Sunday, May 22, 2016

They Restructured The Household

Domestic Agency:  Why did you leave your last position?

Recently fired candidate:  They restructured the household.

It's been used so often and for so long that it's almost comical, as domestic staff candidates of all stripes and flavors- including my own self to hide behind a termination of my own making some years ago - have grasped for something to save face during the interview and thus feeding the unfortunate, ridiculous notion that being fired should be an embarrassment in our careers, a failure of some sort of which consequences are expected to weigh heavier than the upshot of having given oneself the courage to try and then having learned an important lesson from some honest self-evaluation.

Such thoughts were racing through my head as I approached the suddenly closed counter-space of my local Jamba Juice yesterday, jonesing for a large $9 Peanut Butter Moo'd and amid the confusion of low blood sugar thought I could have sworn I heard the attendant sweeping up the last of the debris, "our contract with Whole Foods has been restructured."

The restructured look.
In my near comatose state as I then rushed over to the food buffet, looking for anything loaded with carbs to wolf down and get back to a semblance of normal blood sugar levels, flashing back to 2003 and having been blessed with four weeks of training from the Guild of Professional English Butlers, recalling once such afternoon where we'd learnt the simple secret of how hospitality servers and bartenders of all sorts could literally triple their income at any time they choose by simply being nice to the customer instead of acting as if they are some sort of interruption. Sounds simple, yes? And it is, really, all it takes is a desire to do it, to be nice, and to have triple the income one had just moments before, by simply adopting the approach that service to others is nothing short of the most honorable transactions we can have in our lives.

I then flash forwarded to my actual experiences at this establishment over the past five years and realized that despite the remarkably fantastic end product, the very reason I had limited myself to purchasing one giant cup of their delicious liquid sugar every month instead of purchasing one every day, was in part to the transaction itself at the cash register being almost too painful to bear, as the Master Blender would continue his/her conversation with co-workers while muttering an exasperated "next in line please" and avoiding all eye contact, holding out hand to collect the fine while continuing conversation with co-worker, ultimately sliding the cup toward me in a manner which indicated the ordeal it had been for all.



Was I overly sensitive to this, having been made aware not only through old school English Butler training yet also through on the job requirements themselves over three decades, that the experience of having any product or service delivered is always much greater than the product or service itself?

Could others in our neighborhood have felt the same way?...

... customers like myself ready to pay cash for their smoothie product perhaps thirty times more frequently as well, resulting in perhaps thirty times the total cash revenue going into their registers every month? And, thus, perhaps thirty times the likelihood of everyone there staying employed?

And where's Jamba Juice's Undercover Boss when you need him?


No one is doing anyone any favors by disguising performance problems as "restructuring." Without an honest observation and assessment of how one is performing, businesses - as well as anyone who interacts with any other human being for any amount of time during their endeavor, which means the employees themselves and oh yes that includes all domestic workers interacting with their co-workers, bosses, vendors, family, and guests - will simply go on to fail somewhere else. Only by taking a close, cold, hard look at the reason for a termination and how to correct it in time for the next round, can there be any hope for real improvement, instead of simply more... "restructuring."

Now, enough about all of this. Where's that peanut butter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Not Wanted: Results-Oriented Professional

You will not stand out as a real person when you brand yourself like a zombie or a robot using done-to-death language like "Results-Oriented Professional." You will disappear into the mist.  - Liz Ryan, Forbes contributor

I disagree with some things that Liz Ryan says in her Forbes articles, but then again she has close to one million followers and I have about 70, so that should tell you something. This is one of those times in life where I think size matters.  Please don't ask me about the other times.

Notice I didn't say Liz has one million LinkedIn connections, which are less than meaningless and can even be shamelessly purchased, yet she actually has about one million followers - people out there in the world who are waiting to hear what she'll be saying next. That can never be bought - it can only be earned. And I think that if we have even just one person who is willing to listen to us for about five minutes (I mean really listening, the kind where the other person isn't checking their text messages while you're speaking), that's pretty good, and it would be a sign of a life not wasted. But almost one million people, well OMG, I'm very impressed, and even if I don't agree with her all of the time, I do want to see what she says next -  and, I can proudly say that I'm a Liz Ryan follower.

Where I do fully agree with Liz is her recent post, slamming our collective and unhealthy fetish for bizarre terms like Results-Oriented Professional. Myself indicted, I do admit, as I ducked into that same dark room a few years back and peeled off $300 to have someone "power up" my resume and, as I took the entire bait, line, and sinker, hired them to "create a resume that wouldn't get lost in the shuffle." That all sounded great, because not being a hiring manager of any real significance, I thought everyone's household manager resume might be just as boring as mine, and to get "ahead of the pack" (another line the vendor effectively used with me) I needed a "hard hitting" resume that would get the attention of, supposedly, all the right people.

