Friday, May 30, 2014

Tipping The Sacred Cows

What happens where there is a lack of accountability?  Non-performers thrive, while the diligent staff picks up the slack.  The stress level rises, communication drops, and territorialism is rampant.   - Larry Wenger



No cows were harmed during
the production of this posting.
OK, well, the title was supposed to be The History of Internal Inequity: Past, Present, and Future, but I fell asleep before I finished typing it. Three times! Sacred Cows, however, always gets people's attention because the jamming of those two words together is just so strange, it must mean something.

And the domestic industry, IMHO, is particularly susceptible to this peculiar meaning, for two reasons:

1) The employment takes place inside a home, which, when going successfully for the occupants, is just running on the pure vapors of emotion. Because home is that one place where people can and should be themselves - and be 100% emotional, laugh, scream, argue, tell inappropriate and politically incorrect jokes, and fart. To expect an employer to turn this off is just not realistic.

2) Most principals employing domestic staff are not seasoned line managers - and therefore don't do very well with managing a domestic staff, simply put. It doesn't take very long for them to have some of their staff members spending the day in the special friend category, and rare is the household without at least one domestic worker as a fully fledged "part of the family." Despite the industry cliche which demands all service professionals to always conduct themselves as "friendly yet never familiar," domestic staff, like employees in just about any career, often just cannot resist hurtling themselves over the professional wall when such an opportunity arises.

But, since this is a home, and when the home owner is up for this kind of thing, then all is all-okay, yes? Well, um, maybe so far, anyway, until the day when that small staff turns into two, or six, or ten or more. The rub comes when the original #1 staff/friend/family member is now given a waiver for any number of responsibilities, exclusive of the other staff. Internal inequity is a fancy academic human resources term from where there are performance issues and which fair, consistent management are not being applied and those within the ranks are now feeling ripped off. These can include the beneficiaries being excused from any number of items, including wage and hour laws, job classification, arriving late, leaving early, skipping duties and project deadlines, quality work itself, pilfering, becoming entitled for any number of odd and unusual benefits without regard to how they are earned, and, for lack of better terms, simply moving themselves lethargically and dishonestly throughout the day yet still drawing full pay and benefits.

I'll never forget one client who inquired of my staffing referral services for finding a housekeeper to be full-charge in a newly built vacation home. She was a highly educated individual with considerable business success, yet stumbled a bit when I asked her, exactly, what she was looking for in a housekeeper. After a long pause, she simply said, "I want someone who moves their ass."  

We continued on for a couple of hours, fine-tuning the particular ass-movements needed to create success for her home, and it turned out the people she managed on a small team in her very successful business were remarkably well-disciplined and hard working, and, more importantly, were all meeting both individual and team goals they had each agreed upon and held accountable for in advance of being hired. 

One of the founding values of her company had been Integrity - and this value had set the stage for people "moving their ass."  

It's the one characteristic she wanted to replicate in her home, because she'd seen the devastating effects of doing otherwise.

And it's also the one thing people know is the right thing to do, yet it often defies definition. I've also heard integrity defined as "doing the right thing when you don't have to - when no one else is looking or will ever know - where there will be no congratulations or recognition for having done so."

Yet, more than this meets the cow. It is perfectly normal and rational human (as well as with most species, where the same has been studied), to equalize one's surroundings; to get even, as it were. Simply put, a team is in danger of only being as strong as its weakest link, as the other staff will often disengage and devolve into the same level of non-performance as the friend/family member employee is taking liberties with.The cycle then repeats itself, as more and more staff are hired, to "make up" for the slower pace of those already on the team who are now slowing down... and doing so to create equity, and to create a perception of fairness. 

The expense, not to mention the silliness of having an overstaffed household is often preferable to the experience (remember now... we're in a home) of having those discussions whereby employees are held accountable. The family/friend/staff members become ROAD warriors, a term common in the military for retired on active duty, while those staff who have a passion for high performance simply move on to other jobs as quickly as possible - to newer and higher-performance work settings where fellow ass-movers are consciously sought, expected to maintain, and more appreciated.

The problem, however, is not employee #1 as the slacker; yet the problem is that the staff, whether one or thirty members, is simply not being managed. This is either good or bad, depending on ones' perspective, and the phenomenon is not restricted to the domestic staff industry. However, our workplaces are especially susceptible, and it's worth noting, acknowledging, understanding, and even having honest discussions with both team and principals whenever the circumstances may allow - which may be never, but I'd encourage you to at least try and broach the topic honestly, beginning first with your principals in order to ascertain their level of interest... and then you've done what you can, and you have moved your own ass to the maximum extent possible. 

An easy breezy article for some reflection on accountability is available here: