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 12, 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, 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!

Thursday, May 15, 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 present an expensive, attractive 4-color brochure for something else. Assessments are fairly serious, dry projects and, as such, usually don't lend themselves to the colorful type of marketing that customers 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 rarely works, but it's easy and safe and even kinda fun sometimes, and that's why it's often chosen. Of course, there's some middle ground here and it's not really the either/or proposition the title would imply. And whether assessing your estate's service performance issues is good will 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 team... to its full potential? 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Our Friend The 9-Ring

The gift of a near win... the pursuit of mastery is an ever, onward, almost.  - Sara Lewis

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.  - Arnold Schwarzenegger

The 10-ring is success, but is it mastery?
Something about the topic of ultimate success always gnawed on me; it just seemed such a lonely place to be, so final. Whatever the context, there's always some version of it that seemed like settling into a long-term stay at Forrest Lawn... that of getting the gold medal, of hitting the bullseye, of landing the perfect job, of winning the state powerball lottery, or even getting to heaven itself. Because, then what?

I was thinking that maybe attaining perfect success isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe, there's something even better. 

The first few seconds I watched Sara Lewis on TED this weekend, I knew she had something to say. There's an aura of energy about her that just drew me in, the kind that let me know the show's not over til it's, well, it's just not going to be over... because if we do it right, it's going to just keep on going... in a good way!

I hadn't thought much about archery in almost 40 years, since I was in the Boy Scouts and also an archery instructor during those summer camps. And, who knew... how much those days on that big, open range would then influence what's happened in my life ever since, especially recently, as I've tried to instill a passion in others for putting as much effort into handling the bow itself, as into what happens down range at the target. 

As you enjoy her talk about how we need to celebrate and honor near-wins to the same
Mastery - a new back-of-the-house standard?
levels of respect we now reserve for success, we learn the art of mastery will take us beyond the simple finality of success and into where our real abilities are discovered and provided for others, where we can truly be... of service

We thrive not when we've done it all, but when we still have more to do.

Think to your own professional lives, including day-to-day successes, or lack thereof: How many dinner parties, renovation projects, and household staff team meetings on your estate have actually hit the 10-ring? Maybe a few, but maybe not too many. And, if they all did, what does that say about your success, about your mastery... and where you could now be aimed?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Technology: Can It Go Too Far?

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.   - Bill Gates

First, a disclaimer: I'm no techno-phobe. For many reasons:
  1. Technology, like anything renewable, has been hardwired in us to embrace. We smile at babies
    Please don't let this happen to me.
    because they're fresh new specimens of ourselves, and there is, I believe, an inherent drive to procreate and seek out, protect, and promote the new version of anything, whether it be one of our own species, or the new iPhone 6 (this September, I'll be there on the sidewalk from the night before). 
  2. At fifty-four, I'm now in danger of being teleported to Planet Unhirable by any employer who believes no one over forty can find the power-on button. Staying current with new technology is simply survival, by maintaining both the reality and the perception in others that I'm not out of touch. 
  3. The jobs on most estates actually require it, so I support it. As in many service jobs, satisfying the client means doing more in less time, and in-person meetings, once replaced by voicemail, then email, are now conducted through various means of texting and conferencing. No doubt, in five years, we'll all look back on texting and Go-To-Meeting as embarrassingly prehistoric methods of meeting with co-workers, as newer - and unimaginable as of now - technologies take their places.
  4. I grew up watching Batman. Alfred Pennyworth, the consummate Butler, just knew how to navigate through it all so well. He's my first memory of someone who really loved their job; and he utilized technology in a home with such finesse, that I just knew, even at age five, one day I'd be a Butler, too.
But technology can go too far. 

My local gym, with good intentions, has now installed treadmills, whereupon your data is uploaded to a cloud and you can then stream your progress reports to your iPhone, when you have more time, later. Because, as we all know, while on a treadmill, one just doesn't have time to deal with thinking about getting into shape, as one is spending that time catching up on emails, video presentations, national news, and editing and texting spreadsheets.

I realized this morning how happy I am this new treadmill cloud technology did not exist last summer when I decided to drop forty pounds, because, simply, I never would have been able to. I would have, instead, spent the following three months uploading heartbeat trends while sorting the day's cascading stream of urgent emails, mostly cc's. Yet, instead, what happened last summer is that I passed by a mirror - technology that's not too exciting, yet has been efficiently in place since the second century A.D. - and decided it was time for a change. It was a powerful visual that only a mirror knows how to do, and one I would never have paid attention to if I'd focused my energy at the gym on studying metrics of how I was doing by uploading then downloading the clean, presentable, photo-shopped, color enhanced, and re-assembled metric cloud version of myself. 

