Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Perfect Storm

What would it be like if I was only known for the worst thing I've done?  - Catherine Hoke

I was just about to title this post The Perfect Rainbow, trying to come up with the opposite of The Perfect Storm, when thankfully I remembered some age old wisdom about storms having the potential for being positively cleansing, as well as negatively destructive. And positive was the experience last summer when a total of three experiences came at me within just a few days, the sum more powerful than each, and will stay with me for a long time.

So let's just get to it and talk about the difficult subject that's on my mind... the candidate that dare not speak it's name:  domestic candidates with criminal histories.

Delete, you say? Into the trash can with no further time to waste? Don't even think about sending in your resume?  I'd say for about 25 years, I certainly have fallen into that same camp. And frankly, I don't think there's another camp within the domestic staff industry. 

And even more frankly - I'd like you to think about having the courage to challenge that.

On Governor's Island one Sunday, I happened upon by accident the prisoner's art coalition, artwork which is, you can probably already guess, created by prisoners and sold to the general public by the coalition, who are, you guessed it, ex-cons themselves.  After stepping up into the makeshift gallery within the crumbling remains of a WWII house for soldiers stationed on the Island and now providing summer weekend sanctuary for all sorts of artistic endeavors, I was gracefully welcomed at least three times as I walked through the rooms, never hurried, never felt uncomfortable, and always felt like something was going on there I'd never quite understood before.

Then the storm began, as I noticed the quote on the wall by Catherine Hoke, Founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, Inc.

"We're all ex-somethings. I wish we'd ask ourselves, 'What would it be like if I was only known for the worst think I've done?'  

Moved by empathy, we'd recognize people for who they are today and not for the mistakes they made yesterday."

I don't know about you, but I can think of something I've done in my life that, well, let's just say I'm not too proud of, the only difference between myself and someone who will probably never get the chance to have an Estate Manager job is that they got caught.

And before anyone feels a need to feign a scandalous response right now - complete with a couple of tsk tsk's - to that admission, I think if 100% of everyone reading this post thinks carefully into their past - you know, the one we all hope is so very well hidden - they will recall at least one occasion where something went just a little bit too far, or a little bit too off, and well, just thank goodness no one saw it, right? Yes, now you're remembering the time, way back when, that little thing happened.

And, what if things had turned out not so lucky for you on that one late evening after a dinner out, and, you had been, indeed, caught? What if that was now you handing over artwork to the coalition on Governor's Island, instead of reading this post on your breaktime at your domestic service position?

On to stormy event #2, just the next day while randomly browsing the political news from San Francisco, a town I like to keep up with despite now being on the right coast just because my former town is still just so interesting to me politically, I read though the detailed report of the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance, Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, whereby job applicants within said city now cannot be questioned about criminal history prior to an in person meeting with their potential employer.  This "fair chance" is really all such applicants ever asked for, to not be dismissed out of hand without having a chance to make an impression on their own merits, not simply the prejudices of those who may not understand them, their past, or even more importantly, their future abilities to offer the employer what is really needed:  applicable skills and coming from someone who knows they need to make it perfect this time.

But event #3 really got to me, and made the perfect, positive storm come so alive, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it or even sleep: Needing to move into a new apartment last summer, I quickly perused the various Yelp reviews and yawned at just how similarly 5-star wonderful every company seemed to be, trying very hard to forget about the fact that many movers will offer a 25% discount to a reviewer on their next move if they'll simply post a 5-star positive review on Yelp, I see instead "Delancy" posted and recall that name from my days in San Francisco.  Intrigued, I read further, and realized they have a moving service, comprised of the same ex-convicts, gang members, and drug/alcohol abusers that spend 2-4 years at Delancy house facilities getting their lives back into check, from a community of others in the same boat who are giving each other a helping hand to get into a productive lifestyle for both themselves and the communities around them. Sort of like how real, honest communities do.

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction in me, like for most of you reading this right now I can almost guarantee, is thinking, hey wait a minute, these are movers that could've been arrested and sent to jail for larceny, burglary, drunk driving, as well as just about any other crime one could think of, so, well, I better play it safe and hire someone else.  

But then some rationality and sense kicked in and I thought, well, who better trustworthy than people who have been given a second chance by someone and are making concerted efforts to turn their lives around?  

And there I had the perfect storm, and I hope it will storm for you, too, and we start to at least begin questioning the reason why we are so quick in our industry to auto-exclude people who we really haven't gotten a chance to know, who we dismiss so readily and even cheerfully by throwing their resumes and applications into the trash can, who we hope we never have to even meet one day because, well they just might remind us of that one time... you know... that one time in our own lives no one ever found out about because there's no way anyone ever will, if we just keep quiet and act like we don't even remember it...


I'd like you to, if not have a storm today, at least let it rain a little bit inside your head and get your brain just a little bit wet. I'd like to paraphrase Ms. Hoke's quote to:  What if we were only known by the worst thing we ever got caught for?

