Friday, June 24, 2016

When Already Happy Is... Good Enough?

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

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

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

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

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

Then what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

So Good, We're Watching It Twice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Before You Quit Your Estate Manager...

Quitting managers is a popular distraction from accepting accountability.

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

Now, isn't that a relief?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the domestic workers your estate can't live without.

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

Monday, June 6, 2016

I, Robot

I wanted to title this post, The Upside of Being Subconsciously Manipulated At Work, but it seemed all too clunky and so I decided to steal the title from the 2004 movie, which also just seems more cool.

I recall years ago hearing about the advertising tactics of movie theaters in the 1960s, whereupon they would slice into the film very short sequences of frames, perhaps just one or two frames which the conscious eye cannot pick up as having seen, yet which does not escape the attention of the subconscious mind. Anyway, I think you know where I'm going here, the images would be of a fizzing Coke or a big tub of buttered popcorn, and sure enough, it was found that within just a few seconds of those images whizzing by, people would start to get up out of their seats and head to the concession stand where they'd purchase said products.

All sounds very evil, although no real harm done I suppose except that it seems to be a form of trickery and also what was being marketed to the subconscious minds of countless movie goers of that era was perhaps partially responsible for the current epidemic in our society of carb and sugar addition, obesity, and the attendant health problems produced such as diabetes and heart disease.

But this post isn't a rant about our collective health, or even product marketing, but rather how we can influence - purposefully - others on a daily basis, most notably of course at work. I was reminded of this when I read today in the NY Times about people who are hired to select classical music from Beethoven, Mozart, et al, for the backgound music at Penn Station. Anyone who's ever passed through that place knows that stress levels, which can be already pretty high just walking around NYC, seem to magnify when dropping oneself into the confusing and outrageously crowded environs of Penn, a place which makes Grand Central Station look like a peaceful walk through Central Park. 

Enter now the subconscious world of soothing music and the people who are adept at choosing which tunes work best with calming down the masses. And kudos to them for going that route, instead of playing Pepsi jingles just loud enough for the thousands in there at any given moment to rush the nearest counter and order a 32 oz. cup of liquid sugar.

It took me back to perhaps the most inspiring and beautiful thing I ever knew a Housekeeper to do... she would often enter one of the homes of her employer, picking one which had heavy construction or remodeling efforts in full force, one with construction materials, dust, grime, and the sweat and salt of construction workers dripping everywhere, and she would simply go into the most congested, busy, and dirty room at the moment and place a singular small vase of beautiful fresh cut flowers in the center of it all. Yup, right in the middle of the floor.

The effect, as she described in better detail than I am able to here on a simple blog posting, was nothing short of pure magic. The tension in the room, the commotion, the stress.... all stopped, immediately. The quality of work went up, immediately. Other workers from other rooms would come in, almost too often throughout the day, with the excuse they needed to borrow a tool. Everybody just wanted to be there... and it was people that we don't typically associate with little, pretty flower bouquets.  

What is the lesson learned? That big, burly masculine construction guys like flowers, too? Well, yeah, they do, but I think that's only the beginning. I think we're all connected very deeply as human beings, and with whatever we look like on the outside we each still have a need for someone to step in and show us they care about us... even for someone to take the time to program it into our subconsciousness.

How could you do that on your estate? The robots are everyone, and everyone is waiting for you to show them that you care, whether you're the Housekeeper, the Chef, the Butler, the Driver, the Nanny, or the Grand Poobah Estate Manager herself. Whether you do that in plain view while speaking at a staff meeting, or do it more creatively and with just a little bit of sneakiness, really won't matter. 

But making the effort to successfully do it, will.

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, flashing back to 2003 and having been blessed with four weeks of training from the Guild of Professional English Butlers, recalling one 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, a desire to be nice, and a desire 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" 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.