Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gone But Not Forgotten

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.  - Napoleon Hill

John & Jim in Central Park 
I can't honestly say that I felt the Kubler-Ross model of five stages of grief, but it did feel pretty darn sad, anyway, as I made the difficult decision this weekend to remove the NYC Domestic Staff Physical Fitness Meetup from life support.

What better memorial than to post its Home Page right here on The Citizen, where it can live on - in spirit, anyway. And carry with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.


September 13, 2014

Dear Domestic Staff Fitness Buffs,

Sadly, it is time to say goodbye, and the group will close on September 13th. Perhaps it was an idea before it's time, or perhaps the idea can be expressed in a more engaging manner elsewhere.
Staying fit is a wonderful part of life and, in my opinion, a better indicator of a domestic worker's "energy" than their age. It's part of a larger philosophy of mine that people should be chosen for jobs not simply because of their race, their gender, or their age, yet for their actual, demonstratable skills and their abilities to perform to high standards.
Thank you to everyone who supported the group, or at least the idea.
In health and in career, I wish everyone the very best!



We're a group of people employed as domestic household staff members or those with a professional connection to the industry... who would like the healthy support, activities, and encouragement needed to get and stay physically fit!
Getting fit is not expensive. Spa-like gyms are certainly nice, but they won't get you into shape by themselves. Sweating during a free cardio workout in Central Park, however, most definitely will! Most of our workout activities are free - or almost free....  to maximize everyones' ability to participate, no matter what your income level.  
We're inclusive.  Fitness is good for everyone. At our meetups, you're a valuable and respected professional, whatever your job title! Whether you're a Housekeeper, Chef, Personal Caregiver, Pet Walker, Facilities Manager, Household or Estate Manager, Nanny, Manny, Driver, Maid, Personal Assistant, Majordomo, or even the Grand Poobah Family Office Chief of Staff... this group says Welcome... and now give us twenty push ups! 
All fitness levels are welcomed. Including completely out of shape and total beginners! We're not here to judge you, but instead to support you in building your healthy lifestyle and reputation for actual, demonstratable performance. This no quick & easy weekend seminar.... getting fit takes time and patience...  and we have plenty of both. You'll find here lots of friendly, positive support.
No time to exercise? Oh, not so! We make it totally convenient for you, with lots of different options:
• Gym workout! Our gym workout setting is Planet Fitness (super low cost.. $10/month!) -- the newest, cleanest, most amazing gym in New York City... where you can indulge your body in stretching, cardio, or weightlifting, depending on your own individual interests and goals! And for those interested, we'll often go out for a healthy, fun brunch or dinner afterwards, at one of the fantastic midtown west eateries. Yum! 
Do you already belong to another gym... or simply don't want to join one? No problem!... that's why we offer lots of other options below for you to choose....
• Central Park! While the weather is nice, we take advantage of some awesome and  free cardio activities in Central Park. Thursdays at 6:30PM is Central Park Circuit on the East Meadow, just off 5th Avenue at 97th. We might also check out a run or hike along one of the many great trails, or even the occasional guided tour (those conducted by the Central Park Conservancy volunteers and either free or very reasonably priced!)... for those times when we just want to get out and have some fresh air and a great walk.
• Swimming!  Several great pools throughout NYC are on our fitness radar screen.... stay tuned!
• Hula Dancing! Don't be shy, these totally FREE and amazing evening exercise classesheld by Shape Up NYC  of the NYC Parks & Recreation Department, and open to everyone -- you do not need to be a member of a rec center in order to attend the Shape Up NYC classes. And besides, didn't you always want to be a hula dancer? Well, now's your chance!
• Healthy eating! This is probably the most fun part of getting fit. Lot's of green eateries throughout this great city for us to choose, which are both fun and affordable. Network with your domestic colleagues during our Friday Nite Fuel meetup and have a healthy chili, soup, low-carb plate or wrap, to jump-start the weekend. Oh, yeah... more yum!
• YOUR suggestions! That's right... it's your meetup! You just might have a great idea for a heathy activity around town that you personally enjoy... so, yea! let's do it!  Join up and contact the organizer, and let's get the ball rollin'.
You are ALWAYS WELCOMED to bring along a friend or significant other to the meetups with you... just indicate on the RSVP that you're bringing along a guest!  Please RSVP for any event by 10PM of the day before, thanks! 
Yours in service and in fitness,


Saturday, September 13, 2014

It Was Good Enough For Alice

Many people in professions in this country are proud to wear the uniforms of their field, such as police, military, medicine, etc.  In my field, investment banking, I too wear a uniform, mostly suit and tie, and I’m expected to conform to my employer’s requirements to do so as a condition of employment.  - Reggie Darling

Neat, clean, sensible, professional.
I'm always impressed when people outside our industry speak about... our industry. I'm not taking about the various journalists who swoop in from time to time, trying their best to get the scoop, the dirt, or the whatever, on what's it like to witness the personal lives of the rich and famous. 