I'm not asking anyone to now confess to your employer or to your domestic staffing agent (and I'm willing to bet that 100% of all domestic employment agents fall into the same aforementioned category of being human and making a mistake at least once in their lives, a mistake they would have been arrested for and lost their business, yet lucky for them, they didn't get caught...)  No, I'm asking you to re-think, as a thought experiment, about what kind of domestic staff employee you would be today if you'd instead had gotten caught between the social event that evening and getting home, and someone like the above group of people that helped me to move last summer still believed in your core goodness and gave you a second chance, and believed in you without automatically dismissing your entire human being and tossing your entire soul into the trash can. Like we in the domestic industry, so hypocritically do.

What kind of employee would you now be? Well I'm betting you'd be an unusually good
one, probably even better than you are now. Because, now, you'd really have to be.

And even more so, because someone cared about you enough as a human being and really believed in you to look beyond the worst thing you are known for.

The perfect storm can, after all, help us to find the perfect people. Who will turn out to be one of them?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Is Your Staff Voting At Work?

Two domestic industry colleagues, one Estate Manager and one domestic agency owner, dismayed me this past week with their reply to my inquiry of who they will be supporting this November for the open position at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:  

"I don't care," they both remarked.

Well, one actually inserted the f-bomb and presented me with a more definitive and clearly articulated four-worded statement, but I didn't really want to bring that detail up. 

Mind you, both these gentlemen are considered by many to be highly intelligent persons, well-spoken and talented in their respectful endeavors, and the type of people who when they speak, people are known to stop and listen. And that makes their comments about not caring for something important, all the more painful.

Politics are known to be nasty, but still, a necessary part of how our world operates, a necessary part of how people navigate relationships both on the global, national, local, and even small workplace arenas. Including your own estate, for better or for worse.

Why these two gentlemen with previous good citizen tendencies now seemed content with bowing out and not voting at all, for either "crooked Hillary" or "racist Trump," as they both alluded and without any prompting from me, marks a very important point in any circumstance where the people being sought to weigh in on a matter are of the opinion that their own, well, let's just say - vote - is of no consequence, either to the circumstance at large, or their own selves and placing, most disastrously of all, all blame on the external factors and not looking to their own selves for how they can affect real change. Just by voting, just by expressing an opinion, in whatever political arena they find themselves. Including the estate where they may be employed.

Such as I often find when assisting estate owners and their hired managers to determine what, exactly, has gone wrong with staff who once were noted for such stellar behaviors and references, to now be bowing out with an "I don't care" attitude, seemingly spent, gone, and left the building. 

Anyone who's read through the Citizen knows the infamous Gallup survey of some years ago, imploring all managers of all stripes in all industries, to engage their staff with the twelve most important things to them. It really is that simple, but it's not easy... and the concepts of simple and easy are often confused. Just like what is taking us into this November.

Simply, #7:  At work, do my opinions seem to count?

I can assure you there is no staffed household, anywhere, where you have one or more staff members who are doubtful that their opinions of any matter relating to the operation of the household are of any value, who are putting forth even 5% of the effort they could be. Staff who have decided on a daily basis to not vote. 


What matters on your estate?  Does your staff have a voice?  Do they feel valued as workers, thinkers, opinion makers, and do they feel to be a valuable part of the political process going on around them?

Are they showing up every morning... and actually voting... for something positive and good?

Do they have the chance?

Monday, August 15, 2016

What Michael Phelps Can Teach Domestic Agencies

Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.  - Ralph Marston

Michael Phelps, if he were so inclined, would not be able to get a job scrubbing toilets on a private estate. He would be branded as irresponsible, a safety risk, and someone the agency would not want anywhere near their clients' children. For sure, he would never get past the ominous "Federal background check."

That's because in domestic service, as in many industries, the candidates who get jobs are often not promoted to estate employers for their current and future abilities to perform a job to a high standard, yet more so are promoted on their ability for having avoided gotten caught doing something naughty. 

Is passion for actual, demonstrated performance
the criteria when staffing your estate? 
Seeing last weeks spectacular performance from Phelps, as he earned his 28th Olympic medal, it reminded me of a posting some time ago where I highlighted the story of General Ulysses S. Grant, someone else with a smudgy background if there ever was one, a high performer who was the turning point to the Civil War upon his appointment by President Lincoln, having been hired for that job not because he'd been flying under the radar his whole life, but because he could actually do the job needed and was passionate, more so than any other General at that time, about doing his job to the standard required by Lincoln. About actually succeeding at what he was being hired to do, period.

Reprinted from within the posting, here is my own personal story about when someone once placed me into a job for the wrong reasons, and it all went quite horribly wrong:

I recall being placed, some years ago, to manage the daily details of a fairly significant property. I'd flown across the country and smoothly sailed through the multiple-level interview process, simply because, well, with my astonishingly squeaky clean background, no one could find any reason for me to be excluded (see above list). My strength?  Quite simply, I knew where the shrimp fork was to be placed. It was, incredulously, the only real question anyone had asked me during my candidacy. And embarrassing to admit, it was, at the time, just about the only thing I had any knowledge of, yet the clients were just so happy I'd never been arrested for grand theft auto, there didn’t seem to be much interest in continuing with additional inquiry, for things like, well, for instance, um, did I know how to manage people?

The assignment, surprising everyone including myself at that time, turned out to be a
spectacular train wreck withing just a few weeks, as the real strengths needed for that particular position were exactly those most lacking in my abilities at that time, none of which were relevant to the list of potholes which had been used by the agent and family as the exclusion criteria.

