Thursday, January 30, 2014

The New Standards: Toeing The Line

Some debate remains on which toe is tugged.

Having sidestepped the decades-long debate on service from the left or service from the right, the editorial board of The Citizen has decided it's time to finally take a bold stand and put our foot down, wholeheartedly endorsing the ticklishly controversial practice of butlers gently pulling on the toe of their sleeping principals in order to awaken them for breakfast. Reports coming in from all around the globe point to this new 10-Toe Service Standard as wholly effective, forward-thinking, and actually great fun for both parties. Furthermore, this new best-practice demonstrates to Mister, Madame, and/or Ms, the butler's acumen for engaging an appropriate hand-on approach.


I was amused to have read a recent article, as major newspapers such as the WSJ seem to pick up on some version of the butler story, as I like to call it, at least once every year, presented often as a curious, almost quirky phenomenon and tucked away into their lifestyles, weekend, or society sections. As expected, the tone is always just north of jovial, or occasionally as facetious as the above endorsement for industry-wide toe pulling. Read lightly these little treatises; no offense is intended by the authors and there's no need to get knickers in a wedgie because, after all, when it comes right down to it, we're spending much of the day serving buttered vegetables and one can put this all into a light perspective and still provide great service to be proud.

Like most of which have come along from time to time, the article provides a bit of chopped hay for The Citizen and therein lies its value here; apparently there's still debate and gnashing of teeth amongst various authorities as to whom is right with, well, just about anything one could think of, manifesting, as often does, with technical skills. Some jostling about is to be expected, of course, within any endeavor crowded with good ideas and good people, yet no overarching standards upon which to draw; all sort of reminds me of getting on the rush hour six-train at 59th and Lex. But it's not really so different than many other trades, although the growing pains in our own little corner of the world seem especially chronic, as major newspapers like to, for reasons unknown, just keep talking about us.

Of course, we can think to those professions such as law, where a state bar exam will pretty much assure an employer of their shiny new hire as having, at least, been exposed to what is expected for proper rules of engagement. Yet, not so in the domestic industry, it seems... pulling on the toe of your employer, to awaken him for breakfast? Well, absolutely brilliant, I say, while sporting clean, white soft cotton gloves, of course, so as to not become too familiar. But not all do, and therein lies the confusion we see - over and over again.

And so it is, as well, on our own micro-systems of estates, day in and day out. How many staffed households have referenced guidelines, outlining terms of engagement for even the simplest and most elementary of standards, such as arriving and beginning work on time? Many do not, leaving each individual domestic worker to determine their own standards as they go along and their co-workers with the chore of navigating throughout everyone's innumerable, individual preferences for both skill and jobsite behavior. Yet the question becomes: who, then, if not an individual team member, is able to set the standards from which an entire team is led?

Fast forward now to the best discussion on where to find those very team standards, by Richard Hackman, who's proudly been quoted here at The Citizen before:
It is the client's standards and assessments that count. Not those of the team itself, except in those rare cases when the team is the client of its own work. Not those of outside researchers or evaluators, except when they are engaged to do an assessment by those who do have legitimacy as reviewers. And not even those of the team's manager, who rarely is the person who actually receives and uses a team's output.

Rather than serve as a surrogate client, the [estate] manager's job is first to help the team identify the standards that are used by its real clients [the principals], and then to do whatever can be done to help the team meet those standards.

Standards are always a great topic and we endorse looking beyond toe tugs and other simple procedures, and taking a larger, more serious look-see at where your own domestic team may now be wiggling all ten digits with their own standards:

  • Firstly, does your team have a locally-established policy and procedure handbook to establish a foundation of standards? And, has the Estate Manager discussed openly these standards with staff, do they understand the expectations, and have they agreed with the value of the contents? Agreement is the critical component often forgotten here and although there's no law which dictates employers must first seek their workers' cooperation instead of compliance, very few people wish to work on teams of the latter. The better teams seek to cooperate and build a positive culture... and this can begin with honest and regular discussion of foundational standards, themselves.
    • Have the principals indicated their guiding core values they
      The most important ones come from the principals.
      wish their staff to understand
      which standards are drawn from, helping to fill in the normally occurring gaps of the handbook and provide staff the support they need to understand their duties? For instance, if a quiet atmosphere is determined to be a top priority standard, then of course procedures which support it will naturally be different than if lively, bustling living areas were more to their liking. After first determining the values and personal home preferences of their employer, staff can then weave these core values into the standards to meet expectations, successfully.
    • Does your team meet weekly in a collaborative setting, where your locally-established core values, mission, and vision for service to the principals are discussed in detail - and each members' input solicited? Is your team given the opportunity to truly come alive and to express their passions while meeting the team's standards?
    • And, as will normally happen every so often, when service standards falls short of principals' expectations, does the team leader (or household manager, estate manager, majordomo, chief bottle washer, or whatever title is utilized) first determine the roadblocks, either those occurring individually, collectively, or organizationally, which may be causing the poor performance? Is the cause honestly a training issue where lack of skill knowledge is the matter, or are there subtle and underlying issues of inequity to first resolve?
    • Commonly overlooked, does the team leader on your estate have the authority to correct poor performance or inappropriate workplace behaviors? Is progressive discipline utilized and is there a standard for creating an equitable, transparent, and fair work environment for all employees? Do the principals themselves support equitable application of performance and behavioral standards for all household staff, including long-term staff, so that all team members perceive a fair and equitable environment? 
    • Does each team member have regular performance reviews with their supervisor and the opportunity to understand if their individual actions and goals are
      Performance goals must be tied to standards.
      actually aligning with the performance standards? Or, must workers rely on guessing where they stand by reading the moods of their supervisor? Has the Estate Manager discussed areas for improvement with each staff member, and set specific and attainable goals to help each staff member improve their service to the principals?
    • Is compensation on your estate tied to merit? If not, is the current approach successful for both the principals and the team? Is the size of the compensation truly critical, or is what's being compensated the defining factor for meeting your household performance standards? Equally as important, is too much emphasis on financial compensation within those jobs which require greater problem-solving skills creating poor performance and deficiencies of the very standards they seek to elevate? Overall, what is the compensation philosophy on the estate, and is it efficient, fair, and seem to be working well for both staff and the principals?
    • Finally, yet not least, do any of your standards show care and concern to the staff members themselves, as well as to the day-to-day service requirements? And what type of culture is the team building with their standards? Have you considered committing efforts to a volunteer team wellness program, creating a standard on your estate for making available the information and opportunities which encourage a healthy, fit team, one with more physical energy, greater mental focus, fewer sick days, and which may also qualify your principals to receive discounted health care premiums from your insurance company ~ or even receive federal grants from the new Affordable Care Act?
    We say, after squaring away the above, there's really no need to wait for another butler story to be published in a newspaper, because both you and your teammates can begin a journey into established standards... straight away! 

    Standards, and where ever they come from... the principals themselves, the butler school you graduated from, or even (eek gads!) when it's a free-for-all and everyone's walking to the beat of their own drum... are at, the very least, a subject worthy of discussion, and one that is kept open, honest, and most importantly, often. 

    Class is now dismissed. But do get some rest now, because breakfast is expected on the table at 8AM and with what we've just endorsed, well, you already know the standard to which you'll need to perform!