No, I'm referring here to those who, through actual experience, concern, or both, have something interesting and intelligent to say about domestic workers. Enter Reggie Darling, who I ran across this morning by simply entering keywords domestic/staff/ uniforms, while researching for a colleague the topic and it's relevance to today's domestic staff management.

Reggie has pretty much nailed the issue and does it with equal parts entertainment and respect. And although I'm not a sociologist, I don't fully agree with his assertion  "In today’s society, where all manner of structures have broken down...yet, I what I do believe has changed in recent times is the dramatic shift from tolerance (the United States was, after all, formed to be a nation of individuals who rebel against authority, so we'll never really be as collectivist and trusting as some others, as good or bad as that may be) of team efforts in the workplace - to that of frequent disregard. Uniforms do help, in Citizen Editor's humble opinion, not only identify the domestic worker as a proud professional, yet also on multi-staffed estates to swing the pendulum a bit away from individual contributor mode and into team collectivism, facilitating a refreshing change from the it's-all-about-me posturing that some domestic workers feel at liberty to assume.  

Image is important, as well, and therein often lies the problem itself: Where I see a neat, sensible, and wholly practical workplace and teamwork accessory, some others will look at a domestic service uniform and see the manifestation of drudgery, loss of self, and perceptions of workplace abuse from being told what to do. My opinion is that people in the latter category may not really belong in service, after all, or even, perhaps, in any profession.

Would Alice have worn spandex?
As a bonus to the article, although he makes no mention of the matter, author Reggie is clearly not afraid to utter the very word "maid," an honorable job, of which the title has somehow become dishonorable in recent years; the phenomenon to be addressed more fully in another post, another time. For now, suffice to say there are many ways to project competency and I'm squarely in the camp of both dressing and behaving appropriately to meet said goal; and not simply giving oneself a new, ridiculously inventive or upgraded job title to guard against an illusion of their skills being discounted. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

What Facebook Can Teach Estate Managers

If your household staff is logged onto Facebook instead of working, you've got bigger problems than social media or smart phones. Don't kill the messenger!

Perhaps one of the most timely organizational development articles I've seen ~ and on a site mostly unrelated to organizational development ~ was from Bobbi Newman of Librarian By Day, who hit the electronic bulletin board nail (almost) squarely on the keystrokes head with her post - written three years ago, yet more timely today than ever - regarding the angst of just about every manager, everywhere, in just about every industry (including domestic service) who has employees spending company time on Facebook instead of the jobs they were actually hired to do: Employers You Don't Have a Facebook Problem - You Have an Employee Problem.

There's a reason your household staff is surfing -
instead of working. What will you learn from it?
I say almost because Bobbi makes reference to web surfing within workplace communities requiring such media, presumably during the course of their official duties need to network with far-flung off-site co-workers, again, presumably on the web and then specifically through social media instead of ordinary business e-mail: 

"In a knowledge worker environment, an employees peers, his knowledge network, are more likely to be across the country than in the office next door."  

Most of domestic service delivery and the "network" needed for domestic staff teams to connect with during the course of a day is, of course, rather localized ~ and even the most laissez-faire styled Household Managers would be hard-pressed to justify the housekeeper, chef, bodyguard, or even him/herself logging onto Facebook on company time (do we really need to spend the day friending the latest luxury marketplace boutiques in order to meet the principals' service expectations?). Yet, still, her article is relevant to us, as it offers a refreshing challenge to those who would simply want to "rule away" the issue instead of digging deeper into the underlying causes of distracted performance. 

As many companies already have created, the omnipresent company electronic media policy turns out to be the latest HR-speak for we can't be bothered to figure out what's actually wrong with either you, your job, or us, and why you are goofing off in response to that, so it's easiest for us to just make another rule of what you better not do... and then everyone assumes they've done their due diligence and the "problem" just magically goes away.  

The problem, as everyone, including those crafting these policies honestly knows, though, but either won't or cannot say, is that Facebook never actually was the problem... it's only one of many distractions available to your household staff - and have been since the beginning of time. The only thing which has changed over the past few years with distractions is now there are simply more of them and with virtually everyone now owning a smart phone, the distractions are more portable and accessible than ever before. Yet, are these distractions ~ of the past, present, or those in the future we cannot yet know about today - the real issue for domestic (or any type of) service productivity?  

So what can Facebook teach Estate Managers?  Well, for starters, what processes, support, systems, stated expectations, and face-to-face leadership is on your estate ~ which can effectively compete with this increasing plethora of distractions now tempting your staff? And what would be standing in your way to implement them ~ and show your staff you care enough about their success for them to engage in a more productive and ethically honest way to spend their time? 