Say what you will, but I bet you
 want to read this resume and get to know her.
But the problem was twofold. First, I discovered, and somewhat by accident, when speaking with a large agency recruiter that just about everyone out there has spent the same $300 for the same "hard hitting" resume format, and thus, I became even more lost in the shuffle than if I'd kept my someone tame, boring, and - here it comes - unique - resume format of simple, real-world accomplishments written in plain language - which I'd been advised would be a career killer to include on my resume if they weren't "powered up" immediately.  

Secondly, the high velocity verbiage like "Results-Oriented Professional" that was trying to light up my resume like billboard neon didn't mean anything, really, either as individual words - and even less collectively. They were, precisely, high impact because each of the words meant something different to each person (can anyone really agree on the nebulous term "Professional"... the most overused word in the English language?) and therefore, sadly, at the end of the day had little ability to actually convey any sense of who or what I am, what I have done, and even more importantly - can now do

And thirdly (I know I said twofold, but I just thought of something else), people who read these things really are sick of seeing these high impact words and phrases. I think it's because it's a bit like eating an entire bag of Oreos (especially the new Cupcake flavor which instructs you right on the front of the package to "twist and lick" the cookie; who can possibly resist buying anything that actually encourages that kind of behavior?)... the first three cookies are beyond delicious, but by the time you reach the fortieth cookie in the back of the bag, you just want to vomit, and no amount of Advil will cure the pounding headache that's going to completely debilitate you over the next several hours.

Domestic agency recruiters don't want a resume coming at them at over 200+ MPH, and they don't want to read dozens of those things every day, much less even just one. And neither do you, because you want to be selected and acknowledged as having real, decipherable talent to showcase who and what you are, not just as someone having $300 to send everyone at the agency into a sugar coma for the afternoon. Liz gets this, and proposes the idea that a simple resume, one which paints your own uniqueness with some simple, earthy language along with a couple of things you've actually done, can only be had by simply being yourself. 

It sounds almost too good to be true - and that's why we don't want to believe it.

But it's true. You can stop being a silly Results-Oriented Professional anytime you want, and I'm willing to bet anyone $300 that as soon as they stop, they'll find an employer who was not looking for just another level-5 hurricane resume to knock them off the starboard side of their yacht, but was looking just for them as they are:  a real human who's not afraid to just be their own, unique, simple, and authentic self.

Monday, May 9, 2016

We'll Pay You $2,000 To Quit

Is your estate attractive enough to candidates, to be able to make this same offer? 

Picture yourself at your next domestic job interview. Your resume is as polished as your shoes; your references are both stellar and verified. You've passed your background investigation with honors - you've not only never committed an infraction of the law, your contagiously good citizenship has actually prevented them from occurring in others - and your credit score was found, amazingly, to be 875 out of a possible 850. Your technical skills are irrefutable and your perky exuberance sets you up as the model candidate. You've also spent several weeks memorizing each of the answers to the latest book of the 100 most commonly-asked interview questions, and you're now chomping at the bit to have the chance to show how wonderful and well-prepared you are for this very serious, important meeting.

Yet, suddenly, the Principal whisks into the room, completely ignores the PowerPoint presentation of your resume lighting up his wall, pulls up his chair next to yours, leans in close, looks you in the eye, and only says to you:

"I'm so confident that anyone would be happy here, I'll pay you $2,000 on top of your first month's pay if you don't like us and you decide to quit. Please, won't you come take a look at our household and see if it makes you feel happy?"

What?!  Sounds impossible, you say?

Well, if we can agree on the premise that happy employees and workplaces make the most productive employees and workplaces, then it stands to reason that an employer would only want happy workers at work. What, then, could possibly ever be the advantage of having unhappy people work for you?  And, what could possibly be the benefit of having a miserable workplace?

And so thought billionaire Tony Hsieh, who founded internet shoe retailer giant Zappos. As it turns out, Hsieh really doesn't care all that much about shoes (he proudly owns only four pairs and lives in a trailer park). He just wanted to make a workplace where everyone was happy to be there.  

And guess what? He attracted people to the interviews that were looking for the same thing!

Their happiness was reflected in the 10 core values that he and his employees carefully wrote, over a one-year period. Yes, it took that much time, and a lot of work to get there. Yet, would showing up at an uninspiring, confusing, and miserable workplace every morning  - be any easier? Hsieh and his colleagues decided, collectively, to create a great, happy workplace - purposefully - and it was created through those expressed, written core values

That's how he was able to make the $2,000 guarantee. He knew that very few unhappy types would want to start working at a place that had - purposefully - established a process for the employees attaining happiness. 

And he was right! Because, guess what? Almost no one quit, and even fewer took the money.

It's worth noting: the happiness Hsieh was looking for wasn't the kind where staff paste on a plastic, insincere smile whenever someone enters the room. Instead, it's the kind of happiness that comes alive within your entire being, the kind you can't possibly fake; the kind that multiplies out of control when you're in a room full of co-workers that are as happy as you are to be there...  because everyone knows that everyone else in the room is as tuned into the collectively established core values, as they are.