Many estates have suffered the same, painful lack of performance with their new hires: selecting candidates based purely on their absence of weaknesses, yet not their presence of strengths. What is the lesson? Perhaps a lack of weaknesses is not as valuable as having relevant strengths. Perhaps a candidate's strengths deserve a closer look.

Imagine if Michael Phelps' coach and sponsors had told him, "Michael, you want to swim again? Are you serious?! Don't you remember that we caught you? Yes, we caught you smoking marijuana recently at a little private party you attended and on top of that, well, you know, the DUIs. No, Michael, the pool is now off limits. No more swimming; you should just be ashamed of yourself. Now go away."

OK, maybe not a housekeeper's uniform.
But, still...
But instead, they all supported him as he took full responsibility for his past errors - and as he sought the professional help needed to understand how he could heal his painful past and get on with his bright future; reestablishing his training routine of swimming laps and lifting weights several hours per day and seven days per week, honing his skills and performing to the standard both he and the entire world would not only expect of him, yet would also require of him. 

And thus, would be rewarded last week, as the most decorated Olympian of all time.


Perhaps those skilled domestic staff candidates who've had a lapse of judgment in the past are comprised of more than only those incidents which now define and damn them? Perhaps they have real talent, as well? If yes, then one perhaps wouldn't know, given how quickly the resumes of some of the best domestic workers are tossed into the trash can by those looking for 
"only the best" candidates for their clients (I'm really dating myself here - trash can - um, I meant to say 'their online applications with attached resumes are deleted with one click').

Maybe Ulysses S. Grant is a bit too far in our past and frankly just not cool enough for
Could a person's team player skills be more
noteworthy than their past personal issues?  I think so.
today's workforce to be an inspiration for high performance, but I'm betting that the Michael Phelps story will be with us both now and for a very long time to come.

Maybe a high passion and ability for top performance in ones' chosen craft, and not simply the crafty art of having never gotten caught, deserves a second look when staffing our estates?

Yup, I think so.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It's 2016. Or, is it?

This can be for an individual or a live-in couple with the man as the houseman/butler and the woman as a secondary housekeeper.  - Recent domestic job board posting

When I began working in domestic service 27 years ago, I wouldn't have given the above job posting a second thought. Nor would have most anyone. Even for those who were part of a same-sex couple, keeping quiet about their relationship was the normal thing to do, in just about whatever career one could have found themselves working.

Fast forward to 2016, and this advertisement suddenly seems so antiquated, so out of touch with reality.

Or, is it?

Twelve years ago, when I attended an English Butler school, three of my twelve classmates were females and the notion of female Butlers was becoming much more accepted. And now, I believe, very few people give the idea a second thought. Myself having worked for four years as a Housekeeper - and doing so very successfully with all of my original male parts - I know firsthand there is no task in domestic service which can only be performed by a male or by a female. There's men who can make a floor sparkle, and I've seen quite a few women tackling such manly chores as changing light bulbs and sweeping out a garage.

Couples? I'm sure that same-sex domestic couples exist; so why aren't they being acknowledged as legitimate potential candidates? Why do we still see advertisements in domestic online job boards like the above, couple jobs that require both male and female - and furthermore, each being taken into consideration with who performs which set of tasks?

Why can't the woman be the Butler, and the man be the Housekeeper? And why couldn't two females or two males successfully comprise this team? Are legitimate couples only comprised of "one man and one woman," as the now outdated state laws
once commanded our society to obey?

What has been your experiences with job performance divided among the genders... and with your own abilities? Are they still limited to male or female roles from decades ago? If you are a man, can/will you wash and fold a towel? And if you are a woman, can/will you carry a tray?

What say you, about this?

As always, The Citizen welcomes your comments!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Staff Training, Pt. III: It's Slow Pay

It is usually prudent to begin by training or retraining the owner or the manager first. Here we run into a problem.  - Tony Eldred

It pays to be honest, but it's slow pay.  - Proverb 

The question still rings in my ears, as if it were asked just minutes ago, yet it was the early 1980s and I'd just walked in to my doctor's office for the third time in as many months, each time issuing the same complaint: I'm just so tired all the time. My underlying expectation was he'd give me a very strong pill, something that would make this all go away and get me back to... well, wait a minute... actually, no, come to think of it, I'd always felt tired my whole life up to that point, but only now had decided to say something to my doctor. 

It wasn't like I had much to compare my exhaustion to, like a before and after picture. I just didn't seem to be as bouncy as I thought I should, or people around me always seemed to be. It was, after all, the 80s, and Duran Duran, Wham!, and other cultural icons of the day were putting us all under a lot of pressure to be bouncy. So, after some routine blood tests to rule out anything unusual during that first visit, for the third time in as many months, he ignored by request for an easy fix ~ and his inquiry remained the same:  

Are you getting any exercise?

Einstein said the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and again, then hoping for different results. Of course, he was joking a bit; that condition isn't so easily diagnosed and it might not be the best metaphor for my three trips to a doctor to explain the same condition, yet I can't honestly say I was being level-headed at the time with my body's performance management. In other words, I had a problem, the problem was also me as I was to discover, but I wanted someone else to both own it and to fix it. Repeatedly! Okay, so maybe it was a light touch of insanity, yet I seemed to be in good company, anyway... it wasn't like I was the only person in the world expecting to find a shortcut in life.

Don't swallow the magic training pill just yet.
Looking back, I realize how blessed I was to have a doctor who not only knew there wasn't a pill to fix my condition, he didn't try to sell me a placebo just so I'd then make follow up appointments and keep his calendar full. The prescription he decided upon earned him no money and he didn't see me as a cash cow. Instead, he respected me as a patient that really needed some help getting better, but only in the right way. He was old school. He took a genuine interest in my health, as he did for all his patients, and all for the long term. So, after letting him know for the third time that no, I'm not getting any exercise, he decided it was time to display the courage to take off the gloves and just speak honestly to me:   

You do have a problem, but it's not from a lack of medication. Your problem is you. And if you like, I can tell you how you can fix it, yourself. 

He then laid out a simple, yet robust, exercise plan and explained how I could heal my own body by building up its own capacity to store and use energy, far beyond any artificial stimulant he could ever prescribe.  

Over the past thirty years, I've gone through many periods of being both out of and in shape. During the former, it's never been a mystery to me what I needed to do, which was to think of a time when someone cared enough about me to speak with me honestly... and then to actually do what I knew had to be done.


I was flattered this past week to get a call from a domestic industry colleague who wanted me to speak with his client, someone who owned an estate of substantial magnitude and maintained a staffing level to match. After a couple of preliminary questions, I already knew the conversation that was coming, because I'd already had the same one many times when I owned a domestic placement and training business, some years ago. At that time, I'd rarely had the courage to tell an estate owner, both plainly and honestly, what was needed to improve their staffing performance. It was always just easier to do what they had instructed me to do and to fill their own, self-written prescription. To give them the magic pill: training. But I'd known all too well, both through previous experience and my studies at Berkeley, what training actually was - and even more importantly - what training wasn't. Yet, now faced with this again, when the opportunity came to speak with my friend's client honestly, what would I do? 

It didn't take much soul-searching for me to find the answer. It would've been a substantial training fee and for an open ended number of days, and you can see where this might have easily headed... I was almost beginning to visualize my next vacation to Waikiki, and anyone who knows how much I love the service on Hawaiian Airlines knows that's not an easy fantasy to dismiss. In the end, however, I decided the ethical action was to speak plainly, and honestly, to the client. Hawaii would just have to wait.

Simply put, I decided to let the client know that training does, indeed work, yet only when a lack of skills knowledge is the underlying cause of those performance gaps. 

When visiting estates, I explained (or, confessed?) this seemed to account for only about 20% of the times when training had been ordered by the client. The other 80% of estates appeared as having staffs with fully sufficient knowledge for the task at hand, yet the below prerequisites were either missing or left unattended and, sadly, no amount of staff training would correct any of them. I then advised the gentleman it was time to get his estate in shape, so to speak, and then, and only then, we could talk about training and the role it may play in turning his estate into the successful operation we both knew he wanted... and he most certainly deserved.

Not for the faint of heart, getting your estate into shape is no less an undertaking than I was advised to for my own physical well being, all those years ago. And, as I know my doctor would have been proud, I now share these similar encouragements with you. Without further adieu, here's very plainly what you'll need to take with you to the gym, in order to get your valued estate... up to speed:

Understanding should never be underrated.
The worker understands why the new method is crucial to success of the task, event, team, or individual that is experiencing the gap in performance. Notice I didn't say understands that you are ordering them to do something differently. The goal is cooperation, not just compliance and there's no shortcut here. It's slow. Without taking the time for building understanding and buy-in, don't bother with training or even any of the below. It'd be like paying New York Sports Club their non-refundable enrollment fee before you've even realized why you need to work on your abs.

The estate staff management understands why the new method is crucial to
It always seems there's a big box of 
donuts at training seminars. Coincidence?!
 success of the team and 
models the way through their own, daily behaviors. The only thing worse than not having standards is having standards which don't apply to everyone. Have all staff been asked for input on the mission, vision, and values statements?  Zappos took a full year to pull that process together and look what happened to them -- they became the world model for team-building any sized team, across all industries. Slow pay! We're now up on the treadmill and it's time to walk the talk. Your staff is now watching you to see if estate management hits the treadmill and starts to care about them this year, or if they'll simply be the only ones held accountable for getting the whole team in shape.

There's genuine interest from the worker to perform the task, period. As nutty as it sounds, there's actually housekeepers who don't like to clean, nannies who don't like being around kids, and household managers who'll do anything to avoid managemet duties. I'm not dissing domestics; this same phenomenon exists in all other industries, too. Yet, all of these workers all have two things in common: 1) they interviewed well, and 2) they needed a job. It's not as wise as it may seem to only hire on personality, thinking that technical skills can always be trained; what's left out of the formula is if the worker honestly wants to do the job, in the first place. Here's where a significant amount of pre-hire thought needs to go into getting the right candidate... and it can be quite a workout, if it's done right!

There's genuine willingness on the part of the worker to learn a new method.  Learning requires change, which can be frightening, especially for grown ups Although patience is required from the trainer, all is for naught if the worker is unwilling to learn

Furthermore, some people value being right over being productive and are willing to learn a new skill, yet not to apply it - and you'll have to do some heavy investigative lifting as you ask the hard questions about why. Are they retaliating against a perceived injustice? If it turns out to be validated, what's your action plan to correct it and improve communication so everyone's on the same page? Here's where the incline on the treadmill starts to raise up to a whole new level. Will you stay on it and test your limits of putting a great team together? How in-shape will the processes need to become, in order to set staff up for success? 

At least they're comfortable.
There's appropriate resources available for high performance. Is the housekeeper expected to perform two hours of work in twenty six minutes? Does the chef have a budget for hamburger for two, yet needs to create Thanksgiving dinner for ten? Knowledge, understanding, and willingness will get them all the way to the service entrance door, yet are they now trusted with the key to unlock it? Expectations are crucial to let be known, yet if they regularly defy the laws of physics or math, it's a good sign that training alone will not improve performance. It's now time to pick up the pace and aim for real success, while staff is asked what they need to do their jobs to established standards.

There's incentives for performing the task well. This doesn't mean simply giving staff bigger bonuses and then everyone crossing their fingers and hoping they get the hint. This means to encourage staff to fulfill the previously agreed-upon and specific performance goals, with anything the individual worker the estate manager is now focusing on finds value in, including their own employment agreement and job description.... quite the radical idea, in some companies! Beyond that, it may be time to try some not-so-newly-discovered management techniques, such as a genuine smile and a thank you, which have proven to be, in virtually
Almost there... it's too late to turn back now!
any work setting, infinitely more effective with workers than only providing more wages. Besides, this is as much about you getting into shape as them, and you're gonna need to save a lot of that money for your own development. Do you realize how much personal trainers cost these days?!

There's real consequences for poor performance and behaviors Does your household have a progressive discipline system in place? Or, is ignoring issues causing the real, detrimental issues to stick around? Do the household managers at each of your properties have the authority to, respectfully and fairly, hold each staff member accountable? If some of the staff are still hanging out in the locker room, will the processes set up for success have the endurance to call them out and turn them into real winners? Or is the status quo for poor performers keeping your estate on a losing streak?

There's ongoing coaching and support from the workers' supervisor after the training,
Slow going? You're on the right path.
including regularly scheduled written performance reviews, serious and relevant goal setting, and 360-degree feedback to let you know if management's support is actually working for them

Congratulations! If you've gotten this far and now you're in the zone. But don't eat that calorie packed Zone Bar just yet, because it's time to pump it up even more ~ and here's where the real work with your staff begins! It's been slow going up to this point... but soon you'll be getting paid. There's no sugar pill for team performance at this level, only honesty and determination to succeed.  Your staff will soon become your biggest champions... and just wait until you see the dividends this investment will be paying out.


Not a day goes by when I don't think about what that doctor told me, some thirty years ago. That's because that doctor also just happened to be my father, who has since passed away.

The doctor and his patient, circa 1989.
Beyond just the advice for getting in shape, though, it was also a life lesson he was teaching me: That I can accomplish just about anything I want, as long as I'm willing to look at both the situation and my response to it honestly.

It's been slow pay for just about anything I've put my mind to,and that's made all the difference for those times when I chose to be truly successful at something, whatever it happened to be.

All I had to remember was to take the responsibility for what really needed to be done.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

No, Thank God?

If the general perception at your company is that your customers whine a lot... maybe you need to start listening to what they are complaining about. Are your customers really just whining? Or are they pointing out actual flaws in your products? Give the chance to voice their concerns further, would they actually help you solve the problems they are complaining about?

Well, here I go again, reminiscing about the good old days and taking a risk that I'll look like some old fart who's out of touch with technology, remembering back when companies actually hired someone to pick up the phone and were genuinely cheery and helpful, instead of the omnipresent voice menu option from a computer generated voice which, when it begins with "OK, to get started...." you just know you're in for a full afternoon of being trapped inside the ninth circle of voice menu hell, with the budget versions seem to be splitting each syllable into separate recordings which have then been pasted together and not too well by the way, complete with written-by-the-company's-online-attorney-service legal advance notification for third-party phone intervention:  "This call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance. If you do not wish to be monitored or recorded, please let the attendant know." 

The attendant

We've all heard it so many thousands of times over the past ten years that no one really hears it any more, but I do often wonder if the "monitoring or recording" is 1) actually occurring, and 2) is the company doing it A) as a threat to their employees that they might get caught if they get nasty with the customer, or B) to really create a learning opportunity for the supervisors and line workers to have a two-way conversation about how customer service can be improved. 

Anyway, this came up for me this past week, as I was calling a specialty hardware store selling a particular and rare product I needed and upon asking for their hours, was simply told "Monday through Friday, 8-5."  And then, silence. 

No weekends, I clarified?

"No, thank God."

Um, thank you.

I thought about her comment the remainder of the day, first wondering if this is the manifestation of the company culture, one perhaps fertilized by the company owner him/herself, whereupon the customer is seen as, well, if not exactly the enemy, as those persons who must be kept in line and not allowed to step over it, lest anyone who is being given money by the customer have their work/life cart turned upside down. Fair enough, there's something to that I suppose, for upper management to ensure their workers have sufficient R and R.  But... No, thank God?  Something seemed amiss here.