An opportunity for EMs to 
change what their staff "Likes"
Perhaps Facebook is not just "not the problem" as Bobbi would say ~ yet is actually a learning opportunity to know when, and where, and how we are failing our staff (and the Principals) ~ and that changes Facebook from a problem into a teacher ~ the subject not being the employee spending their day on the web, yet the organizational topic of how to change our support and performance management systems ~ and accept the challenge for setting our household staff up for an authentic workplace Like.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mastering The Last Taboo

You've been fired. But maybe you didn't fail.

Most people have been fired, at least once in their lives. In our own industry, their employers did not downsize their lifestyle, nor did they reorganize the household, or some other piece of fudge we've all been taught to serve on a silver tray during our next interview. It was, simply, being fired.

Let's take a look and see how things could improve.

The funny thing we forget is just this: the person interviewing us has already heard it all, and, even more so, she has most likely been fired at least once in her own career, too. Like you, she has been taught, by someone - or simply absorbed it through career osmosis - to "never say your were fired," but to (fill in the blank with the appropriate, less than honest spin). Our inquiry of this delicate and often painful topic should not stop at the career counseling level, yet should run deeper and more meaningful as to how an employee approaches their relationship with work, their employers, and ~ with setting themselves up for success, itself.

What matters, if the truth of one's core value to their employer matters, is we begin to look at the firing of workers as indicative of something other than failures; workplace failures being something our society has great difficulty approaching, much less mastering ~ so says industrial psychology researchers Thompson, Newton, and Khanna (Mastering The Last Taboo, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2008, Vol. 60, No. 3, pp. 227-245).

In the course of human history, the concept of failure in which lack of success is seen as a measure of an individual's personal worthiness is a relatively recent notion that is associated with the emphasis on individual responsibility for and control over personal destiny... whatever the individual's personal strengths and capabilities, inevitably, workplace failure is not an experience fully under his or her control... the reasons for any particular real-word failure experience may be found among a complex set of internal (effort, ability, and strategy) and external (organizational, environmental, task, and luck) explanations.

Yet, it doesn't take researchers from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology for us to know that failure in our society, of any sort, is taboo and is taught to be both shunned and hidden during the employment selection process, at any cost. Read most any book or consult privately with any career counselor; invariably will advise to creatively account for an involuntary termination as "it didn't work out," "the household was restructured," or, most ridiculous of all, "I'm really not sure."  However, the trouble with treating your next potential domestic employer as if they're clueless is that it casts even more doubt about your background when they discover the truth, which, as most often you're a stranger to them now, they're having a difficult enough time trying to suss out your integrity among the plethora of things which can go wrong when matching a candidate - possibly you - to their open position.

There's nothing truly creative about these stories from the outset. What remains to decide should not be how to hide yourself in the weeds and somehow remain attractively tall, yet what have you learned and how you can use that information to determine if the person sitting across the table from you, at this point, is a good match for you ~ individual  sets goals and takes on responsibilities with the anticipation of success; those expectations are based on his or her evaluation of personal competence... failure provides the data for realignment between self-perception and reality.

~ and whether or not the same misalignment will occur with them, by learning if their tolerance for your inevitable mistakes are high enough to compensate for the risk-taking which providing them ahead of the curve service often requires. Consequently, many long-term domestic employees have chosen, and perhaps cannot be blamed for having done so, to keep their heads down and only doing what is told, having done the math and decided a steady paycheck gets the edge over the soul-crushing acquiescence of keeping their real talents down far enough below the radar to navigate around the torpedoes. This strategy of playing it safe did not escape scrutiny by the authors:

Some people are more likely to experience failure than others... failure is more likely to the extent that people are willing to risk taking on challenges that test their abilities, have uncertain outcomes that are dependent on their actions, and entail personal psychological investment in the outcome.

The rub comes, then, from our equating termination of domestic staff, in any circumstance (including those where added value may be been created, yet just poorly presented) as failure, the notion being fed and growing stronger with every spin told countless times every day. Perhaps... even during your own most recent interview.

What, then, to do? The answer lies not so much in your choice of words during your next interview to explain away a past failure of sorts, yet in your choice of viewing the failure event itself. As a learning experience, what is most valuable is to understand what you truly have to offer, now, and what your next employer wants, now, and knowing then if you will have the talents and just as importantly - the internal resources and supports you'll need to draw upon to satisfy those wants. 

Household operations are, for the most part, very small companies with few, if any, procedures in place for detailed job analysis, descriptions, and careful selection, not to mention the on-boarding and performance management processes enjoyed by workers in most larger sized companies which are geared to ensure their continued success. To compensate, the due diligence falls upon you, fair or unfair as that may seem, to understand, with surgical precision, your own personality, your employ-ability against the specific requirements (although some might not be discovered pre/hire) of the new position, and the underlying culture, espoused values, and stability of your next employer, when discovering what's required for your own success. This discovery takes time, if done right. Express both your enthusiasm and your confidence, yet now is the time to bring up the hard questions and what you feel, exactly, it would take to see it through the long term, because they might not.