I see the same trend now developing in training and human resources. As both a national and local chapter member of American Society for Training & Development, I've noticed there's lots of discussion of what apps trainers are downloading to keep up with metrics they are purchasing, from ASTD, on, well, the apps that trainers are downloading. But, very little actual doing or even talking about doing, eh, training. 

Egg alerts: This is just all wrong.
Best of all, I stopped into a store today and saw the egg tray - you know the one - the one that alerts me through wi-fi when the last egg is lifted from the tray, letting me know... that I've just lifed the last egg from the tray. To be fair, I think there's an option to delay the alert or even set up group alerts, in case different teams on my estate need to be co-alerted about the egg tray status - or, perhaps, if some team members are allowed this information only on a need-to-know basis. After I download the manual and send it to the treadmill tonight, I'll read it and follow up with an updated post for you later this week. It would be preferable, though, if everyone reading this could simply text me their cell numbers so I could group-text this update (I mean, the update about the alert delay option, although I'll include a link to an online survey, first, to see if there's also interest in details of the other egg tray alert options).

In which ways is technology actually serving you - and helping you to serve your Principals - on your estate?  

And in which ways could we engage in some reflection on how to approach high technology effectively - along with all efficient means to complete the mission of service?

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Your Estate Needs

Don't ask what your estate needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it...

Your new resume portrait photo?
Epiphanies, especially the powerful ones that don't come along too often, are like shooting stars across the sky. Or, coconuts falling on your head ~ depending on whether you're employed in the northeast, or on Maui. 

Tonight, while just beginning my ritual of thirty minutes on the treadmill at my local gym, my mind drifted through the daily log of events, hopes, and of course, a random assortment of needs. Often on my mind during these rummages is my current need to drop five more pounds and return to a waist size of some thirty autumns ago, yet, suddenly, I realized, after reading the quote on the t-shirt of the young lady jogging in front of me, that I'd actually lost sight of how to ultimately satisfy that need ~ which was to not focus on the need itself, but instead to focus on how much I actually enjoy working out on this piece of equipment. And the need would then, as it were, take care of itself.

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."  - Howard Thurman

And so it often is with our service delivery on residential estates. Easily so focused on the immediate need at hand, we forget to realize the right way to go about being good service providers ~ or even, perhaps, if the service could be more than one step removed from our efforts themselves.

Although you're the nanny, does preparing and serving an elegant dinner for two, perhaps one of your own special creation, make you come alive? Surely the chef has a day off, where you can dive into this passion. Maybe you're the estate manager, with an appreciation for the high performance of fine or exotic automobiles? You may not be the chauffeur, but who on the estate would deny you the opportunity to polish and detail clean one of them from the inside out, after you've caught up with your primary duties and have a spare afternoon? Or, are you the upstairs maid, bored with all the ironing and having a secret penchant for organizing large dinner parties?  Your household manager will, I assure you, be graciously appreciative of you handling many of the important details for the next one... and even more so, if you'll then stick around to help see that all went according to your ~ perhaps new, and passionately discovered ~ team effort.

Of course, we do make efforts to ask what our estate needs ~ and to obtain or assign resources needed to satisfy those needs. In fact, a well-known survey by Gallup, discovering the top 10 most important concerns of the best performing workers across all industries, noted these workers always wanted to know what was expected of them to perform ~ and, similarly, the best performing estates will know what their expectations  are, while focusing, with purpose, on setting the standards to satisfy those needs.

Still, the takeaway from Howard Thurman of how we go about serving our estates can empower us to look beyond the obvious and to satisfy our own needs for success and high performance, as well.

 ...because, what your estate needs is people who have come alive.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Real Pizza... In Real Time

The fact that you establish some kind of human contact is important...  
- Dr. Vint Cerf, co-creator of the Internet

A point of diminishing returns... awaits the user.
One would, naturally, think that the inventor of anything would be its most ardent advocate. Vint Cerf, highlighted in a recent study illuminated by Gallup here, is no exception, yet, quite admirably, he understands his invention's limitation and isn't afraid to speak both openly and wisely about it.

Very few statistical studies impress me, as I often think of the joke when reading a report: if you torture the numbers long enough, they'll tell you anything. Gallup, however, is one of the few organizations which follow a respectable protocol... and one can be assured they've carefully checked, re-checked, and re-checked again, before carefully publishing theirs or others' data. Their latest is no exception.

In summary: If you work with others, go ahead and collaborate online ~ but just a little.

