to adapt. And the best people who adapt are people who sincerely modify sometimes their beliefs. They embrace this reality that workers today, they want to have a more rounded life and they want to be able to maybe they want to have something shareable on Instagram. Or maybe it's genuinely because they finally have a vision for what a more fulfilling life can and could look like.

Because more people share their lives online, and so there's more of an awareness of what's available to you. But for whatever it is, workers today want to be able to feel like they have more harmony in their life than workers even 510 years ago. And so when you get practical about it, here are some simple, practical things, and then here's maybe more difficult things. A very simple practical thing is that when you're checking in with your staff, don't just ask work-related questions, and that doesn't mean that you just default to sports. But it really is about even if you. You start a note in your phone with an entry for each team member, but it's just finding something that they find meaningful and interesting outside of work and just checking in with them. Just a simple open-ended question, right? It could simply sound like knowing that they're really into hip hop and just being like, hey, listen to anything new recently?

Anything that I should be listening to? And this young guy is going to look at you, and he's going to know two things. He's going to know that you have no idea what you're talking about, and he's also going to know that you're sincerely trying to take an interest in him. And if you give him some space and you just provide a little bit of silence, they'll probably respond. And they'll, you know, this new group out of Minneapolis dropped this new vinyl this weekend, and it's pretty cool. They say, hey, man, we're driving the site. Why don't you spin it? And they say, Well, I don't know. I don't know if you'll like the language, and you're like, hey, come on, man. Let's just check it out, right? And that's a very simple, tangible way we say in the book, is don't find yourself just simply building rapport around work stuff, right?

Avoid the weather, avoid sports, and keep it appropriate. There are totally inappropriate things you can ask someone about their personal life, right, but it's really about finding ways to inquire into their personal life. And then if and when a worker offers up some kind of a challenge or some kind of an obstacle, you don't have to solve it, right then. Like, this is an industry of professional problem solvers. They're not asking you to solve your problems, but sometimes you write that down, and you give some attention to it, and you say, hey, look, I'm in a business position where I'm an owner or manager, and I've got some skills where maybe I could actually help move some mountains for some of my team. And so that's a more strategic example, Paul, where we say, you know what? You have a high-quality management team, a high-quality, say, supervisor or leadership team or ownership team once a quarter.

Once a quarter, deploy. That just skill and that industry horsepower for an hour with your Rolodexes on your phone and just see if you can solve a problem that one of your team members maybe couldn't solve on their own because they just don't have the connections or they just don't have the wherewithal. Or maybe they don't have the resources, or maybe they just don't have the social opportunities for you just to open a door for them and move a mountain for a team member. And they'll remember that, and they'll be loyal to that. There's more I could say to that, but is that helpful?

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. And it's just having the conversation, taking that five minutes and having that chat and you never know what might come from it. Someone might say, hey, I'm really struggling with this or I'd really love to learn this. Just empowering those workers or just making them feel listened. They might turn around and be like wow, they're actually really good on this social media stuff. We're actually getting a couple more calls. They've actually solved an issue I've been working on for years. But now you're having that conversation, but you're also investing in that person. So they actually feel like they're part of that tribe that we've spoken about, and it's eliminating stress. Or maybe if it's just shining light on something or sometimes it's just looking at a problem from a different angle, it might be just something simple. And that kind of leads us to our next point.

This is creating that net zero-stress workplace. This is something I personally know very well. And in Winning with Workers, we noted that 85% of the workers say that stress is not properly managed in the workplace. Why do you think that is?

Leighton Healey
There are so many reasons. There are so many reasons and so why don't we break down some of them? So if a person were to ask me why it is that 85% of workers in this industry believe that we just do not manage trust? Well, first and foremost, this is an industry that's largely internally promoted. Meaning that people you don't just take someone who you met at the bank and make them the head of Mitigation, right? This is an industry where people tend to come up through the ranks and meaning that they bring with them ways of doing things ways of being, and ways of living that are largely born in the fires of a chaotic industry that probably hasn't benefited from balance and realistic timelines and realistic workloads and whatnot. And so at the end of the day, people are stressed out because the people that influence their day-to-day and the people that have the most influence over their workload and their assignments and their progress, those people are stressed.