And... here's a happy, shiny-shoes ending for Zappos - and also for anyone that thinks happiness is just some silly, dreamy notion, or perhaps not as useful on their estate as confusion and misery - Hsieh sold his happy company to, on the condition that their family of workers be allowed to stay together. Amazon (happily) agreed, paying Hsieh $1.2 billion for the opportunity to keep their happiness core values intact. Well, I guess you could say, happy talks

Could this kind of purposeful success through happiness be created within a domestic staff... on your estate?

Is there any reason not to?  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

They Quit - And Then Stayed!

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 presumed, 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.

Um, no... not the movie.
ROAD - Retired On Active Duty, came into a recent discussion with colleagues 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 matters, along with any efforts at engagement for the staff 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 opposite: the worst-case scenario for an Estate Manager who enters into a new job is that of the staff thinking "I'm outta here"... and staying!

So then, the time now comes to ask the hard questions. What is the strategy for engaging ROAD warriors... on your estate?  Of seeing their value - and then helping them to know it's their responsibility to fully demonstrate such - on a daily basis?

Thursday, April 28, 2016



- Friend's quite understandable reaction to my Brussels sprouts 6:00AM breakfast.

I recently made the commitment to Brussels sprouts each morning, as part of my return to a low-carb lifestyle. I can't think of any word more appropriate than commitment, as it implies not only follow-through with a difficult task - yet also some type of sacrifice. 

Inviting a friend into my kitchen recently in the very early hours of the day to share and savor my new best dish of boiled Brussels sprouts, I received a very understandable one word reply: yuck.

There's no getting around it, Brussels sprouts are just nasty. And if you think otherwise, I'm not sure I'd like you very much. But I would definitely love you.

This challenging breakfast is now replacing my recent waking up to a large bowl of Fruit Loops, half a dozen Mallomars, and a can of Pepsi. Not Diet Pepsi, I might add, but real PEPSI. No yuck there! It was an amazingly delicious way to start the day. And I packed on the pounds again, had to go out and buy larger pants, and yet worse than that, I needed naps at lunchtime everyday to recover from the sugar spikes. Am I oversharing? I guess the bottom line is that I've decided to trade short-term yuck for long-term yum - that of having a better looking and much healthier body.

I see this same reaction on some estates I've been invited into over the years to help them review their staff issues. Everyone knows that a commitment to a clearly outlined and often discussed vision, mission, and team values, establishing standards through a well-written and often referred to employee handbook, weekly staff meetings held with the staff and not just at the staff, along with continuous performance coaching and pro-active help to the staff is the right thing to do. And - the reaction was sometimes that of - yuck.  

The more delicious menu for those estates was for staff members to empower their 
own standards and behaviors, yet the missing piece of the puzzle was always the employers' long-term estate health: that which could have come from a well-kept and efficient estate, one which had a staff committed to being efficient through a first and foremost focus on the needs of the employer. But commitments to being efficient, of course, often take a lot of work, require some real sacrifice of short-term pleasures, and are just never as fun as eating Mallomars, so to speak.

But... management by Mallomars is a decision - and we're all mature and intelligent enough people to know that no decisions are inherently good or bad; they are simply actions which are traded for a consequence. 

All decisions are simply based on our willingness to trade today's reality for what could be tomorrow's. 

That amazingly delicious breakfast of Fruit Loops, Mallomars, and Pepsi created one reality, while a bowl of Brussels sprouts, other healthy food choices at 6AM and throughout the day - along with having returned back into swimming and other exercises - will now create another.

On your estate, you really can create any reality that you want. 

The only question is: which reality will you and the estate owner choose to create?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When Horseshoes Aren't Enough

Organizations that lead with a human voice don't put people on Performance Improvement Plans.  -  Liz Ryan, Forbes

They say that almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and that's the best metaphor I could think of when reading Liz Ryan's article today in Forbes, The Truth About Performance Improvement Plans, equally perplexed the article was highlighted in the weekly circular of International Society for Performance Improvement, which is well known to profess the analytical nature of performance in any organizational setting by examining first all three components: the work, the work environment, and the worker.

Liz goes for two out of three, focusing on the work and work environment and giving the worker a free pass, which, not surprisingly, is popular among many managers of all stripes. Her article has some good, however, in that it encourages one to not so quickly demonize the worker when poor performance becomes evident. As these things may happen, though, substandard workers are still not what the team needs, despite how humanistic both management and workplaces have shifted to in recent decades. 