I found their data truly fascinating. Online collaboration, which has become the norm to at least some degree on every staffed estate (even for staff who are working in the same house), is great ~ yet only when used judiciously. Those groups who do so are more productive, and also are less likely to become actively dis-engaged, meaning, consciously sabotaging their work environment. As the amount of Internet use rises, productivity slightly decreases, yet, more worrisome, the actively disengaged/destructive behavior increases. The healthiest groups of all seem to be those who can limit their online collaboration to 20% or less, with productivity remaining somewhat greater than groups with no online collaboration, yet, just as importantly, of having a much lower chance for active disengagement.

Is it the pizza... or the human contact?
Google, who, perhaps, has helped to bring all of our lives online more than any other single entity, is at the forefront with understanding this phenomenon. In their own work spaces, you'll notice in the article, they've purposefully built spaces to create more face-to-face interaction, not less! The old-fashioned notion of eating lunch together is still alive and well, and Google designed their cafeterias to encourage more of this healthy, interactive human behavior.

How does this impact domestic staff households? You may be working in the same house as others, but are you still working remotely from them? What percentage of the day are you spending online in collaboration with others and how is this helping to engage ~ or to actively disengage ~ both yourself and your teammates from your jobs?

Gallup's full report can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Good Service

I'm sorry, it's not going to be that easy. I honestly cannot define "good service". 

I cannot even tell you what a good service experience always looks like, in hopes that you'll always know what to do.  But... here's a little story. And it's the closest I can get for you.

I was traveling recently on Hawaiian Airlines and had, for the first time in many months, good service, within the context of my own world of what good service means. On Hawaiian, the flight attendants take water service very seriously and this is how I became a loyal customer. Simply, water is important to me, as hydration makes a journey in the de-humidified air cabins so much more pleasant. And on Hawaiian, I don't have to ask for it.

The process is very simple: You purchase a half-liter of water and from that point forward they just seem to know you're the thirsty person on the plane. They come around, without asking, about every hour or so, refilling your entire bottle from another, bigger bottle of the same delicious island water.

Of course, other airlines have water, too. But you have to ask. Water and getting something I want without having to repeatedly ask are my two favorite things in life. Combine them and I'm in heaven. But that's just me.

Let's look at another air travel service provider, Southwest Airlines. Yes, they're the airline that's consistently voted by their employees as the best airline to work for. They really care about their employees - and that's a good thing. They're happy, enthusiastic people and that is, generally, nice to be around.  But they never remember I'm the thirsty person on the plane. What they do remember is to spontaneously sing over the intercom, tell jokes and be entertaining, which absolutely delights their passengers. In fact, surveys show it's why their own loyal following keep coming back. But not me. I just want some water to drink.

On domestic estates, we must quickly learn what is, and isn't, good service for our employers and their guests.  Most likely, it won't be something that involves champagne, live entertainment, or other such easily purchased luxuries. It's not going to be that easy. Most likely, it will turn out to be something that seems very ordinary or something we wouldn't go out of our way to pay for or even expect much of ourselves.

That's because good service is not defined by what we want others to buy, but by what others, as unique and sensitive human beings, wish to have for themselves. It's usually something not found in the luxury services marketplace, or in a household service training manual. But it can be a big thing for the guest. Very big.

Actually... it may be the one single thing that makes or breaks their entire guest experience and consequently - your success. Because, as with the airlines, good service in a home is defined by...

Well, like for beauty, you'll now always know the rest of that sentence.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Meatloaf? It's as Easy as 1-2-...

Now don't be sad, 'cause two out of three ain't bad.  - Meat Loaf, '70s rock star

For an infinite amount of time before The Project Management Book of Knowledge was published and became a standard reference for the PM industry, universal project management truths had, nevertheless, existed. The PMBOK, IMHO, simply helped pull them all together in a linear format, allowing managers of all stripes and industries to learn a structured sequence and speak a common language. Dry as toast, its content does, at least, provide a sound and sensible process for placing horse before the cart, as it were.

Personally, my own greatest takeaway from CSUs PM program some years ago was not the intricacies of The Book, per se, yet the foundation of, first and foremost, knowing exactly what my resource ingredients were ~ and how they should fit onto the larger dish in order to best satisfy the clients' appetites for success. This recipe has found to hold true when embarking on any major estate renovation project, or even something as simple as putting together a light brunch.

To the point, anyone tasked on their estate with getting from A to Z, no matter how large or small the task itself, will be comforted to know the three basic factors to wrangle always remain constant: quality, time, and money. And, as much as we'd like to have our projects' plans fired up in all three pans, as Michael Lee Aday, aka Meat Loaf, so eloquently reminded us throughout the late-70's... two out of three ain't bad.
You get two out of three.