And they have been running in an adrenalized state for so long that they just can't even picture a different mode of operating, and they are on edge. And that approach to life has worn on their personal lives, it has worn on their relationships at work, and they just go through life with just like an intensity and kind of a Survivor's style of doing life that just injects a lot of stress into the workforce. And so first and foremost, that has to be addressed. And so people are stressed out because they're managed by people who are stressed out, right? And that's number one.

Paul Silliman
I think you really hit something on the head there because it kind of ties into what were talking about with that team culture. Because if you have people that are maybe stressed out and then they come into work, and then it turns into, well, this is just how it is. It's just the industry we're in; you can kind of feed into different areas there where it might just be something as simple as how do I upload this document? Or how do I do this? My manager is out in the field today. I have to have this done in an hour. I have no idea what I'm doing here. But yet the phone's still ringing. You still have losses going on. And it's just being able to find those simple solutions that people will learn differently. Some people are visual; some people are very detail-oriented.

Some people have learning disabilities have ADHD. And especially in this industry, a lot of times in those different organizations, you'll have people that just thrive in that office environment. They're great with hitting; here's my touch point and exact analysis. Here's what I need to do next. But you put them in a loss where the ceiling is caving in. You have a homeowner who's upset. It's too much going on. But also, you might have those people who it's pure heaven being in those chaotic situations. It's easy to manage. But then you put them down in front of a desk and say, I need you to paint a picture and go through this estimate. It's just not their way of doing it. And work is commonly associated with stress. And this is one of those industries that you are coming in after a disaster. How would you go about creating that stress-free environment? And is that something that's even possible?

Leighton Healey
Well, we don't promote saying create a stress-free environment. What we say is the principle is to create a net zero-stress workforce. And so, let me unpack that a little bit. Call it whatever you want. Let's just use the term a conscience. But a lot of companies nowadays have developed some type of a conscience where they recognize that in the production of their products or their services, they extract a toll on the environment, the economy, and society. Over the years, probably since kind of like the late 80s, Peter Drucker was kind of a pioneer in really challenging us to think about how to look beyond just the bottom line, a dollar bottom line, and start thinking broader about how we really gauge success. And out of that, I would say out of that was born this idea that if we are going to create a toll on, let's say, the environment or on our people or whatnot, we have to think about how do we offset that?

And so that's where you'll hear this idea of like net zero carbon buildings that are getting created. Or you see companies that are like carbon zero or zero carbon footprint or whatnot. Or we've all heard of the story of some house that actually produces more than it consumes or whatnot. But the essence is this, is that in the creation and the production and all the hustle and bustle. There are companies who recognize that we're going to need to do something to counter that, to just kind of just bring things back to neutral. And what we say about industries like property restoration is that they are industries that are just naturally very stressful. These are industries that it's as if, like, they're stress engines. It's like they make stress. It's like there's a door to a room, and in that room, there's a motor, and it's actually called a stress motor, right?

It's like it just builds, it makes, and you know what? And you've got to have a secret password to get a Ramsco and John Don to sell you one, but you get one, and they can be very powerful, and they produce a lot of so, kidding aside, what we say in the book is that companies have to recognize that in an industry that has a lot of natural stress production, what does that stress do to my workforce? And physiologically, we've known for a long time what stress does. Stress produces a hormone called cortisol. An oversimplified way of describing cortisol is it's kind of like rust that gets produced in your body and that rust. It causes a lot of things. It causes our bodies to break down. It causes us to crave food that we probably shouldn't crave. It causes us to have negative thoughts, and it really works against us in many ways.

And so the body has natural ways of dealing with that cortisol. If we don't allow the body or present the body with opportunities to deal with that, cortisol will have a very negative influence on our bodies, and that will then react kind of impact how we react to situations, our decision-making ability, how we interact with people at an interpersonal level. And so what we're saying in the book is two things we recognize that this is a stressful industry and recognize that companies that are going to be the employers of choice are people that find ways to deal with it. And you deal with it in two ways. You deal with it way number one is that there are some sources of stress that no question is avoidable. And you can address them, and you can deal with them and you can actually trim 25% of your workforce's rust really within a quarter, like within the quarter of a year.

And some examples are just really just frayed and burned out. Managers who don't have the bandwidth to even think about how I would have time to think through a proper workplace schedule. Give that person a long weekend so they can come back and create a schedule that doesn't upset everybody, right? Learning how to press upon your management team to find an assertive tone and shake off a passive-aggressive or an aggressive tone when they're giving instructions. The ability to introduce simple words like please, thank you, and sorry into your workforce vocabulary things again; they can have a surprising impact on just reducing avoidable stress. Things like, for example, respecting that when a worker is off, meaning hey, you're off on, you're on call, but now you're off. Off is respecting that, you know what, we're going to need to really protect that person's time off so that they can, in fact, refresh and recharge.

Those are examples of just avoidable stress. One of the biggest sources of stress that we recognized in our research, Paul, is that a lot of companies have someone that has influence who's good at what they do. They've been at it for a while, but they're a jerk. And everybody knows they're a jerk. The owner knows they're a jerk, but the owner is either so fatigued themselves or they're just apathetic that they've convinced themselves that actually the cost of removing that person, sometimes addressing it with that person and then removing them or trying to replace that person is greater than the negative influence they have on my workforce. And they're a huge source of stress. And the employer's cowardice is a source of stress and the manager and what we call them a smart jerk and they're a source of stress. So all I'm saying is that I said there's two things you do.

One thing you do is you make a list of things that are avoidable stressors and you start knocking them down. And then the second thing is you say what are some things that we can do that will actually sequester some of the stress that we create? Because it's stressful and it's going to keep being stressful. And some very simple activities that you can do is just look to what we already know about how the body processes stress. The body processes stress. Number one, it processes stress through sleep. This is an industry that again, there's not a lot of opportunity sometimes asleep. But this is an industry where you have a lot of these people who brag about how little sleep they need and it creates this toxic culture of man, if I sleep more than 5 hours I'm a woos. And you squish that there's no such thing as a person.

The jury is not out. They have reached a conclusion. The human body needs seven-plus hours of sleep a night regardless of your age. And anyone who says otherwise, again, they're just not with modern research. And so the reality is that in an industry that struggles to sleep well, one of the most practical things you can do is just don't create a culture of bragging about how few fumes I can run on. The second thing is that another thing that burns stress, and it's just this amazing thing about human design is laughter and humor. Laughter has a way of burning cortisol. It's such an interesting thing to find a way of introducing appropriate humor in your workplace. Humor that is appropriate for everyone involved and finding ways to do that, it burns stress. Another thing that burns stress is physical exercise. And just dragging around a bunch of dehumidifiers is not physical exercise.

When you pair physical exercise with fun, that's really what we're talking about. And so again, if you're kicking the breeze, rather than bringing in a whole bunch of Popeyes Chicken and getting your people to sit around and drink sugary beverages and Popeyes chicken, bring in some power bowls and show up with a basketball or a couple of ball hockey sticks and just goof off and have some fun on the parking lot. That's what we're talking about, is things that will actually burn a little bit of stress, know, cause a few laughs, maybe create a few inside jokes, maybe a nickname or two. Those are examples of things that burn stress. So what we're talking about, Paul, ultimately, is companies recognize that this is a stressful industry, that stress has a physiological toll on our workforce, and we can do something about it, but we have to be proactive.

And there's more I could say to that, but that's how we think about that principle.

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. Really, we've hit a couple of broad topics. There's definitely more in the book. So if you definitely want to go get a copy, definitely go to, download it, and take a look. We could definitely speak on a lot of these for hours on in, but the general tone around it is for an industry that's very reactive, there are simple steps you can take to be proactive, and this will create long-lasting effects over your team. And Leighton, I really want to thank you for coming on today. We could make this a five to seven-hour podcast, but it's something that I think is important, people are looking to invest in, and I think this book just highlights and gives some great case studies on companies that are doing it. These aren't abstract thoughts of, like, maybe we could try this. This is what different businesses are actually doing and seeing success in.

