How Well Is Your Marriage Doing, Really?

By Dennis Green | Assessment

The top brass of a Los Angeles radio station told one of their popular program hosts if he wanted to keep people tuned-in, he should talk less and play more music. How did the chiefs know music was more important to listeners than talk? They learned it from the Arbitron® Portable People Meter, a cell phone-sized device that a selected group of consumers carry around with them to report their listening habits. Whether they are driving the car or lounging on the beach, the Arbitron meter tracks their preferences. Nice research tool.

Imagine if you could use a customer care meter to gather information about the state of your marriage. Could you use the data to help you stay in love? 

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When management told their talented radio jock to play more music, he wasn’t all that happy—until they told him talking less would improve his ratings. He liked the possibility of gaining market share and satisfying listeners, but he would miss being able to express himself on air. After all, what were they paying him for if not his personality? When it comes to marriage, we all like to talk about how we feel, but listening is the best way to assess our customer’s needs.

Evaluating Ourselves Can Be Shocking. Here is a business example that you can use to assess your marriage. 

Some years ago we decided to take the pulse of the employees in our consumer products company. When we started our company, we created all the products and ran the company from our home basement. We outsourced manufacturing, fulfillment and sales to others. Within three years we grew to a point it was more practical to open an office and bring everything except manufacturing and product shipping and handling in-house. 

Eventually, we hired people in sales, accounting, logistics and design. It was an exciting time as our sales were growing rapidly. Nevertheless, the growth contributed to challenges as we added new faces and responsibilities.

We started regular Monday morning meetings, bringing everyone together to coordinate workflow and talk about the growing pains, especially coordination among different departments, some consisting of a single person. The meetings showed us that our employees needed another way to speak their minds. A friend turned us onto a communication process known as “STOP-START-CONTINUE.” We don’t know the origin of this method, but we sincerely appreciate whoever created it.

We wanted to find out what our employees were thinking, so we prepared a questionnaire asking three simple questions:1) What do you want the company to STOP doing? 2) What do you want the company to START doing? 3) What do you want the company to CONTINUE doing?

We passed out the questionnaires and they came back to us a few days later. We took them home after work that night and began reading, anxious to learn what our team was thinking. Within a few minutes of skimming the results, we looked at each other with that “deer caught in the headlights” look on our faces. “What does your first one say?” “It’s not what I expected.” “Mine either.”

The more we read, the more depressed we felt. To say we were surprised by the assessments of our management skills would be an understatement. We were devastated. It was hard to read about our shortcomings, especially when we presumed we were doing a good job.

Our employees were telling us exactly what we did not expect to hear. In so many words, many felt we were doing a marginal job of running the company. 

Sure, we expected to hear a few complaints—ones that could be easily fixed—but we found that half of our employees were unhappy. They wrote that we didn’t spend enough time guiding them, they didn’t understand what we expected from them, they were afraid to make mistakes, and they didn’t have the tools they needed to be effective. Some felt we weren’t giving them enough direction and others felt we were micromanaging.

We felt attacked and hurt. How could they be so ungrateful for all we were doing for them? They were well paid. They had full benefits, liberal vacations and flexible hours. Many of the complaints seemed ridiculous and unfair. The more we read the more upset we got. Before long we were mad enough to fire the whole thoughtless bunch and start over.

After an hour or so of defending our egos—to each other—we settled down and began reflecting on what we had done. We thought we had sent out the questionnaires to uncover a few minor issues that might need tweaking, but we never dreamed we could be the problem. We were so angry that we each got up and went off by ourselves and did some things around the house trying to cool off and get over the shock. Later we came back together and sat down to talk. We tried commiserating again, but that didn’t accomplish anything.

Before long we stopped acting like disgruntled parents and started thinking like marketing people.

After all, the whole point of our research was to find out what our employees were thinking and feeling. Maybe we sent out the questionnaires to get a pat on the back because we thought we were doing so well. That would explain our shock. Maybe we weren’t as special as we thought. Still, we weren’t naïve enough to believe we didn’t have problems.

We are accustomed to market research. When we ask consumers to try one of our new products, we don’t anticipate praise. We presume the product has flaws, we just don’t know yet what they are. We ask for users’ responses to learn what needs to be improved. Over the years we learned how to separate our egos from the product, but evaluating ourselves turned out to be different. In effect, we were asking our employees to judge us. Products don’t feel rejected when users trash talk them.

Products don’t have feelings. People do. 

It took a few hours before our temperatures dropped to normal. When the lights came on, the sting faded. We realized we were looking at this evaluation process backward. This wasn’t about us. It was about our employees. It was about their needs not ours. We took their responses as criticism of our abilities to manage the company. It felt like an attack, but in the correct light we realized this wasn’t an assessment of us; it was a declaration of what they needed to do a good job.

When one employee complained he wanted us to stop micromanaging, he was saying he needed more freedom to make decisions. When another employee wrote that she needed more supervision, she was asking for more guidance in making decisions. Our own needs for approval got in the way of seeing the company from their perspectives. We realized we had to change. We stopped thinking globally and started acting locally. The questionnaire was specific to each person and their personal concerns, so we needed to focus on individual needs.

The questionnaires were supposed to be anonymous, but most were handwritten, making it easy to match appraisals with individuals. A few had typed their answers, and we knew who they were by process of elimination. No one was surprised or concerned that we knew what they had written. That told us they trusted us when we said we wanted to know what they thought. Now it was our job to use the information to improve the company environment by sitting down with each person and showing them we were taking their comments seriously.

In the next post, we'll go into detail showing how to use the Stop-Start-Continue method to assess your relationship and find out how well your marriage is doing, really. (This post is an excerpt from our Book FIVE STAR LOVE )

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