To succulently present this idea, let's first admit it's natural to want most things in life and at work: good, fast, and cheap. However, mixing together a recipe for realism begins with the idea that however we prioritize any one of the three will impact the other two and, consequently, the project success, as defined, keep in mind, within the clients' own minds.

So then, how does this all play out... within the context of our domestic estate employment? Well... let's have some fun and look at how a project of preparing a dish of, oh, let's say, for instance... meatloaf, for our employer to enjoy as part of a casual afternoon sports event with friends in their private and cozy theater room. Depending on your resources, you'll now have some important decisions to make:

Don't be sad. From this angle... it ain't bad!
Quality: Will ordinary ground beef with canned bread crumbs and a quick pour from an open carton of Eggbeaters - all probably available now in your kitchen - meet all expectations for a good entree, or will only the most nutritious and tasty organic, grass-fed Kobe beef need to be freshly ground, moments before folding in the just-toasted and chopped sourdough bread, together with a couple of free-range organic eggs?

Time: How fast do you need the meatloaf ready? Did you just find out about the gathering a few minutes ago, or have you known for several days? Is it the chef's day off and your own culinary acumen is being put to the test? Do you have other obligations equally as pressing that morning which leaves pulling out a frozen, boxed meatloaf from the garage freezer and nuking it for eight minutes as the only, realistic option?

Money: Is today near the end of your household culinary account's credit card cycle and you're now expected to keep this event on the cheap to keep from running over the monthly budget? If you did opt for Kobe, how would that impact what you could spend on other items, knowing that each months expenditures must be regularly reviewed and justified with the family office CFO, especially after having been given clear instructions to reduce, not increase, the event food and beverage budget for this coming year?

Two out of three say that Meat was a great PM.
Now, be forewarned, having the popular 70s tune playing in your head during project meetings may, or may not, assist you in keeping this universal truth at the forefront of plans while presenting both your Gantt charts and promises to the principal. Still, knowing what to mix in and what to leave out will make all the difference, when the final dish is served.

Two out of three ain't only not bad, knowing how to pick the right two on your estate will always be good. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lucky #7

You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don't help. 
- Bill Watterson, cartoonist

You won't need luck with these questions.
I'm sure there's an amazing history behind how the number seven gained its reputation for luck, and I'm equally sure I don't know what it is. Yet, when I noticed that perhaps the best question a candidate could ever have the opportunity to ask during an interview was listed beside that very famous number, I immediately thought of the irony - of how skillful this question really is - and any job candidate asking it would then have no need, whatsoever, to rely on luck - or even wearing their lucky underpants - while landing their next job.

There's no shortage of top-ten lists for just about any endeavor and I always take each list with a grain of salt, maybe three. Yet #7 on the below list from Kazim Ladimeji is just so darn good, it creates that well-known halo effect, making the entire list shine... as it will for you, as well. I've reprinted the basic questions from his list, then edited the subtext a bit to reflect our own, unique domestic industry. No doubt you'll find other top-ten lists and have thought of some good questions of your own, reflecting your own, unique desires within your own next, unique domestic staff position.

1) What exactly would my day to day responsibilities be? 

I realize that you might have already received a job description, yet sometimes these can be out of date or generic copy-and-paste versions. And as important as good ones are, they're also rather static documents that don't really reflect the dynamic nature of the role, or the balance of emphasis of each duty.

The role is the fundamental reason you're joining the household, so it is fine to dive into some clarification here, nudging them on until you're comfortable with what the job really is. If they simply start reading from the job summary of the online advertisement... yellow flag!

As regular readers of The Citizen will recall, Gallup's most famous survey showed the number-1 concern on the mind of the best workers to be what, exactly, is expected of them at work. Never to be confused with inflexibility of tasks, clarity and effective communication which outline the responsibilities is always a good thing.

2) Can you describe a typical day or week on the job?

While the job description can tell you what your tasks may be, it doesn't really give you a live impression of the role. Asking this one gives you a more realistic view, so you can really understand how you feel about the job. Like #1 above, you're not looking just for what they say, but more how they say it. 

Often you'll be offered, surreptitiously, some rather useful information about the household culture by just watching their body language. Are they enthusiastic about your service role? You don't need to be a seasoned detective to catch on to this, it's pretty much human nature, so just go with your gut. Because of the emphasis on confidentiality in households, especially to outsiders (which you are, for the time being anyway), carefully observed body language may be your most accurate source of information.

3) What would be my biggest challenges over the next three months?

