Rollins’ David Lamb: Combining Learning Skill With Business Savvy to Create Winning Outcomes

At some stage of the career game, almost every forward-thinking business leader craves challenge. To assuage the need, some leave a secure position to start their own companies. Others leave the corporate business environment for the world of academia. David Lamb, vice president of learning and media services for Rollins and its subsidiary Orkin Inc., took on the task of using learning to make an already successful company even more so.

Lamb has led or been a member of the leadership team for six corporate universities in organizations such as General Motors, ADP, Aetna and Bank of Montreal. He led two learning services companies as well as his own company, Strategic Learning Solutions. He said when he was approached initially by Rollins, he wasn’t exactly interested, because his clients took him everywhere except Atlanta, where this pest-control organization is headquartered.

“I worked with Amazon.com in Seattle, Barclays in London, General Motors in Michigan. I had clients all over the place, so I thought it would be interesting to at least go talk to Orkin, but when I got here I really liked what I saw. They were looking for someone to take what was a really good learning organization that they had invested in significantly to the next level. I was looking for a place where I could really make a difference. I was tired of living out of a suitcase, so when I saw the kinds of challenges and vision that Orkin had, it was really a great match.”

Orkin had embarked on an aggressive growth strategy and had implemented a number of new initiatives that required considerable change. To complicate matters further, the pest-control industry is highly regulated, and Lamb said it was essential that Orkin’s employees have the most current knowledge and skills required to be successful on the job.

“We’ve got people who come out and go into your home and provide services where there are environmental concerns. We need to make sure that our people are very knowledgeable and very skilled, and do it right the first time, every time. When I saw this, I said, ‘I’ve got a lot of experience in this industry, and this is a place where I can go in and contribute and make a difference.’ It has been a challenge, but the kind of work that I do here is very gratifying.”

For the past few years, Lamb said he has been busy rolling out a number of new initiatives related to Rollins-Orkin’s commercial services practice, which serves a variety of different industries. The company now provides handheld devices to every one of its technicians, and it is in the process of launching enterprise mobile software for routing, scheduling and sales automation. It also has built a number of call centers, some with hundreds of people under one roof.

The organization has begun an aggressive international franchising effort, as well. Currently, Rollins owns the largest pest control company in Canada and maintains a presence in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, the organization is now having conversations with potential franchisees in Korea, Australia and China.

Keeping up with the continuous deployment of technologies and services that will better enable learning in the midst of all this growth is challenging, Lamb said.

“Learning is the hub to integrate all of these new initiatives with the existing services,” he explained. “We want to be the best customer-service company in the world, not just the best pest-control company. While not skipping a beat, it’s important that we continue to provide the same services to our existing customers while we’re going through all of this change.”

In order to execute that organizational goal, Orkin has altered its learning delivery strategy. Until a few years ago, learning was almost exclusively instructor-led, with a lot of emphasis on hands-on learning in labs. Lamb said while this model worked well, it was also very expensive.

The company explored Web-based training, but with more than 400 branch locations around the United States — many of which are in industrial areas lacking in fiber-optic cable or broadband capability — an alternate learning solution was necessary. Orkin found that solution in satellite broadcast networks.

In June 2004, Lamb began project analysis, research and benchmarking, then pulled together a business case for a satellite interactive distributed learning system that would go out to each of the company’s 400-plus branches. This was his first major project with Orkin, and the executive steering committee granted the needed funds.

“It was about a one-year, $5 million project that we brought in on time, within budget,” Lamb said. “And our business results in terms of cost savings and cost avoidance have exceeded the business plan that we committed to.”

The satellite technology platform was designed to do live broadcasts and drop signals to monitors in branch locations, but Lamb said the company ultimately realized it would need multiple channels doing live broadcasts concurrently. This required additional display technology so that live broadcasts could appear directly on a monitor or a desktop PC. In January 2006, the company launched the system, and it now delivers broadcasts six to eight hours each day.

“Initially, it was training for our pest management professionals, about 3,500 technicians out of our 8,000 total employees. We’re looking to deploy this to other countries, and we’re also providing sales training using the same solution,” Lamb said.

Because pest control is such a highly regulated industry, field sales personnel require a lot of very specific technical knowledge in order to effectively sell the company’s products and services. This learning tends to change from state to state, but Lamb said it is the core of what’s required for each technician.

“It’s things like understanding the label and the law associated with that label for all of the materials that they work with,” he explained. “It’s what tools they have in terms of the sprayers, drills and all the equipment on their trucks. It’s how to load their truck and how to provide service once they get to the customer’s premises. Services tend to be in three major buckets: residential pest management, commercial pest management and termite.”

Despite widespread knowledge that learning and business or process improvements go hand in hand, many learning leaders still struggle to connect development initiatives directly with the business. Lamb said putting together a strong business case filled with hard numbers was a good part of the reason his company felt comfortable making such an expensive investment with implications for a huge chunk of its workforce.

The business case clearly outlined why the old model didn’t work. Before, half of the organization’s training happened at the learning center in Atlanta, but the rest happened in hotel meeting rooms around the country. This required the company to ship out the necessary training equipment and pay flight and hotel fees.

“The travel and living expenses associated with that model were just horrendous,” Lamb said. “The $5 million is the total cost of the program for the first three years including hardware, software, installation, configuration and the staff that’s running this. We built a studio, like a mini-CNN with a control room — you’d think you were at NASA — and we designed it so that it could be run very effectively with just three or four folks. After three years, we’ll have paid off all of the hardware and software, and expenses will go down dramatically. Then we have all the depreciation that has occurred on the equipment, so the costs will go up, but even with depreciation hitting our books, we have a 32 percent internal rate of return on the investment that we’re making.”

Lamb said having budget savvy and financial acumen, knowing how to build a business case and evaluating the ROI of a situation are some of the most important skills a CLO should have. The ability to think and act like a businessperson will ensure learning leaders a place at the strategy table, he said. Thinking in business as well as in learning and development terms and being able to understand investors’ and internal customers’ challenges also will enable CLOs to position their solutions to actively help the organization accomplish its strategic goals.

“Many of those goals are financial,” he explained. “And if you don’t understand finances or understand investment levels to be able to go in and effectively determine the scope and definition of the initiatives that you’re recommending — what the total, fully loaded costs of that initiative are and then be able to commit to cost savings, cost avoidance, productivity improvements, numbers that can fall to the bottom line — if you can’t do that as a CLO for any kind of organization of significant size, you probably should be looking for something else to do.”

With business outcomes top of mind — specifically, the company’s desire to establish itself as a commercial services leader — Lamb helped to spearhead a lot of the development for Orkin’s state-of-the-art learning facility. Originally envisioned as a place where technicians could gain valuable hands-on experience, he said he helped to conceptualize something far more ambitious.

“As we go forward, we’re looking to add simulations of fast-food restaurants for food processing,” Lamb said. “Kraft Foods is one of our major customers, and they’re donating some equipment that’s representative of what happens in their plants. We train some state regulators once a year. We’re benchmarked at least a couple of times a week. We had a major Japanese firm visit us in June. We’ve even had the president of our company bring in the president of Terminex, which is one of our largest competitors. He was so proud of what we have here, and felt that it would be so difficult to duplicate, that he brought him in and showed him the investment that we make in our people and the progress that we’re making.”

NAME: David Lamb
TITLE: Vice President, Learning and Media Services
COMPANY: Rollins

• Led design and development of a corporate Satellite Interactive Distributed Learning system installed at 360 Orkin locations. Project was on time, within budget and has provided higher benefits than committed in the business case.
• Received a 2006 Chief Learning Officer magazine Learning in Practice Award for Learning Innovation.
• Led design and build out of the $5 million Orkin Learning Center, which includes a 2,200-square-foot house, a “house under construction” pavilion, restaurant, bar, hotel room, hospital room, grocery store, commercial kitchen, warehouse, and indoor and outdoor garden nursery, all of which are used for hands-on training.
• Facilitated Orkin joining the LearnShare consortium; established a strong partnership and quickly deployed the LearnShare LMS without a hitch.

Learning Philosophy: “Internal learning organizations need to think and act as external learning services companies. We must provide our learners with the knowledge and skills required to create business value. Building the right learning team and then continuously investing in their capabilities ensures that we provide the highest value proposition for our clients. And we should have some fun along the way.”