Wednesday, July 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Are you getting any exercise?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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