The incomplete assessment can be seen clearly on many household domestic staff teams, where the estate manager turns out to be the revolving door position as the result of a culture of placing undue emphasis, as Liz would have it, on the work environment, and not enough on the accountability and initiative of the workers in question which the EM is responsible for yet often has little authority. Discarding the idea of a Performance Improvement Plan IMHO isn't the right move, yet instead setting the PIP as a 360-degree exercise, one which brings everyone - not simply the managers' shortcomings - into play. This is where Liz almost gets it, and I swear I could hear the clang of a horseshoe bouncing off the metal stake and skip-landing in the dry, dusty brown dirt a few inches away as I read her entertaining story.

The very word "Plan," however, has always been bothersome to me, as it seeks to get all jet engines fired up for performance only when a deficiency occurs... yet that could be avoided by trading the mindset of blame and repair for that of a total, overarching culture of performance improvement at all times. Simply keeping the status quo through mandatory and minimal efforts training and evaluation, as many organizations strapped for resources of time and money (or just plain, old-fashioned effort) are keen on doing, will only keep the similarly broken poor performance in play.

A culture of learning, of improving performance at all times, however, could be the minimum requirement in any organization, including small domestic household teams, and if the family office and principals are on board and supporting such continuous growth, they'll never be a need for a "Plan" again, with the attendant issues with spiraling failure and firings they often bring with them.

Performance Improvement Plans, though, are not they and of themselves the un-human or inhumane voices many have claimed them to be; they are simply one evaluation of the total picture responsible for performance; and how - not just if - they are spoken is the real issue and worthy of improvement in any workplace culture: that of holding work, work environment, and the worker accountable.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Of Butlers and Hot Dog Eating Champions

I couldn't help contemplating the contrast between the spirit of this approach and that of other areas of our world, where people become defensive when weaknesses are pointed out, and the status-quo is all too often defended.  - Matthew Syed

As I'm guilty of doing, you may think of a hot-dog eating champion with an image in your mind of a large person who eats similar foods as the normal course of his diet, which then naturally would seem to make them a talent for eating large amounts of food and winning the contest.

And as I've done, you may also think of those providing really great, efficient service in a home with an image in your mind of someone who's been at their job for a number of years, someone who's been through the same weekly routines for so long that they're just naturally the best.

But what if both of these assumptions could be not only unfair stereotypes to both those persons who did and also those persons who didn't fit the stereotype - but also if the idea of years of practice was just plain overrated in the first place?

The hot dog world champion unfair stereotype...
What if becoming great at something wasn't necessarily how many years that someone's be at it, but if what they've  done has been that of highly focused attention - with the goal of looking for the very smallest of their errors during any of their tasks and then correcting them immediately and moving forward to locating the next error, then correction, etc., thus improving their talent with equally small, incremental advances?

And what if those small, incremental advances then added up over a relatively small amount of time, to the real champion?

Fair to say I don't have an interesting story to tell about Butlers becoming champions of their performance by focusing on finding and correcting small errors throughout the day -- but I think it could work. I think that the best staff training and learning possibly does not come from the ubiquitous 1-day industry seminars, nor even the more intense 8-week Butler schools, nor even the larger 10,000 hours of practice which author Malcolm Gladwell has insisted is needed for anyone to be good at just about anything.

I think the best learning and improvement could come from the same mindset which champion hot-dog eater Takeru Kobayashi has demonstrated, that of someone who had never done this before yet decided to approach the process with a highly self-critical approach of the smallest of details and thus advancing his efficiency one second (or hot dog) at a time, making the corrections needed to move forward one little notch, and adding up all improvements... thus winning the real championship: improvement and attainment of excellence based upon real, demonstrated performance instead of simply an arbitrary number of years which is guessed and assumed to create a talent. 

It's usually "three to five years experience" we see regularly on the online job board ads, but what if a truly great domestic worker could be created in just three to five weeks, or even three to five days, by themselves adopting this same mindset, discipline, and concerted effort?  

Takeru's challenge to the traditional measurements of proficiency reminded me immediately of the old saying, "Do you really have ten years of experience, or do you have one year of experience that's been repeated ten times?"  

And if it really does take ten years, or three to five years, or some other totally random selected number of years to become proficient with a skill, how does that explain those who dedicate themselves fully to learning and then become expert within just a few days?

And what if you saw this hot dog contest world champion walking down the street and would never have guessed in a million years by seeing his physique that he's the world record holder for not just hot dogs, but also for several other foods such as pizza and
...and the hot dog world champion 
reality, Takeru Kobayashi
grilled cheese sandwiches? What if instead of the stereotype we'd expect to see, this massive food eating champion was actually quite, um, well... athletic?

Would you then begin to question both the traditional physical appearance, background, and most of all - the training methods - for most anyone engaged in any endeavor, especially those who become evident as... "the best"?  

Including... the domestic staff industry?

Here's the fascinating story of how Takeru did it:

But! Not so fast here.. some of us may sniff and turn our heads... this was a hot-dog eating championship for the unwashed masses, after all, and not within the fine, ultra luxe environments where we find ourselves plying our trade. 

Yet, what if it were true that the context made no difference, and we could approach our own domestic service jobs with the same, critical evaluation of each task to advance performance, instead of just moving along year after year, toward that magical three to five year period, or that amazing 10,000 hour plateau, and just assuming that we're getting better at our game? What if, instead of just assuming that because someone has been serving wine, or cleaning a marble floor, or managing a service team for twenty years and this automatically creates great talent, we instead take a closer look is taken at how much can be learned in a very small amount of time, given a very honest, critical look by ourselves at how we perform during each second of the task

What if proficiency in a domestic skill could also be more about the mindset and dedication of the domestic worker to become proficient, and less to do with the training program?

And more importantly... what if you could recreate this hot-dog eating contest at your next staff meeting, for both fun and inspiration of this approach to continuous improvement on your estate?  

Now there's a staff meeting I'd gladly attend. I'm in!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Gossiping Domestic Workers... They Do Not Represent Us

...the staff gift-wrapping a present for Ms. Lewinsky, Mrs. Clinton calling Mr. Clinton a "goddamn bastard,"... President Kennedy's adventures with secretaries in the swimming pool...    - Wall Street Journal, Book Review, "The Residence"

The past week has been a roller coaster, and I am not pleased to report I haven't exhibited the unflappable nature expected of Butlers, as I briefly shut down The Domestic Staff Citizen - a silly knee-jerk reaction to someone attempting to convince me it's evil to maintain an "online presence" - and me erroneously believing them during a moment of misguided panic.  

I realized after a few calm days that I, like 99.9% of anyone online, have done nothing wrong - and any one of the 59,300+ visits to my blog over the past six years - and in addition, anyone who has actually known me over the past 27 years in this industry - knows that I, like the great majority of domestics, have never disclosed a confidentiality, not even once, nor ever broken a trust from any employer. 

These people do not represent the efforts
of The Domestic Staff Citizen
I suppose this is because that I, like most domestics who respect the privacy of their employers, do not disclose information whether it be good, bad, or indifferent, regarding what is seen within the walls of an employers' homes. 

Those who employ domestic staff have a very reasonable expectation that no information regarding any activity which takes place within their home will be disclosed to anyone outside of their home.

Oddly, a few domestic workers break this trust with their employers, however, those discreet and trustworthy domestic workers - the type who are building positive careers, positive workplaces, and positive communities for their colleagues - I have found prefer to focus instead on how to improve service to their employers, on how to build their technical skills, professional experiences and education, and are also looking for new ways of how to assist their colleagues in becoming better service workers; and that is what they spread around - on their websites or in their comments on LinkedIn, at their industry professional association monthly meetings, and when speaking to media about how the career field has grown and become more attractive as a real profession during the past 20 years.  

Sadly, though, some do not differentiate between good and bad behaviors and will lump all domestic workers into the same bunch, assuming that when any domestic worker is talking to anyone about anything, anywhere... confidentiality is surely being broken. This is a lack of critical thinking, and they are ultimately shortchanged, as they will make decisions which affect the success of their estate (or their clients' estates) based upon the limited and faulty information by which they allow themselves to be influenced. 

Those persons who cannot distinguish  between White House domestic workers writing a book disclosing what they have seen surrounding their employers' private lives - and my blog - which has only been dedicated to human resource management, performance management, and organizational development topics within our industry - this indicates an unwillingness to make sound, rational judgments about information which appears "online."

The answer is not for good, discreet, and trustworthy domestic workers - as most of us are - to run and hide from being "found online," fearful that we, ourselves, could be seen grouped in with the same workers who choose to disclose private activity they were once entrusted to keep quiet about, but instead for us to continue to help those around us become better domestic service household staff, and better domestic industry colleagues.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Road To Hell Is Paved With... Happiness?

When happiness is slated as a choice, unhappy employees can be characterized as dysfunctional, which ignores the problems that are making the employees unhappy.  - Will Yakowicz

I've come to the conclusion that "happy" is not simply an adjective, it's a marketing brand.

And I think it all started in the early seventies with those yellow smiley stickers you'd see on grade school notebooks (everyone over 50 will know what I'm talking about here), and then of course the ubiquitous smiley face emojis :) typed into emails and text messages countless billions of times each day, providing free advertising for this product; one that should come with a warning label, especially when used as directed. I'm not sure if all this actually paves the road to Hell, but, I was thinking it might have something to do with the map.

Is this your resume portrait...
or postcard from the eighth circle?
And lest anyone think this is just some well-wishing gone viral among the unwashed masses, even University of Pennsylvania has begun offering the Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree, in which they delve into the latest cutting-edge research, teaching an Ivy League discourse on the art of happiness - and what this brand can mean to you. You can drop over $100,000 in tuition to sit in a chair and force yourself to smile all day, and it seems to be catching on. Has anyone seen Invasion of The Body Snatchers?