With the right mindset and making known your conscientious efforts to succeed, no matter what happens from that point forward, you will have certainly mastered ~ and you will not have failed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why I Love New York City, Pt. II

You can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes. After that, you'd better know something.  - H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

On my way to work, I frequently pass Anderson Cooper on the sidewalk. But wait... it gets better: I've never felt a need to stop, stare, approach him, or turn to someone on the sidewalk next to me and say something like, Hey, do you know who just walked past us? It was him!

But wait... it gets even better, again: No one else on the sidewalk feels a need to do any
of those things, either. They may notice, I've noticed, but everyone just seems to keep their pace and keep walking. And wait again... just when you think it couldn't get any better, it gets even better, once more: You can tell that Anderson, by the way he's moving, upright and confidently, yet without putting on any airs, doesn't feel a need to linger on the sidewalk, waiting around for someone to gawk at him. He's just getting on with his day. Like everyone else.

This is what I love about New York City; it's democratic and there's no royalty. There's just a sense that everyone has a life, and that everyone is important enough and worthy enough in their own right, whether they're the guy that's on national television, or the guy who's sweeping up the streets. Or, the guy who's sweeping up inside of a townhouse.

I realized this is exactly what I also love about great teams, especially the one or two really great ones I've had the honor to be a part of. Everyone had a role and everyone knew that it was valuable; and everyone knew they, themselves, were valuable and valued, too. The better service teams I've found to be democracies, not aristocracies; they're teams where success and real worthiness are within everyone's purview, where everyone basks in the same glow of respect, whatever their role or job title. The better teams I've found are where no one has to rely on charm or attention, and where everyone is encouraged to know something.

There's certainly lots more to love about great teams, and there's lots more to love about New York City, too. But that's what I'm loving, today. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Perceiving Reality

Failure is not an option. Everyone must succeed. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Your best cakes are ahead of you.
Has anyone noticed on the LinkedIn home page, which is accessed millions of times each day and used by just about everyone who has any type of career, the six faces LinkedIn chose to represent their universe of professionalism... all appear to be in their 20's? 

What does that tell us? 

This past week, I've been pondering perceptions and how they affect us... including our careers. It all began with a light conversation with a friend and colleague, one who's highly respected in our industry and responsible for the placement, or not, of domestic workers into some of the best positions on the east coast. Cut to the chase... 50 is the new 80, and my career options, should I be so inclined to explore them at 55 would be, as she very politely informed me... limited.

They don't want to deal with the health issues of older workers.

After about ten seconds of stunned silence (mine), I inquired with my friend if she thought it matters that I work out 4x/week and can swim a mile, don't smoke or do drugs, am not overweight, and am in better physical condition than most people half my age?

Well, no, not really, none of that seems to matter. 

More stunned silence, as I realized I'd just failed to demonstrate a connection between that and health issues.


At least it's gluten-free!
We spend a lot of our lives creating perceptions in others, so we can get the things we want. This doesn't take a PhD in psychology, nor am I revealing anything new to Citizen readership, yet simply hoping the discussions can open up challenging our perceptions of what really matters, or not, when valuing others. This seems to be the big elephant in the room no one can ever talk about, except in hushed whispers. Or, can we?

In my career, I've seen domestic candidates valued, or not, because the perception of the race they were born into as being hard working enough, or not. And some others valued, or not, because the perception of their gender as being authoritarian enough, or sensitive enough, or not. And still others valued, or not, because the perception of their particular age making them seem to be healthy enough, or not.

Today I wondered if I was, myself, trying to create the perception in others that actually being physically fit is a better indicator of health and endurance than a person's age might typically indicate, when I started the NYC Domestic Staff Physical Fitness Meetup. Could what a person actually does - and is capable of doing - be a better indicator of their value, better than either the color or the age of their skin? Or, that people, in 
What if we perceived being physically fit... as a valuable reality?
whatever station of life they are, have ongoing chances to improve for their own benefit, just as much as for their employers? Or, do I simply like working out, hiking and exploring Central Park, and finding new places for a healthy brunch on Sunday mornings... and I wanted the pleasure of introducing those great experiences to others, while at the same time getting to know more people in my domestic worker community?

Well, yes, really, all of that seems to matter!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Team Performance -- Explosion!