This is a probing question. You're trying to get the interviewer to reveal if there's any genuine crises lurking within the role or the organization, not just a list of projects to complete. At the same time, by using positive terminology like challenges (as opposed to issues), you're showing the interviewer that you are motivated, that you are someone who likes to achieve, and that you want to support the principal or estate manager in achieving their own objectives. It's a star question.  

An alternative question, one that's a little less heavy yet still puts it out there about your interest in solving problems, is simply, What's the first thing you'd like me to solve for you in the first 30 days? That brings it down to the first staffing or operational issue weighing heavily on their minds, right now, and puts a more manageable 30-day limit on the forecast for initial success.

4) Tell me about the the other staff and how long they've been on board.

If the other staff have joined recently e.g. within the past six months, then it's likely the household may be a little bit unsettled and going through some change. Not a problem, necessarily, especially if the change is for the good and they're now establishing new standards and expectations for better, higher performances. It's just something to be aware of. 

Also, it’s a gentle question that let's them talk about something other than you for a while. During this process, they may open up some more and you can learn useful things about their expectations for the staff, which you just may become a part of.

5) Is this a new role? 

If yes, ask them to explain why it was created. If no, ask them how the role became available. You're trying to understand if there's anything problematic with the role which caused the last employee to resign or to be fired; given either case, the job is not necessarily not a good one, just be aware of how you could attune and provide service according to the principals' own definitions of good service.  Broaching that very topic is a good follow-up.

Conversely, if you're now replacing someone who's been in the role for many years, it doesn't necessarily mean the job is good, or is good for you, as that particular employee may have stayed on for reasons other than you'd want to. Just use the information to decide, along with all the other data coming in, if both the role and the estate are truly a good fit for you.

6) What are the training and development opportunities here?

Although rarely discussed in domestic job interviews, training and development, on some level, is crucial to doing your job well and to helping you meet your career objectives, so it's good to know your employer’s general position. Also, this shows you're ambitious and thinking ahead as to how you can keep serving their needs better and with greater skills. Most likely, though, T&D will be framed as to how it'll help you meet the expectations of this position, not the one you may anticipate having down the road, so tread this line carefully and move on to other topics quickly if the air suddenly thickens. 

7) Are there any shortcomings in my application that may prevent you from offering me the job? Would you like me to clarify anything else?
You can be just as brave as Buck Rogers ~
and no lucky underpants will be needed.
#7! Truly the rocketship underpants of interview questions. Even if you're not a lucky person, you'll still gain valuable information about your shortcomings, which employers, interestingly, are often glad to answer honestly while interviewing you. You'll also demonstrate your extreme courage by wanting to know how you stack up and this, in effect, is saying to them, "please, evaluate and critique everything you see about me, so I can serve you better," which is a dream come true for estate owners and their managers, as it makes their ability to have you around so much easier! And guess what? You're in luck now, because people usually hire other people who make their lives easier for them. 

And, practically speaking, when you do get an honest answer from your interviewer, it gives you the chance to address any issues immediately, while you're still in the running and still sitting in the interview chair. If you're able to address those concerns to their satisfaction, you'll then move one step closer to getting the job. It's lucky #7 indeed, yet no luck is really needed here... you'll have done it all yourself, using the skill, humility, and bravery of your own making.

8) Do you want to know what I can do to help your household?

Assuming the interviewer says yes, you can then set about explaining how you can apply your skills and strengths to addressing specific challenges at the estate. Take into account what you've learned during the interview and ensure this is reflected clearly in your response. This will show you as positive, forward-thinking, and able to think quickly on your feet. 

Obviously, you'll needed to have taken some pretty good notes up to this point, while thinking ahead about how you'll answer this question that you're now proposing. Of course, if you honestly can't think of at least one problem you could solve for them, then you should totally skip this question ~ and perhaps the rest of the interview.

9) What is the next step in the process?

This is a simple but important question, as by inquiring and showing curiosity about the future, you let the employer know that you're genuinely interested in the role. Take careful notes and follow up on a regular basis (weekly is a good start), persisting until you receive a definitive yes or no from either them or your recruiter.

10) May I have your business card?

Ask each interviewer, whether it's the recruiter, the personal assistant, the household manager, the CFO, or the owner themselves, for a real, honest to goodness paper business card and then send them a hand-written thank you note, on good stationary. And as you're shaking hands goodbye, be sure to give them your own calling card, as well.  

Although this all sounds a little old-fashioned to some people in the age of online-everything, well, the truth is.... most people still like being a little bit old fashioned and besides, it'll show them you have some real manners and that you just may belong, after all, on their estate.