Maybe all this happiness isn't really so good for us... and happy employees do not always equate to productive ones. For anyone managing an estate who's been told by their principals at some time or another to "just keep the staff happy," they will certainly understand the value of (and no doubt have witnessed) differentiating between happy and productive, and studying both the causation and correlations of factors which synergize within and without each of those.

Happiness, like any other promise of an elusive emotion or spiritual achievement, can be used as a tool for manipulation. Companies use happiness to get more out of their employees, not because they want their employees to be happy.  - The Surprising Myths About Happiness At Work

And as Mr. Yakiwicz alludes to, the absence of happiness can be the canary in the coal mine - and those same managers would do well to not dismiss this lightly, yet to peel away the domestic household staff onion instead of simply demanding more of a contrived, plastic happiness which is not only a bit creepy to witness 24/7, yet also setting the stage (or table for 12) with some real unresolved damage to contend with down the road. This is nothing remarkably new to reveal, yet easily sidestepped by those seeking short-term solutions to long-term staff and team problems. 

Those wishing to become more adept at systems thinking, organizational development, and more in general, human resources, however, will recognize these themes in The Fifth Discipline, one of my favorites on the Good Citizen Reading List (see homepage sidebar) and, IMHO, should be required reading for all people managers - household, estate, or otherwise. Things happen for a reason, including the realizations themselves. A nice primer interview with author Peter Senge can be found here.

Beyond the scope of The Citizen, yet still interesting enough to merit mention, is the "happiness backlash" detailed by a Newsweek article from way back in 2008, still making me smile big when I read the passage:

The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder, which argues that feeling down after your heart is broken - even so down that you meet the criteria for clinical depression - is normal and even salutary. But students tell him that their parents are pressuring them to seek counseling and other medical interventions - "some Zoloft, dear?" - for their sadness, and the kids want no part of it... Rather than "listening to Prozac," they want to listen to their hearts, not have them chemically silenced. 

And so goes also with organizational, workplace, and worker behaviors. Household Managers or their principals who silence the entire range of normal human emotions in their staff - which crop up for all normal humans as the rule, not simply the exception - are engaging in a perilous enterprise. Not only respecting the differences between happiness and productivity, yet also keeping aware that a certain fluctuation of happiness can be expected and harvested as valuable information - may just lead to some authentic, long-lasting happiness on the household team. Check out the Inc. Magazine article here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Earth Calling

Many of the posts here at The Citizen, I do admit, tend to be reflective and not always immediately usable at the ground level - where reality is usually calling. So, thank goodness for a very succinct and practical HR article on exempt worker mis-classifications which came across my desk today from the International Society for Performance Improvement; a bit of employee classification 101 which keeps appearing on sites everywhere as a reminder that this is an ongoing issue for just about all workplaces - including the domestic staff industry, which provides no shortage of horror stories about good working relationships gone bad, with once-productive and happy employees pressing the speed dial on their phone to their attorney after realizing the past several years of their service were not, in fact, exempt from being paid overtime - and suspect their employer knew better all along, resulting in a lawsuit (or a threat of one), one which displays quite a large number on the settlement check.

Employment relationships are, IMHO, very much like marriages... no one enters into them with visions of having a horrible realization a few years down the road about what the other person has done, and the resultant bevy of attorneys, threats, distrust, expense, and other such turmoil eating away at everyone's sanity for months, years, and perhaps even longer as peoples' estates continue to sue one another even after each others' ultimate demise. How sad that much of these feelings of inequities and persecutions can be avoided if both parties will become aware and follow a few human resource law basics (or at least have their trusted HR/payroll professional and/or attorney to review on a frequent and regular basis). The biggest of which always seems to be:

Employee exempt/non-exempt classification.

Don't rely on your workers' job titles 
or outfits, to determine their exempt status.
Now, before you click off the page, or quite understandably fall asleep here, hoping perhaps this would've turned into another fun and reflective posting by now, it's worth the few minutes of time required to instead understand just what exempt classification is - and here's a DOL primer that will get you going in the right direction.  

Basically, employers are exempt from paying a worker overtime - if the job position meets certain criteria. Having a big, impressive job title isn't one of them; what the government (and attorneys on both sides during that nasty lawsuit) will examine is the actual duties themselves. And with the current trend for employers assigning executive-type job titles to non-executive type domestic roles (i.e., calling your housekeeper a Chief of Staff simply because she's been around the longest), I anticipate this issue to be the largest human resource legal problem in the domestic staff industry for quite some time. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

What If Households Had To Recruit Like Fortune-100 Companies?

"Top candidates" come into the selection process already pre-qualified with the usual criteria - they don't need more reminders of the basics for virtually any domestic service position, nor do they need to be shouted at even before getting to the first interview.