Push limits, records, expectations, doubts, fears, the envelope, yourself. - N.O. Explode

For those who lift weights, today was a very special day in New York City, as shelves on
supplement stores were finally replenished, after weeks of short supply of the original
Beyond teamwork....
formula and heightened anticipation of the new to come, of BSN's grand new formulation of N.O. - Explode, a pre-workout supplement and proprietary blend of three different creatines, beta alanine, and over a dozen other ingredients - most of which are unimportant to detail for the purposes of this posting - yet what is important remains the reputation that this amazing supplement company had built for itself, yet didn't stop there. Having already produced the #1 selling pre-workout supplement in the world, their leadership team then made the decision to push forward with an even greater formula for success... both for themselves and their customers.

As I approached today what had been empty shelf space - and had been kept so,
...why stop at being the best?
seemingly, almost as a memorial and out of respect to this popular product - I spotted the familiar bright red jar and label having just arrived, yet this time with a tag tied aroundit's collar and inscribed with the above, inspirational quest. And, at that very instant, I realized this product and the passion behind it goes far beyond the complex chemistry 
which shapes enzymes and electrolytes inside bodies during workouts, and gives, in addition, that very recognition to its users that someone has their backs, has their best interests at heart, and has as its very base core value the never ending quest for redefining excellence - and the improvement needed to take it there. And, like weightlifting requires the will just as much as the muscle, so does our service require the inspiration of team passion, just as much as the talent among the very team members, themselves.

No one needs to even visit a gym to see the connection and power of passionate
There's a bit of nitric oxide... in all of us!
thinking for that of making any products or services better. So, simply put, is your estate staff team delivering the very best performance in the world for your very own principals? And, if yes, are you truly satisfied with simply maintaining that stationary plateau? 

Or, will you take BSN's example - and the N.O. Explode challenge - and keep striving to keep getting better at providing even greater levels of service, to push limits, records, expectations, doubts, fears, the envelope, and.... yourself?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Caretakers of Complacency

...each time a new monkey was introduced to the cage, that monkey was summarily beaten down into submission.  - Tony Doody

If management were as simple as we'd like, there probably wouldn't be hundreds of books published each year trying to help people get it right. More art than science, yet it's always admirable when I see people reference science in the attempt to make sense of all that happens when two or more people are put in the same room. Or, five monkeys.

I have an idea, but...
Enter Tony Doody, who highlighted on his site the famous Harry Harlow experiments with Rhesus monkeys and how we seem to be hard-wired to punish others who propose a different idea, simply because we've been taught to punish them by those who've come before us and were punished themselves, for their own new ideas, as well.

Because that's the way we do things around here.  Or, some version thereof, has a perplexing and enormously powerful ability to shut down just about anything on a domestic team: ideas, creativity, morale, and especially good service itself. Think about, actually, anything that you notice on your estate which could be done just a little bit differently, an action which could provide better service to your principals by aligning you and your teammates' efforts closer to the principals' values... and their vision of what good service means to them. Now, fast forward a few seconds to the point after which you've expressed this idea, either verbally or from your own courage to just go forth and try a new way, and a co-worker (or even the estate manager or other family office executive) cuts off the discussion with because that's the way we do things around here. 

It's an implied threat, actually, and just as with the Rhesus monkeys, most people won't even know why they are against the new idea and beating their team-mates down. They may only know that... it's the way we do things around here, end of discussion, now go away and stop trying to make things better.

But, what's wrong with maintaining the status quo? And maintaining the team standards? Well, nothing, really, just as long as the status quo and team standards include those of quest for improvement and critical review of all current processes - including the team standards. Regulars to The Citizen will recall Gallup's infamous and exhaustive survey of what the best workers across all industries need to have, in order to be interested in staying on a team. No surprise came when Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? was discovered as a requirement; meaning, the top domestic service teams are comprised of more than simply having a few people sprinkled among them who are focused on excellence; the top teams are comprised of those who everyone on the team can also count on each of their co-workers to being committed to the mission of excellence. A quick primer for those who enjoy field trips is to simply walk into the lobby of a Ritz-Carlton for a few minutes and observe the surroundings. No, I don't mean the carpets and nice lighting fixtures, I mean the way the staff envelopes a satisfaction of working together - and having team-mates that care as much about success as they do. You can just feel it and, more importantly, so can they.

Among your established team standards, could one be that of encouraging - and even expecting - some type of innovation and discovery on a daily basis? Are there members on your staff prized and rewarded for their ability to thoughtfully disagree with the status quo? Or, are they simply caretakers of complacency, having been taught to protect themselves from further attacks?  

How are things done... on your estate?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

They Quit Their Jobs - And Then Stayed!

At work, do my opinions seem to count? - Buckingham & Coffman, First, Break All The Rules, #7 of the big twelve.

OK, maybe not this surprised... but very close.
Being surprised recently to learn ROAD warriors is not the commonplace acronym I thought it'd become, well, I do admit having a bad habit of just thinking others have already read the same books I've enjoyed... my bad!  And, one of the first along my journey into the very depths of organizational development was First, Break All The Rules, written by Buckingham & Coffman over ten years ago, who reference the (I presummed, well-known) expression. 