So I really want to thank you. If there's any closing thoughts or anything you'd like to put out there, the mic is yours.

Leighton Healey
Thanks, Paul, and thanks for having me on. I think that one of the things that I just think doesn't get enough time at the microphone is that being an employer and trying to create a work experience that is fruitful and meaningful is rewarding. I'll say three things to close. One is a lot of people will say, this all sounds great, but as soon as this podcast is over, I don't have time to do anything. As this owner, as this manager. And I understand that. I know what it's like to feel like you are just totally maxed out and to feel like you've got all these ideas and if you just had an extra day in the week. And so, the best way for you to take back time is to use tools that allow you to standardize elements of your business so it's easier to delegate things off your plate for you to be able to eliminate so much of the time that goes into just re-explaining and just micromanaging the life out of your team.

So you can actually just carve out a day, a week to actually think about these things and be able to actually make some investments in your team. Heck, make some investments in your own life, in your own family, so that you're not a brick house on stilts yourself. So then you can come in and invest in your team. And that's a big part of what we do at KnowHow, as a software company, and we focus on how do you take lots of the operational elements of your business and just streamline them. So it just gives you time. So the second thing I'd say is that if you want to get your hands on this book, we don't hide it and shadow it or lock it high in a big price tag. We give it away. We give it away because we believe that is what's part of us being a good stakeholder in this industry.

And so you can go to, and you can download a digital copy of this if you're like me and you kind of like to write on the edges and make notes and stuff like that, you can go on and get a copy of the book. I don't know what the retail price is. It might be $30, but you can get a copy of that if you find yourself at one of the conferences we're involved in. Oftentimes there are opportunities for us to just give you a copy, but it's totally appropriate for you to get a copy of this, go to the back of each chapter, get some tactical things, and then maybe you're not the manager. Maybe you're not the owner, but maybe you're someone who really believes in the company, and you'd like to see some change, maybe see some opportunities. You're aware of what causes regrettable turnover in your team, and you recognize that there's an opportunity for you to maybe do something about it.

And maybe you could just find a gracious way of introducing this resource to your management team, and to your owner and just suggest some things that might make a difference. Sometimes you have an idea, and you just don't have a leg to stand on. Well, this book is well-researched; there are lots of examples. It's very practical. And so, for someone who wants to be a catalyst for change in their company, this book can give you a resource and a reference and something to say. Well, I'm reading this book; I know I've been saying this for a while, but here's some validation and I think we should take this seriously so you can use the book to help you to champion change in your organization. And then, if you want to learn more about Know How, and this is not our first study, you can go to

And we've got a resource section, and you'll soon discover that there's a lot of books, there's a lot of Know yourself, Paul. You talk with really big names in this industry, and they open up their playbook, and they tell you how they do it. And so I would encourage you to dig in because, as I said at the beginning of this podcast, the labor industry is in crisis, and if you're not experiencing it, you're going to experience it very soon, and the playbook is changing. And then the change is because there are huge waves that are so much bigger than this industry that are influencing how the incoming worker thinks about work, thinks about learning, thinks about their life and those motivations and those priorities and those perspectives. An employer nowadays, to win the game, has to be aware of that, and they have to think about how to create a workplace and an employment experience that is reflective of the realities of today.

And so, I would invite people to dive in, and hopefully, this conversation was helpful.

Paul Silliman
Absolutely. Go take ownership.

A big thank you goes out to my friend Leighton Healey from KnowHow for sharing his invaluable knowledge on workforce management, culture, cultivation, and stress resilience in the industry of restoration. If you found this episode useful, please share this with a colleague. And make sure to get your hands on the copy of Winning with Workers. Just head to for a free copy of our ebook.

For those who would like to learn more about KnowHow, head over to and schedule a demo with me and experience firsthand how KnowHow can amplify your workforce's efficiency and quality no matter where the job takes them.

Once again, that's Thank you for joining us, and we look forward to bringing you more restoration industry insights with you on the next episode of the Restoration Playbook podcast. See you soon.