It struck me as I was online recently, how almost every posting for domestic jobs I've seen over the past decade looks just about the same. Not only do I mean that many are simply cut-and-paste versions of ads taken from other job ads; yet the harsh tone, the dominating cadence... the approach.

Here's what I see in most job postings, and it doesn't really matter if it's for a Director of Residences for 12 large properties spread worldwide along with six jets and four yachts, or for just one part-time Nanny for a 3 year old and his little chihuahua:

  • Must have 3-5 years experience.
  • Must be willing to sign a confidentiality agreement.
  • Must have excellent references.
  • Must be able to multi-task.
  • Must be child and pet friendly. 
  • Must be available nights and weekends.
  • Must be able to pass a thorough background check.
  • Must (X-infinity number of more must-type items...)
  • Top candidates only!

This will attract some respondents, but if the goal is to find those "top candidates," will a list of demands actually bring them in? 

An attractive job...
it just may be nutty enough to work.
Curiously absent in many of these job postings is why anyone would actually want to work there, except for the implied notion of picking up a paycheck every two weeks.  

But is that what the domestic staff industry's "top candidates" being sought actually gravitate toward? And is that how actual, real-world successful workplaces locate, compete for, and hire, so they can have the best people?  Would Google ever have considered recruiting their world-class top staff with an advertisement like the above? And if they had done so, would ever have became the Google they now are? Or how about any other workplace on the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For list?

Here's what I see successful workplaces - the kind where the "top" (not those who just want to grind out a paycheck) workers want to apply for a job - doing differently than the typical  approach: These workplaces realize that "top candidates" come into the selection process already pre-qualified with the usual criteria - they don't need more reminders of the basics for virtually any domestic service position, nor do they need to be shouted at even before getting to the first interview.

Instead of a list of demands, what if domestic job advertisements listed the attractive qualities of working there?

In other words, employers at successful workplaces know this: they will attract the "top candidates" by selling the attractive qualities of their workplaces - to offer those same attractive qualities in a workplace that Gallup found that the best workers, across all industries, are looking to have:

1) Do I know what is expected of me at work?  

Do you have detailed job descriptions developed for each staff position in your household - and has each team member become intimate with - and agreed to - each of their responsibilities? Clearly understanding duties are the lifeblood of best workers and they cannot perform to your high standards without this information. Yet, the other workers will often avoid job descriptions, because they set a precedent for accountability... which then becomes a slippery slope into hard work and high performance.

2) Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?  

What tools does each domestic worker on your estate require, to perform their jobs to a high level of competence, whether those tools be hardware, software, or a well-developed organizational mission and performance system?  

Best workers inherently need to perform well - and are often observed at loose ends if they cannot locate the right tools. A great interview question is to directly ask your candidate what they need from you ~ to meet the performance requirements of the position which you've just outlined for them. Other workers will simply concentrate on which tools meet their personal standards, not yours. Yet, as the ad for Premier assured us, "The best is always worth waiting for."  And, fishing for!

3) At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?  

Do you know the strengths of each staff member, and are you allowing them the opportunities to perform to these strengths, every day? Gallup found that high-performing staff need to be on stage, so to speak, and to be excellent in some way - every day.The other type of worker will never pressure you into letting them excel at something every day, it's just not a concern. Are you willing to set up a stage for the good ones? You're the director - it's your choice which type will pass the audition!

4) In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

"Their paycheck is their praise." Having once owned a domestic employment referral agency, I've heard this sad line from employers more times than I care to recall. Yes, indeed, there are some workers who consider their paycheck as the only recognition they'll ever need. Yes... you know the ones I'm talking about.

The best workers, however ~ the ones who arrive at work earlier than you asked, stay even after the event is over just to make sure all is still well, and consistently deliver 150% of service in-between those two times when all you've ever asked them for was 110% - are the ones who simply don't have the ability to recognize their wages as their praise. 

High performers have shown up consistently, time and time again, to require frequent and meaningful recognition. High maintenance employees?... yes, you bet they are! And, is anything else on the estate that's worth having around... not so? Would neglecting to wash and simonize the Maserati ever be tolerated?  

5) Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

"Friendly without being familiar." Oh, yes, it's that quip, the one that's made the rounds in domestic staff training seminars and easy to remember because it starts and ends the sentence with two words that sort of sound alike (a slant rhyme, for those who study linguistics) and so it must be true? Yet the problem with quips is they can turn quickly into lifestyles and when we promote not caring too much about anyone ~ in either direction.

I confess to using this very same line quite a bit myself, before I truly understood how ridiculous it is. The truth is that employers can demonstrate genuine, sincere care and concern with their staff, yet that doesn't mean they've become your new best friends ~  the line is not as thin as the quip implies.

The best domestic workers, the consistent, high performers described in #4 above, need to know that other people - downstairs, upstairs, anywhere at work, actually - understand that they're a living, breathing, human being. 

6) Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Was anyone surprised that the best workers were the ones who craved support? That doesn't mean, necessarily, supporting time off for a Master's degree, although it may mean finding a way to help your domestic staff worker get better at what they do now, either through your coaching, their own opportunities to take on new responsibilities and get better through experience, or more formal avenues. Best staff want to work smarter... and to work harder... not just to always find the easy way out! Which kind of worker do you want inside of your home?

Try encouraging your staffs' development in their next performance review and check their reaction ~ you'll know instantly if you have those workers which Gallup found to be the best, among over one million surveyed.

7) At work, do my opinions seem to count?

"It's imperative to be invisible." Another soundbite that's been slightly over-marketed in the domestic industry. Yes, of course, while you're pouring the Merlot before dinner, Mister probably doesn't want to hear you chime in your opinion about when House Speaker Boehner will end the government shutdown. But, aside from those rare moments, being invisible to your employer, 100% of the time, is a behavior rarely displayed by the best.

Best workers know they have helpful ideas. Despite educational level or place in organizational hierarchy, the best workers will always figure out better ways of doing things around the house than were done yesterday ~ and they need that ability respected. Other workers? They won't care if their opinion is heard or not.... they'll find ways to occupy themselves and stay away, all the while staying completely, and safely, invisible. You get to choose the type you hire to justify your annual household staff budget with. 

8) Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

Mission statements... eek gads! We've all probably seen one somewhere, most likely in the big lobby of a large insurance company or some such place, on a little wooden plaque next to the guest sign-in sheet... something about everybody being good at something, or, well, something like that! Yes, mission statements can be vague, as they are, rather purposefully, written at the 30,000 ft. level, and for a very good reason. And... your estate needs one. Why? Because the best workers want to succeed with something other than only the latest emergency, crisis, or catastrophe happening right now on the dining room rug with the poodle, and they don't want to look back in five years and remember nothing remarkable about the service they provided. They want to connect their jobs to something bigger, something which they can hitch their pride to and feel important with ~ and to perform to the same heights as they were inspired to. And, that's what a mission statement does. Not-so-best workers? Yes, they're much less maintenance; they can always occupy their thoughts and activities with something unrelated your mission. It's your statement to write... which type of workers do you want reading it? Better yet, ask your next candidate to propose a mission statement for your estate after giving them a tour. Will their mission be to find the break room?  Or to find the sunrise?    

9) Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

Reading a mission statement is a very lonely business... if your best workers have no one to read it with. Ditto for thinking about how to fulfill the employers' vision and improving

how things are done around the house. 

I'll never forget a candidate who listed with my agency after finally having had enough of dumbing-down her efforts, in order to get along with the other, less-inspired staff members.  "Don't work too hard - you're making the rest of us look bad,"  they'd tell her. Fortunately, this energetic gem was soon able to find a group of co-workers who both appreciated and inspired her to give more than what was expected, because they, too, were part of the best workers of the industry who didn't tolerate slackers and who wanted co-workers with a strong, honest work ethic. 

You get to choose the type of service pond you create; if everyone already on the boat is the type to inspire others to doing quality work, the real bass will jump in, too!

10) Do I have a best friend at work?

Familiarity rears it's head, once again. Notice the findings of over eighty thousand managers didn't discover that their best-of-the-best workers just wanted a friendly work atmosphere; what these high-performers needed was an atmosphere conducive to people becoming friends.  "Keep it professional...?"  Yep, and Gallup found that means keeping it human, more than one may think. And, that means having a friend at work. The best workers will want one... just FYI !

11) In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

Just like #6 above, only different. Development is a plan for the future, progress is that same plan now unfolding. Some domestic staff will never ask you about their progress,

because, like job descriptions, it just seems too much like work. Best staff do more than simply read the mission statement and come up with some ideas to save you time, money, and problems in your home. Best domestic staff also want to know they can keep getting better in some way ~ and that you've noticed if it's truly progressing in the way which really matters for both of you. This is a performance review, and Gallup found that the best workers will expect them.

12) This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Development and progress can be mostly internal constructs. Learn and grow? Those notions imply external opportunity, or are at least greatly helped by the condition. Does your estate provide them, directly or indirectly? Residential estates, usually small operations and unlike mid-to-large companies, may contain limited opportunity for some of your best staff to continue the growth they need to succeed. 

Thank you... and good luck!
Here's one punch list item which, despite best efforts and practices, estate management may fall short of, through no fault of their own. Although there may be some growth in any domestic position, learning and growing significantly new skills may be very limited outside of what's commonly become the cross-training of current positions. 

This means the best-of-your-best workers may, eventually, need to extend their fins and swim on to new waters which they've grown into ~ ones which may not be on your estate. Celebrate their growth with support and well wishes. By doing so, you'll pave the way for another best worker to step into their shoes and provide the type of very best service you've already come to know, enjoy, and deserve.