In brief, the book was based on a huge Gallup study which took place over a twenty-five year span, outlining twelve points of what the best managers do, in all industries, to engage the hearts, minds, and souls of the best workers, creating what is now commonly referred to as discretionary effort - which is, as most estate managers already know, a very special place located at the complete other end of the estate from where ROAD warriors spend their day. I find myself still referring back frequently to this singular, wholly-applicable, and user-friendly book as the best foundational work on the topic of what people - working in virtually any job - need (not simply want) to do the work you want them to, well, do

I dare say, if you were only going to read one book on improving your skills as a household or estate manager, please... read this one.

Uh, no... not the movie.
ROAD - Retired On Active Duty, came into a recent discussion of the rather common practice of a new Estate Manager arriving onto the scene of a long-established household staff - especially one where communication, performance and behavioral accountability, and any efforts at engagement for the staff to be working as true professionals had either fallen by the wayside, or, as possibly, where staff had never actually been cared about enough for these things to have been established in the first place - is able to navigate the machinations of how his/her arrival takes place with the employees' acceptance of his/her presence - and without them bailing out and catching the next bus.

To their minds, and to my Macaulay Culkin like surprise, their worst-case scenario was for domestic staff to be thinking "I'm outta here"... and leaving. I suggested to them quite the reverse: the worst-case scenario for a new EM who enters into the sacred realm of a new leadership position - yet doesn't take control of their responsibilities to the staff in a meaningful fashion - is that of the employees thinking "I'm outta here"... and staying!

So then, the time now comes to ask the hard questions. What is your strategy for engaging ROAD warriors... on your estate?  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

So Good, We're Watching It Twice

It's a fantastic model of collaboration - thinking partners who aren't echo chambers.  
- Margaret Heffernan

Have you ever seen a movie that just resonated so deeply with something that was so true in life, you had to watch it twice?  Not because you thought it'd be better the second time, but just because you wanted to connect again with the lesson, the inspiration, or even the beauty of someone having taken the time to bring it all to life, for just a few more minutes.

No conflict here - reruns are a good idea.
That's the purpose of this post, then, to reintroduce you to an earlier post about the value of creating a good type of conflict, and how valuable this skill can become as a part of your successful estate service and quality control.

Successful disagreement is not the practice of simple back biting or bickering. Instead, what Margaret Heffernan so expertly outlines for us in her amazing TedTalk is that disagreement can be a purposefully installed tool within a successful team or organization, one where people have both the opportunity - and, even more importantly, the expressed duty - to challenge others' ideas or assumptions; to keep a critical eye out for doing things better, more accurately, and more effectively than were done even just yesterday, or maybe will be done tomorrow. And this would include the opportunity for us to disagree with both every process and every person on our teams... including a team value, itself.... and even the estate manager, herself.

But on our household service teams, do we actively invite disagreement and create a healthy environment for its benefits?  As in most organizations, we often do not... and we mostly fail to take advantage of this amazing opportunity to tap into our very best resources: our team members, themselves.

"85% is a really big number. It means that people like many of us, who have run organizations and have gone out of our way to find the very best people we can, mostly fail to get the best out of them."

After you see what good conflict is really all about, I know you'll be glad you saw the movie twice. But, then, of course... don't hesitate to disagree with me... just pass the popcorn!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Performance... Revolution!

Performance Management, when done right, will create a revolution on your estate. And, that's why it so often doesn't get done.  

He wasn't shy about setting expectations.
Performance management is establishing standards and then holding all members of your team accountable to them. And whether that little boat gets all the way to the shore, or stays adrift, will largely depend upon how well it is was both constructed and captained in the first place.

Some estate owners will, with fully-awake consciousness, dismiss the advantages of a performance management system, deferring instead to maintaining long-established familiar relationships with staff who've established their own independent behaviors and levels of performance; personal relationships they feel would be jeopardized if these staff were to be now be held accountable to team-standardized expectations. This may be accomplished both passively and actively in a variety of ways; by disinterest in broaching the topic, by disallowing their family offices and estate managers the tools,
On some estates, this is acceptable...
time, and focus to enact a system, or even, and in many cases, by outright expressed banishment of such systems. 

And, these estate owers are often correct in their fears, as in many instances, very personal relationships - or the performance management process for the team, itself - would simply not survive a transition from independent to team standards. As the expression is known, a chain is as strong as its weakest link (and a boat as seaworthy as its largest leak?) - and both pros and cons to any organizational change are always weighed, despite good intentions or what's passionately believed to be a good idea.