Then I wondered if it could simply be the person on the phone herself, someone who's perhaps been asked to stay late once too often, and is now venting to anyone who will listen to her, in this case, the captive audience of the customer himself inquiring about weekend opportunities to give the company some of his money, so that, ultimately, one could say, she.... could keep her job?  Something to that, as well.

I've seen both of these underlying causes in service environments of all types, including our own domestic staff workplaces, with staff who treat their customers (read: principals) with a similar type of approach, thinking the principals are whining, and then feeling justified to display an attitude of "No, thank God" when given the opportunity to provide either more or better service to them.

Perhaps the quote at the beginning of this post could be altered to read:

If the general perception at your estate is that your employer is whining a lot, maybe you need to start listening to what they are complaining about. Is your employer really whining? Or are they pointing out actual flaws in your service delivery? Given the chance to voice their concerns further, would they actually help you solve the problems they are complaining about?

A common, and wholly inaccurate conception among many domestic staff is that their employers will advise them and let them know precisely when and how their service skills can improve. Not so. Because unlike companies with structured performance review systems in place, most estates are managed day-to-day on the fly, and quite a few domestic workers have found themselves suddenly out of work because service skill and behavioral deficiencies had built up to such a point where the employer found it simply easier to fire them instead of having an honest face to face discussion about performance expectations and delivery.

Thus, it becomes in such environments even more critical for the worker to become highly tuned in, to how they may perfect their skills and delivery, and, unlike the young lady
noted above, when an opportunity arises to provide better service to their employer... to adopt the mindset and action plan of,

Yes, thank God.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Flat Abs Are Made In The Kitchen

No amount of cardio and crunches can sculpt a sleek physique if you maintain an unhealthy diet. - Laurel Leicht

I won't be the first person who has joined a gym, maybe even several times, completed a whopping 20 minutes on the treadmill, stretched, showered, and then gotten into my car and driven through McDonald's and ordered the Big Mac Meal (go large on that? oh, yeah), smug in my delusion that I've done my part that day to keep myself fit 'n healthy.  

I also won't be the first person who's joined a spa gym, the type where the cost of the outfit you must wear to fit in with everyone is only eclipsed by the total amount spent in annual membership dues, and the brand new treadmill you're running on is so pristine, high tech, and clean, you don't dare sweat on it, for fear of being admonished by the well-coiffured staff and possibly even having your smoothie bar privileges revoked. So you just skip all of that messiness, and it's off to the Jacuzzi.

I took a swim aerobics class a few weeks ago, it just looked fun. And the people in it were all smiling, which is a nice thing. They were also all... overweight.  I engaged one in some friendly banter before the class began, you know the kind, the kind where you're next to a
stranger for a few minutes and so the both of you just start talking about anything, to fill in the awkward silence of waiting next to a stranger. Well, I was excited to be there for my first time, and she was just as excited to be there for, I think she said, every week for about the third year now.  "I do lots of exercise here in the pool every week, and that way I can eat whatever I want." At first, it sounded logical, and I also thought it was good that she had a plan. But she was also the heaviest person in the class, and something just seemed to be missing there.

I found this article recently and although there's nothing really new in it, it just pulls together and drives home the point like no other article on the food/exercise/health connection I've ever seen. I couldn't stop thinking about the best line in that article, "Flat abs are made in the kitchen," as it just seemed to ring so true not only with the topic, yet also metaphorically with how we approach other areas of our lives:  we often fail in our endeavors because we don't make the effort to do the hard - and often rather dry and unpleasant - work required to lay a foundation upon which all other efforts can then be built. 

I see this in our domestic staff industry; there's an enormous amount of activity swirling around the spending of money, either one's own, or their employers'. So much, in fact, it seems that if one were to do only that, all would be well. With an AMEX card and check signing authority, one could easily spend millions of their employer's dollars every year. And maybe that needs to be done. But something's missing here.

Few people like to talk about writing Mission, Vision, and Values statements. Frankly, it just sounds as exciting as eating broccoli, and honestly, sitting down with a sharpened #2 pencil and a blank sheet of paper is about as far away from an afternoon spent on Madison Avenue as one could imagine. Because not only is laying a foundation for your team's success absolutely free of financial cost to your employer, it actually creates success and solves real problems. Problems that, like broccoli, are often difficult to look at, but once they are, they can be honestly swallowed. Big, unhealthy, foundational problems, the kind that no amount of zeros on a check can ever have a chance for slimming down. 

Flat abs are made in the kitchen, and if you also have a table in there to sit and write at, so can your service team's recipe for real success.

Friday, June 24, 2016

When Already Happy Is... Good Enough?

Enjoying a lively discussion with a colleague this week, I realized there may be reasons for discarding the idea of a team getting better with established performance improvement processes - or even just getting better, at all; not the least of which he reminded me: "because the boss is already happy." 

I didn't push our discussion beyond that final comment, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he truly was concerned about his principal's happiness - and his perceived concern of what could happen by placing new team processes & procedures into place which, although poised to improve service, could do otherwise if his mind's already made up about the matter. Alternatively, perhaps he had recognized that doing more work than is minimally necessary to elicit a state of "already happy" for his boss and retain a paycheck for himself would be a waste of time. Or, perhaps holding his team members accountable by providing them honest feedback was just too much darn work; it was hard to tell, yet he wouldn't be the first manager to feel that same way.

