Thoughts on Unreasonable Hospitality

About a month ago, I (Allison) picked up a book by Will Guidara, former co-owner of the incredibly highly celebrated restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. I love reading about restaurant culture, so the odds were good that I’d enjoy the read. But I wasn’t prepared to love this book—to immediately send it to my team members and tell everyone I know to read it. I was surprised that a book about a restaurant could radically transform the way I thought about doing business—but it did.

And here’s why…

The book is based on the premise of “Unreasonable Hospitality” (which is also, conveniently, the title). Basically, how can you go above and beyond for the people you serve and the people on your team? 

In addition to recommending the entire book to you, there is one story that illuminates so many of the lessons I keep thinking about: 

A group of tourists came into Guidara’s (very very) fancy restaurant with their luggage, ready to enjoy their last meal in the city before they left New York. As the staff interacted with the table and brought them course after mind-blowing course, they overheard the guests making a comment that they had tried all of the food they wanted in NYC—the only thing they had missed was a classic hot dog. 

A lightbulb went off. Guidara went down to the corner, purchased a two-dollar hot dog, took it to his (very very) fancy chef, and plated the thing—then brought it out to the table. 

The guests erupted with joy. Guidara said that he had never, in his whole career, seen a group of diners that excited about a meal. 

Now, you probably don’t run a (very very) fancy restaurant. And a hot dog probably isn’t the key to your magic hospitality (though you never know…if you’re lucky, maybe we’ll share our own hot dog social story one day!). But here are the lessons that immediately jumped out to me: 

Pay attention. 

What do you know about your top donors? Your volunteers? Your coworkers? I’m not talking about their giving preferences or their work styles—I’m talking about them as people. Does John love Snickers bars? Is Mary super into opera music? Does Jane relax by reading thrillers? 

The only way Guidara was able to go above and beyond in a way that felt special and authentic was that he paid attention to the table. He listened. 

So here’s a challenge for you: Do you have time in your week where you get to know your team members (or donors or volunteers) as people? And are you using that time to actually listen and pay attention? 

Be intentional. 

Once you get to know people, you now have the opportunity to be intentional—which requires specific, particular, personalized action. 

In our work, it can be so easy to rely on systems—and systems can be wonderful. They allow us to work with large groups, provide consistent service, and streamline our efforts. They are necessary for a team to be productive, collaborative, and efficient. 

But the lesson of intentionality reminds me that sometimes, systems are meant to be broken. Did every table get a hot dog? No. Should every table have gotten a hot dog? Absolutely not. But doing that one thing for that one group made a huge difference in their experience. How can we do the same for one donor, one volunteer, or one team member? 

Be vulnerable.

Unreasonable hospitality requires risk. Doing the special, intentional thing might feel a little bit uncomfortable—and it almost always requires going first. 

Was Guidara certain that hot dog thing would go over well? I’m guessing not. It was a big risk to plate a street cart hot dog at a 4-star restaurant—but he decided it was a risk worth taking. 

As leaders, we think it’s our responsibility to mitigate risk, not create it. We think it’s our job to be strong (and, perhaps even more importantly, make it look like we are strong) instead of demonstrating vulnerability. We don’t want people to think we are uncertain, so we stop asking questions. We don’t want to look silly, so we stop taking risks. 

What if, instead, we were human? Vulnerable. Bold. Open with our teams, ready to learn, and constantly curious. What might our work—and our teams—look like then? 

Give agency. 

One of my favorite lessons from the book is that after Guidara had his hot dog experience and saw just how over the moon his guests were, we immediately wanted more. More paying attention. More intentionality. More vulnerability. 

And he knew the only way to scale unreasonable hospitality was to empower his team to practice it, too. So he gave them all agency to take their own risks—to give their own above-and-beyond service. 

Instead of feeling like it’s your responsibility to know every donor in your database so that you can surprise and delight them personally, empower your team to take their own action based on their experiences.

(Eventually, Guidara hired a whole team whose entire job was exactly this. They literally had a makeshift craft studio in the back of the restaurant to make any and all dreams come true!) 

Practice 95/5.

I know what you might be thinking…”We don’t have the time/money/human capital to do this!” And I get it. I really do. It feels like a nice to have, not a need to have—so it would be so easy to skip. But here’s the deal: the least expensive donor to acquire is one that you already have. And a retained donor who is obsessed with you because of the personal attention she has experienced is likely to be your best advocate. 

What if unreasonable hospitality was not an extra cost, but actually a great retention, acquisition, and marketing investment? 

For Guidara, his strategy was 95/5—manage 95% of your time, budget, and structures super strictly so that you can spend the other 5% on whatever whims you can imagine. The goal is not to break the bank or your schedule. The goal is simply to hold 5% of your time, energy, and resources to go above and beyond. 

Guidara’s hot dog cost $2 and 10 minutes. 

It paid dividends for years. 

Five percent of a standard 8-hour workday is about 20 minutes. That’s an hour a week to do something unreasonably hospitable, unexpected, and awesome. I hope you’re as excited as I am to get started. 

You can’t do it all by yourself, so stop trying.

You can’t do it all by yourself, so stop trying.

Ready for your weekly motivation? 

You can’t do it all. 

Even if you hustle. Even if you bend over backward trying. Even if you’re really really (like, for real, really) good at things. 

You have limits. 

You have weaknesses. 

You are human. 

Guess what? So am I. And so is everyone you know. 

Here at Swell+Good, we write a lot about how to be more efficient, make better use of your time, and be awesome at your work. We believe in these tenets to our core—but we also know that they don’t tell the whole story. Because sometimes, effort won’t get you where you need to go. 

Sometimes, you need to outsource. 

Example 1: For those things that you totally can do, but maybe shouldn’t (at least right now, in this season)

My fiance is super handy. He’s singlehandedly doing construction projects on our house, constantly dreaming of his next project, and understands the inner workings of just about any vehicle. 

So this weekend, when my car needed an oil change, his first inclination was to do it himself. Because he can. And he has before. He’s good at it—it’s well within his skill set. 

But right now, in this season, we’re swamped. We’re renovating a house and planning a wedding and parenting and working and all the things. So while he totally could do the oil change, it would have taken time that, right now, is better spent elsewhere. 

Sure, it’s slightly more expensive to take the car to an oil change place—but it saves time and brain energy, both of which are in high demand right now. 

Three months from now, this job will probably go back on his list, but you have to know your season and outsource accordingly. 

Example 2: For those things that you just hate doing (and are ready to take off your list)

We all have tasks that are just…not fun. The dishes, for example. Or laundry. Or accounting. Your “blah” list is specific to you, but you know you have one. They are the tasks that move to the bottom of your list. Every. Single. Time. 

Sadly, we cannot always outsource all the blah tasks (if wishing made it so), which is why we suck it up and eat the frog, but sometimes, it’s ok to prioritize your joy. Especially if “joy” looks more like “emotional wellbeing.” 

If you have tasks that are sucking the life out of you, start with your team (or your family): who could do this instead? Who might actually enjoy this? Have you asked them to step in and help?

Next: choose the one thing that you’d most like to get rid of. Is there a way to hire someone to do just this one thing? Could you afford that “splurge” to make your life better? 

Example 3: For when you’re ready to grow 

If you follow Swell+Good on social media (hey, you should do that!), you saw that we just welcomed Amanda Agundiz to the S+G team as our Head of Operations. We can’t wait to introduce you to her—and we can’t wait to feature her here in the +good newsletter! 

Until then, know this: adding Amanda is essential to our growth. Our existing team was at its limits, meaning we couldn’t build anything new without first freeing up time. And freeing up time meant adding hands and brains. Our existing team was at capacity, so our future was limited. Now, we have an open horizon in front of us and it feels SO exciting! 

Growth requires investment—and often, investment looks like human capital. We can’t wait for this next season, and we are so excited to have Amanda on the team!

(If you’re ready to grow, but need some extra brains and hands on the team, too, let’s chat! We’d love to work with you and help you open up your own new horizon!)

What have you outsourced? How did it go? Let us know in the comments! 

This is dumb. Let’s keep doing it.

This is dumb. Let’s keep doing it.

This week, as we were scrolling TikTok (yes, we scroll TikTok…), we came across a video that felt a little too true

Sure, it’s about returning to in-person work—and here at Swell+Good, we’re work-from-home, asynchronous forever. Not applicable to our personal lives, exactly, but the larger point stuck: How many things are we doing just because they’re the things we’ve always done? 

Said differently, what are we doing for no reason?  

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things change. Work dynamics, health guidelines, trends (sourdough, anyone?), and, yes, even our understanding of what is effective. 

The thing you were doing yesterday might not work tomorrow.

And that’s ok. 

As one of our favorite social scientists says, “People often become attached to best practices. The risk is that once we’ve declared a routine the best, it becomes frozen in time.”

Or, maybe even better, “We laugh at people who still use Windows 95, yet we still cling to opinions that we formed in 1995.”

(Yes, Adam Grant wrote a whole book about rethinking things. You should read it. It’s great.) 

A good leader can keep their team moving forward. One who prioritizes growth over being right. One who knows that sometimes, even great ideas and practices have to get scrapped because they’ve reached their lifespan. 

Instead of relying on “best practices,” let’s build processes and policies that work for the future. Let’s embrace innovation and shake things up. Listen to the dissenters. Consider the options. Be willing to toss something when it’s no longer working for you. 

We’re learning this right along with you and dedicating time to reevaluating our behaviors. (Because, wow, is it easy to let things happen instead of making them happen when you don’t carve out time to think about it!) We want to be intentional with our strategies, practices, and calendars—and we invite you to do the same!

Let us know what you’ve reconsidered recently—and what you’re scrapping in favor of something new! 

Leaders clean the toilets

Leaders clean the toilets

Early in my career, I was a store manager for Levi’s. I loved my job and all of the responsibility that came along with retail management. But most of all, I loved being a part of that team.

There is something special about early morning floor changes, the constant rush of customers, and late-night shipment processing. There’s an urgency and excitement that means you always have to be at your best. 

Retail comes with a unique set of experiences that bonds a team together very quickly.

As a manager, you learn how to do all of the jobs in the store. And hopefully, you also learn that no job is beneath you. You are responsible for every aspect of what happens in that space—from customer service, to merchandising, to keeping the store clean. 

As much as it can be, it is your store.

For me, in my three-level store with 25+ employees and thousands of pairs of jeans, sometimes that meant I cleaned toilets.

You see, it was clear to me from very early on that I couldn’t ask my team to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. How could I expect my team to respect me if they didn’t know I was reliable? After all, at the end of the day, I was just some guy with the keys and a title.

In that fast-paced environment, I formed a belief that has guided me as a leader ever since: There are two types of team members—people who clean the toilets and people who don’t.

I don’t mean janitors and everyone else. I mean that some team members don’t care about titles or what their job description says. They know what needs doing, and they will roll up their sleeves to get it done and help the team succeed. 

Even if that means cleaning a toilet.

On the other side are team members who won’t clean the toilets. They think that they’ve already put in their time. That they’ve done the work. They think that those sometimes-dirty jobs are for someone else. Someone who has it in their job description. Someone with less experience. 

After all, look at their business card. That sure is a fancy title.

Don’t be that team member.

Instead, as leaders, we should be proactive. Look at what your team is working on, and, without skirting your responsibilities, see where you can lend a hand. 

Pick up the toilet brush.

With Q4 in full swing and a million things on the to-do list, who has time to worry about whether something is in your job description? If it needs to be done, do it. Process those gifts, write that email, stuff those envelopes.

Don’t brag about it. Don’t look to take the spotlight for doing something extra. Just do it. Your team will see it. They’ll respect you, and they’ll know that you can be counted on when times get tough. 

Besides, who doesn’t love a clean toilet?

Start canceling meetings

Start canceling meetings

Looking for an easy way to make your team more productive, more creative, and (almost certainly) happier? 

Start canceling meetings. Today. 

If I can point to one practice that has helped me pivot from being a full-fledged workaholic to a person with a fair amount of margin in her day, it has been my willingness to ruthlessly eliminate meetings from my day. 

By canceling 70% of my meetings, I have (magically) freed up my work week. I am sitting on an extra dozen hours of time to actually do work

And I’m not alone. 

As a recent Digiday article noted, “As more statistics link meeting overload to burnout, a crackdown on meeting culture is emerging.”

While canceling all of your meetings might not be possible, there are definitely small steps you can take to make your meetings more productive (and give your calendar a bit more breathing room). 

Begin by asking the tough questions like…

What is this meeting costing your organization? 

Do you have all of your senior leaders in a room for 2 hours? Think about what that time is worth…

What is the opportunity cost of this meeting? 

What else could you be doing with this time—and is that something else more important? 

Do you know exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish in the meeting? 

Going into a meeting without a goal is a surefire way to waste time. 

Are you prepared for the meeting? 

Do you have notes? An agenda? Pre-reads? Do all of the attendees know what they’re supposed to bring to the table? 

Can you make the meeting shorter? 

Sure, canceling meetings might not be possible—but you can definitely save yourself some time by cutting an hour into 30 minutes, or 30 minutes into 15! 

No agenda? Decline.

Is this really a simple question? Just send it to me and I’ll answer it. Do you need me to brainstorm? Great. Put pen to paper for a few minutes and I’ll start there. 

Here at Swell+Good, our team works asynchronously (we do not have fixed business hours) which makes meetings nearly impossible and has forced us to double down on other forms of communication. We’re pros at messaging, written updates, and shared notes and files—and when we actually speak in real-time, it is much more about relationship building than getting things done.

With clients, we’re strategic. We come to meetings armed with questions, stick to our agendas, and keep meetings as short as possible—we’ll happily host a 5-minute update and call it a day (no need to fill 30 minutes if you don’t have 30 minutes of things to talk about!). 

A no-meeting (or fewer-meetings) life is a beautiful thing. So open that calendar and start canceling. 

Need help thinking through how to make your meetings more effective—or how to get rid of some of them altogether? Reach out by replying to this email! We’d love to help!