Other estate owners, however, will choose to place at a high premium the predictable and high level of service they receive at home, the expected behaviors while their staff interacts with each others and works toward agreed-upon standards, and how staff are selected in the first place to build a fully functioning and high performance crew, expecting their estates to run "like a five star
...while on others, failure is just not an option!
hotel" - the well-known expression we've all heard repeatedly, thus providing the nourishment needed for high standards performance to flourish, much like you'll find in, well, for instance...
a real five-star hotel

These particular estate owners will actively support, and actively expect, their family office
and estate managers to utilize a workable, honest performance management system which is loaded with integrity; will allow their managers the time, energy and tools needed; and will review periodically with their managers if the system is actually  working... even doing so right on center stage during an occasional visit to a staff meeting, demonstrating their own support and expectation for all staff members to be fully onboard the same boat. Support and standards always begin at the helm, thus no matter how well-developed your system is, without the appropriate support for a well-crafted infrastructure it will all be for naught - and stay washed up on the shore... or the staff break room, as the case may be!

Whether or not you'll be moving forward with a process for establishing standards and accountability from all staff members on your estate is, ultimately, a choice left to the culture which as been established and now supported by the Principals. You may, however, at the very least, find it interesting how the entire process plays out. Regulars to the Citizen have often noticed on our Good Citizen Reading List, The Essential Performance Review Handbook, which is a great reference for the review portion of the larger performance management process. Recently, though, I discovered perhaps the best summary of this overall process I've evey seen - which even comes with its very own PowerPoint Presentation sample demonstration. If you're like me, you appreciate PowerPoints because they add such a powerful visual
Candor is just as important as the process itself.
element to any presentation or discussion, which can be paused and restarted (or simply turned off, as desired) and they're perfect for breaking into the subject with staff members, or even the principals themselves... assuming their initial interest in the topic. 

From the site is the following summary, and I've added bold and italicized text to those points I believe are most important for Household/Estate Managers to grasp and promote:

Performance management... encompasses activities such as joint goal setting, continuous progress review and frequent communication, feedback and coaching for improved performance, implementation of employee development programmes and rewarding achievements. The process of performance management starts with the joining of a new incumbent in a system and ends when an employee quits the organization. 

Performance management can be regarded as a systematic process by which the overall performance of an organization can be improved by improving the performance of individuals within a team framework. It is a means for promoting superior performance by communicating expectations, defining roles within a required competence framework and establishing achievable benchmarks.

Tools such as job design, leadership development, training and reward system received an equal impetus along with the traditional performance appraisal process in the new comprehensive and a much wider framework

Performance management is an ongoing communication process which is carried between the supervisors and the employees throughout the year. The process is very much cyclical and continuous in nature

A performance management system includes the following actions.
  • Developing clear job descriptions and employee performance plans which includes the key result areas (KRA') and performance indicators.
  • Selection of right set of people by implementing an appropriate selection process.
  • Negotiating requirements and performance standards for measuring the outcome and overall productivity against the predefined benchmarks.
  • Providing continuous coaching and feedback during the period of delivery of performance.
  • Identifying the training and development needs by measuring the outcomes achieved against the set standards and implementing effective development programs for improvement.
  • Holding quarterly [at the minimumperformance development discussions and evaluating employee performance on the basis of performance plans.
  • Designing effective compensation and reward systems for recognizing those employees who excel in their jobs by achieving the set standards in accordance with the performance plans or rather exceed the performance benchmarks.
  • Providing promotional/career development support and guidance to the employees.
  • Performing exit interviews [and stay interviews] for understanding the cause of employee discontentment and thereafter exit from an organization.
A performance management process sets the platform for rewarding excellence by aligning individual employee accomplishments with the organization’s mission and objectives and making the employee and the organization understand the importance of a specific job in realizing outcomes

By establishing clear performance expectations which includes results, actions and behaviors, it helps the employees in understanding what exactly is expected out of their jobs and setting of standards help in eliminating those jobs which are of no use any longer. Through regular feedback and coaching, it provides an advantage of diagnosing the problems at an early stage and taking corrective actions.

To conclude, performance management can be regarded as a proactive system of managing employee performance for driving the individuals and the organizations towards desired performance and results. It’s about striking a harmonious alignment between individual and organizational objectives for accomplishment of excellence in performance.

Their uniforms were actually pretty darn nice.
Like all summaries, though, this brief introduction to how to begin your revolution is simply a supplement to the larger body of material... and not a substitute for truly believing in and continuous application of the material, itself. 

Make no mistake, hard work is ahead, yet your journey has been blazed... and, with the appropriate support from your employer, you will succeed!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

If You're Not Assessing, You're Guessing!

I generally find marketing slogans and cliches' to be irritating, especially ones that rhyme, but I give our local ASTD chapter a pass because, well, it's just so darn true: If you're not assessing, you're guessing!

Besides the great cheese table and bottomless refills of Diet Coke, what keeps me coming back to these monthly meetings, I suppose, is they consistently hit the ball out of the park (at least I didn't rhyme with that one) and provide usable insight to what's really important: how to move your team from good to great, or where ever it's destined to be at the moment.  

So, why isn't management, across just about all industries and including our very own domestic staff variety, placing more emphasis on pre-assessments of needs, instead of diving right into pre-canned training and staffing solutions? 

While I can't speak for everyone, my own experience reveals:

  • Assessments are hard work:  In the interest of both time and space, I won't delve into here why people sometimes avoid hard work, yet they do, especially when other options are perceived as less competing for, well, time and space. 
  • Assessments can be tedious:  Let's face it, prep work of any kind, whether chopping celery or taking the time to interview stakeholders, principals, staff, vendors and others, to build a solid foundation of understanding of why something isn't working on your estate, can be tedious (not to be confused with hard work, above), time consuming, and often impossible, due to confidentialty requirements which must be respected. As a result, solutions are often more guessed than assessed... and simply hoping everything works out for the best (sorry... more rhyming).
  • Assessments aren't very entertaining:  It's an unusual ability to assess a worksite with a neutral, unbiased approach - and at the same time show up to the meeting with an expensive, attractive 4-color brochure that's selling something else. Assessments are fairly serious, dry projects and, as such, usually don't lend themselves to the colorful type of marketing that estate owners and managers are more likely to notice, purchase, and have fun being a part of.
  • Assessments can be hazardous to one's job:  Taking a peek beneath the organizational behavior bandage is not for the faint of heart - and dealing with the ooze that soaks through to the surface can take a bit of moxie. An honest look at problems on staff can open up some equally honest discussions, yet some of those can be simply too difficult for the principals to face. Recall the old saying, "don't kill the messenger"? Proceed with caution and remain aware of what impact your discoveries will have.
  • Assessments are a long-term and substantial investment:  Building a foundation of understanding of why things are (or not) working - just like all long-term investments - takes both a long-term vision and a serious committment to invest in the time for assessments themselves... two resources not always available.

In contrast, guessing, is the antithesis of the above. It really never works, but it's easy and safe and even kinda fun most of the time, and that's why it's so often chosen. Whether assessing your estate's service performance issues is good, worth noting, will also depend on balancing out the costs of the above with the payout of getting to the root of what your team needs to prosper and meet the principals' real service needs. 

So, then, which approach would work best when developing service on your domestic household staff team... to its full potential? 


Or assessing?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Must Be A Team Player

The best way to get individuals to behave well in a group is to do a good job of setting up and supporting the group itself. A healthy group promotes competent member behavior; a sick group invites all manner of bizarre individual behaviors - which, ironically, can then be used to explain the problems of the group as a whole.  - J. Richard Hackman

Perhaps the most often mentioned requirement of domestic service jobs, everywhere, must be a team player, has become so ingrained into our language and job descriptions, that we hardly ever think about what a team really is.

I was fortunate to have as required reading, J. Richard Hackman's Leading Teams, while at University of San Francisco, and doubly so after I learned it'd made the reading list of Stanford Professor Bob Sutton, whose own writings I've enjoyed over the years; the book is widely regarded both in and outside of academia as the best treatise on all things teams

Teams, as we discover in quick order through Hackman's research and expertise (and sometimes through our own experience and expertise, given enough time and opportunity) are purposefully built entities which are then maintained and given mindful support to the highest order, not simply a bunch of folks who are randomly thrown together in a room (or on an estate) along with some wishful thinking and the occasional, well-meant battle cry of "let's go, team!"

If the Ferarri California-T was human, it would be a team.
Well, my own mindfulness tends to process concepts through visual metaphors and the very first time I watched the Ferrari California-T video, I immediately thought of teams because, actually, that's just what a team is... a purposefully built work of art, one that is just large enough to get the job done and precisely engineered, requiring some very thoughtful maintenance and handling with each part and action having some very specific purposes to create the total user experience. To disregard this concept, though, seems to be what causes a lot of disappointment for all parties in domestic service environments, as we're then left with a collection of individual parts, broken down and rusting in the driveway - or the staff break room - as the case may be.

No doubt that real teams actually require some hard work, with many misconceptions about teams keeping the good ones from ever being formed in the first place, and team leadership often coming from some quite unlikely places and circumstances - all worth giving credit to and all worth studying to better understand and put forth. And, like the Ferarri California-T, the real thing is neither built overnight nor on the fly, yet only through the relentless dedication to being - the real thing

And, although I always recommend people buy the real book instead of just test-driving the summary, Harvard Business Review did conduct an excellent interview with Hackman shortly after his publication, one which brings out the high points and, hopefully, encourages you to fully read and benefit from the book, itself, and to then build your very own - real team

And, of course... to then be a team player!