Conventional wisdom says you can't manage what you don't measure. Entrepreneurs are connoisseurs of dashboards, scorecards, and other tools that track their companies' performance. I wondered: Could one apply business metrics to family life?
That sounds like me speaking the last rites over romance. But think about it. Company building strains relationships, and merely asserting, "We need to love each other more" won't cut it. Metrics force people to monitor progress and make corrections when goals aren't met. In the domestic context, they nudge spouses to keep the marriage healthy.
That works for Matthew Stewart, CEO of National Services Group, a construction contractor in Irvine, California. Matthew and his wife, Jill, use a dashboard called the Wheel of Life to evaluate their relationship as well as their finances and careers.
Every six months, they score themselves from 1 to 7 in each category. "We compare our answers and if, for example, I say we are a 6 in the relationship category but her perception is that we are a 4, we may decide to do something adventurous, like ride camels in the Moroccan desert," Matthew told me. The couple also goes on semiannual three-day retreats, just as Matthew does with his business partners. In a relaxing locale, Matthew and Jill prepare a strategic plan for the family.
R.J. Lewis, CEO of eHealthcare Solutions, a marketing company in Ewing, New Jersey, has also applied business tools in private life. When he and his wife, Cathy, were dating, they went through the same personality profile exercise R.J. uses on job candidates.
I asked R.J. about the effect of analytics on romance. "Romance can fade in importance over time," he replied. "It gets you to fall in love in the first place. But I don't think it's as big a motivator to stay together as the glue of a common dream and vision."
Inspired by the quest for trackable assessments of love, I decided to create a marriage dashboard by adapting some common business metrics for domestic life. Here are a few examples:
Emotional inventory: You incur large costs by keeping feelings on the shelf. Encourage turnover through regular frank conversations.
Affection retention: It's more efficient to keep your spouse happy than to keep winning him over again and again. Acts of appreciation, large and small, go a long way.
Debt-to-equanimity ratio: The spouse is the overburdened entrepreneur's port in the storm. Calculate how much you unload on her compared with how much she unloads on you.
Grievances per month: Driven by exigency, entrepreneurs offend in many ways, from missing dinners to raiding family accounts. Discuss forms of redress and ways to prevent repeat infringements.
Innovation quotient: Couples must work to keep their relationships fresh. Prime your activity and conversation pipelines with new material.
Spousal lifetime value: Your marriage should last at least as long as your business. Weigh what you gain from decades of domestic harmony when considering what to sacrifice for your company.
I can't picture Gary and me plotting our relationship on a spreadsheet. But we do check in with each other pretty often to make sure we're both satisfied. And if someone asked me to rate, from 1 to 10, the likelihood I'd give this guy my business again, I'd go to 11. No exit strategy required.