Yet, what happens when the status quo is not only the, well, the staus quo, yet revered by stakeholders as the preferred go-to standard? Things could stay happy, but things could also not. Great reflection on problems with the status quo are here by Matt Wagner:

Internally, the impact of the status quo is a stagnant culture that pushes away top performers. Your best employees are driven by the need to do something great. When they run into obstacles that don't make any sense to them, they start thinking about greener pastures. Of course, the opposite is true of your bureaucrats and your go-along-to-get-along employees. They hope to milk the status quo for as long as possible.

The irony, however, is the above idea, although wholly agreed to by myself, doesn't take into consideration that "best employees" may have departed the team long ago. Or maybe I should say - already departed.

Then what?

Don't be so sure that this isn't
what your boss really dreams of.
In the instance of my discussion with colleague, it then comes to term that as long as the client (principal) is "happy" there would be little impetus for change, except for the joy of self-improvement, itself; a joy certainly not shared by all people. And as much as I'm an evangelist for continuous performance improvement, for me to insist that every domestic staff team must improve themselves for, well, for only improvement's sake, is probably about the same as me standing beside a Mr. Softee truck and shouting they must change their product and become more like Haagen Dazs. 

The truth is, however, they don't. There's a market for the type of "already happy" those soft-serve ice cream cones produce on the side of the road, it's a huge market - one which extends well into the population of the "one percenters" - and the people driving those trucks will do just fine - along with their already happy customers. 

The question becomes then: what, exactly, will make your principals "happy," and is continuous improvement of the staff through structured processes by the Estate Manager really the answer? Well, I think it is, on most estates. But what about at yours? And is there support for improvement from those around you in your family office - and from the principals themselves? And is there a willingness from the staff to improve, despite the limited payout in the form of producing more "happiness" than currently seems to be "already" enough? 

To all of those questions: maybe. But maybe not.

It may take some hard, honest discussions to make the discovery, and the answers may not fit with what those performance improvement preachers like myself always seem to be posting on their blog. The answer may turn out to be installing structured and well thought out systems on their estate to embrace, to develop, and to celebrate the improved service (and the accountability of each team member) which comes along with it. 

Yet, for some, the answer may just turn out to be eating a swirly ice cream cone and clocking out for the day - and for them and their employers, all will still be happy.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

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 21, 2016

Let's Stop Confusing "Disengaged" With Retired on The Job

He has a 30-70% chance to find
an employer who will pay him for this.
If you're like me and scan the titles on LinkedIn once or twice a week, no doubt you've noticed the topic de jour now seems to be "disengagement" among the American workforce; I've seen various studies alluded to which range anywhere from 30% to 70% of all workers, in all industries.  And I believe them all; and I've read and studied quite a bit more than the snippets presented on that rather limited forum.

But it's not just a topic, it's an entire new industry. Because without all these disengaged employees flailing about helplessly in the office cubical (or in the downstairs kitchen, laundry room, or where ever), being unproductive, retired on the job, yet still drawing pay and benefits, there would be no need for management consultants to come in and talk with managers about, well, just how disengaged their employees are, and how everything will be okay if they'll just sign up for their "engagement training" program.

But something is missing from all this discussion, and what's missing is a look at the environment which enables 70% of all workers in the U.S. to apparently be "checked out" and on seemingly perpetual coffee break:  it's because at their workplace, they can be.

I've been to some pretty exotic places, and I feel blessed to have done so. Some of those places throughout the years I've probably forgotten many of the sights, but what I've never forgotten and never will is the four days I spent in Manila a few years back, while backpacking my way through much of the Philippines during three-week excursion that changed my life. Because in Manila, I saw entire families living in trash dumpsters. You know the kind, those big green ones on wheels and with the two lids, the kind behind every restaurant. During those four days, I learned it was safer to put your kids in those dumpsters at night, because the streets were simply too dangerous.  I also saw kids selling bottles of water around there for I think was the equivalent of about eight cents, and I've never seen more engaged workers in my entire life.  They were engaged for the simple reason that if they didn't sell enough of those bottles, one of their little  brothers or sisters, living with them in the dumpster, would be that much closer to dying soon from either starvation itself or a nourishment- related illness, or disease from living in those conditions.  

The look in their eyes as they approached me - I can't even describe it here - all I can say is, I can never forget it:  It was the look of engagement. 

It wasn't a look of desperation - that wouldn't work as well as the untrained observer often thinks it would - but true engagement, in the moment, and in meeting their clients' needs - because they realize underneath the critical importance of doing so.

70% of the American workforce isn't disengaged, 70% of the American workforce has retired themselves on the job - because they can. Because they know a wrongful termination lawsuit will cost their boss well into six figures, because they know their manager will not have actual two-way conversations about performance expectations with them or even review in depth a job description with them, because they know that anyone their boss would hire to replace them will also have a 70% chance of retiring themselves on the job, as well - because they can.  

But we now call it disengagement, because there's an army of consultants holding seminars about what an interesting, new idea it would be for supervisors to "empower"(read: politely suggest, but then be okay with it if things don't work out too well) their workers to become engaged, consultants who are calling this phenomenon disengagement after having created an entire industry around it, and are waiting outside the gates of workplaces and our estates to collect a big check, themselves.

The remedy may be for these workplaces to keep spending more money on consultants to learn how to request their workers to please go back to work and do something productive; and then watching helplessly as up to 70% of them choose to settle back into their on the job retirements. 

But, maybe not. Maybe a solution could be for estate owners who have workers feeling disengaged at their job is to sponsor a quick trip for them to Manila, to spend just a few nights there and to witness what real, day-to-day life is like for much of the world's population; people there and elsewhere in the world who don't have the luxury of becoming "disengaged" while continuing to collect outstanding high wages and benefits. 

And then after returning back at their job, I'd wager to say that very few of them, after seeing a world where "disengagement" is not quite as trendy as it is here, would continue with that particular mindset.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Before You Quit Your Estate Manager...

Quitting managers is a popular distraction from accepting accountability.

Perhaps the most well-known cliche' within Human Resource Management is: employees quit managers - not jobs. Just Google it, and 150,000,000 results in 0.21 seconds will flood your screen, reassuring people that, yes, whatever ills they perceive at work which are now causing them to think about quitting are, indeed, their manager's fault, nor are they accountable for helping others to understand what their value to the employer could possibly be.

Now, isn't that a relief?

But, hold on a minute here (or should I say, hold on just 0.21 seconds) before diving into this buffet of search engine validation, and let's take a look at that other less-known yet perhaps more rational truism we've occasionally run across: 

While pointing your finger at someone, take a look at your hand and you'll notice three fingers pointing back at you.

This blog prides itself at being a place where domestic workers can check into from time to time, without having to break out their credit card or checkbook and make a purchase. Even most books we recommend on the Good Citizen Reading List can be found at or requested through your public library. Well, here's one book I just like so much, I've devoted this entire posting to it and am willing to mail it to you, completely free, because it's my favorite career development book of all time: How To Be The Employee Your Company Can't Live Without. Favorite I say, not because the author is world famous or the material based on academic studies within the OD community - as are some of the others on the list - yet because the material still rings true and, look out now because here it comes toward us, right at this moment: 

You, are responsible for demonstrating your value to your manager.

Shocker, yes? I thought so, too, the very first time I read this book in 2008 and began absorbing the material. In fact, the first time I read it, I put it back on the shelf and tried to forget all about it, it just seemed too radical of an idea. I mean, me, responsible for my performance and behaviors at work? It was just too ridiculous, too foreign an idea,
This whiny character is adorable
on TV,  but not on real teams.
too big a departure from all I'd seen written in management books or been exposed to otherwise. After all, it's so much easier to blame others for our shortcomings and that approach has a much larger support network built into our society, our communities, our industries, our workplaces, and even ourselves. There's so much support for blaming others, in fact, that some workers actually quit their jobs yet then still keep coming through the door every day - as nutty as that sounds and as we've highlighted in a previous post about that disastrous phenomenon!

Workers asking relentlessly of their managers and of their companies: what have you done for me lately? has led, naturally, to these 150,000,000 results for those all too eager to absolve themselves of control over their own success - and their accountability to those who are signing their paychecks every week - in addition to the real shocker, which is remaining blind to those three fingers pointing back at them.

Well, we do acknowledge for a moment here: there really are some workers who quit their jobs - despite having fantastically supportive managers - simply because they've outgrown the position, one which cannot realistically be enlarged and they need a bigger challenge to keep pace with the level of responsibility they can now offer; or, maybe they just want a career change and to provide value to employers by using a different skill set. It's also no secret there's some truly bad managers out there - those with limited communication skills and who don't provide their staff the tools needed for success; and much of this blog focuses on what managers can do to help create the best workplaces, those which are happy, healthy, efficient, and focused on performance. 

Yet, no managers have superhero powers, and the best ones out there - the type we all want to work for - cannot make your career and daily behaviors their full-time occupation and responsibility. And that's where responsibility comes in, because everyone, not their particular managers, whether they're great, awful, or anywhere in-between those two extremes, is ultimately responsible for demonstrating their own value to their estate. Few, if any, management or leadership books I know of have addressed this ground level reality of the day-to-day workplace, and it's why I'm excited about promoting this resource to you. 

I'm so certain of the foundational value of both this approach and this book, that I offer to send (within the U.S.) a hard copy of the book to any reader of The Domestic Staff Citizen, at my expense. Please note that I'm not being compensated by the author or
publisher; it's simply my passion for helping others succeed with the same material I've found useful, and of course, when we believe strongly enough in something, we like to share it with others. Naturally, this offer is limited because financial resources for this project are limited as well, but I'd like to give away as many copies of the book at I'm able. Please contact me and tell me a bit about yourself, including your phone number, too, and we'll have a brief chat and I'll then send you the book. 

All I ask in return is you actually read the book within the same week that you receive it, consider each of its 18 ideas and place a few of them into practice, and then to write a brief guest post for this blog telling about how this self-empowering approach toward work has inspired you (or your staff) to actively demonstrate value to your employer.. and to become..

the domestic workers your estate can't live without.

For your free copy, please write to me through the contact form on the home page.