Work-Life Balance

Manage Your Marriage Like a Business


In the best of times, the balancing act of work, marriage, and family life is challenging for executives. Add the pressures of the current business and economic climate—which, despite a few recent positive signs, is still considered the most challenging in generations. What's the prognosis? We already know that nearly 50% of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. The "marriage index" recently released by the Institute for American Values brings even more bad news. Marital health—based on indicators such as the percentage of couples who say they're "very happy" and the number of couples whose first marriages have stayed intact—has dropped from an index of 76.2 in 1970 to 60.3 in 2008. On a 0 to 100 grading scale, that's a D-. According to the report, "a wide body of research suggests that the status of our marriages influences our well-being at least as much as the status of our finances." In frequent conversations I've had in my consulting business, I'm amazed by the number of successful executives who on the surface seem to "have it all," but who fully admit they are anything but happy. In terms of quality of life, your investment in marriage and family is as important as the way you manage your portfolio. So the question is: if you work that hard in your chosen profession, shouldn't the same work ethic apply to your familial relationships? Surprisingly, the answer may be negative. In fact, all that energy you spend trying to balance your career and family may be a distraction. Seminars and retreats are nice, but may be unnecessary. Instead, to achieve measurable results, simply transfer to your home life the skills you've acquired to succeed in your career. You can build or rebuild a strong family dynamic the same way you built your company—with great customer service. 5 ways to superior family serviceEvery business owner or entrepreneur knows that retaining customers is more profitable than continually having to attract new ones. The best way to do that is to deliver value through great products backed with world-class service. When it comes to marriage and family, you are the product. At some point in your relationship, your significant other thought you were the best product in a crowded market. You probably still are, but the health of this relationship depends entirely on the service you deliver. Here are five strategies for providing superior service to your most important customers: 1. Know your customer. Customers change. Astute businesses keep pace with those changes by paying attention to such factors as quarterly earnings reports, personnel changes, new product lines, etc. Just as you take time to stay current with your customer's changing needs, pay close attention to your spouse's needs, hopes, and concerns. Hint: If you're not sure what they are, ask. One of the biggest complaints in marriages is a lack of communication and attention to detail. 2. Earn their business every day. You gain new customers by treating them with respect and impressing them with the attention and services you offer. Marriages stay healthy the same way. If you want your marriage to thrive, or if you need to reenergize a struggling relationship, follow the same mantra—every chance you get. 3. Don't make excuses. Customers don't like excuses when you make a mistake. They want solutions and will remain loyal if you deliver them. Marriage offers daily opportunities to fail, but spouses will likely respond more favorably when you acknowledge a mistake and then repair it. Apologies are nice, but if they're unaccompanied by action, they can contribute to conflict. 4. Plan for win-win success. Great business relationships occur when both parties succeed. If you expand your business at the expense of a customer, you eventually lose that customer. One of the biggest challenges in marriage is for both spouses to experience success. This requires planning, especially when one spouse has stepped off the career track to stay home, primarily to raise children. Women who have temporarily set their careers aside for family reasons can often feel increasingly distant from their spouses. Set aside some time each week to make sure your planner includes events that are important to your spouse and children. Regularly ask your spouse this essential customer service question: "What can I do to help you be successful?" Then, just as you do in your career, follow through. 5. Mix business with pleasure. Great business relationships are forged on golf courses, fine restaurants, and the occasional junket. Show me your entertainment budget and I can most likely tell you who your best customers are. Wrangling over margins with a demanding client for a couple of hours in a conference room doesn't seem so bad later in the day when you're sipping wine together. Marriage is labor-intensive, but we seldom give our spouses the rewarding experiences we give our best customers. Find ways to inject new life into your relationship via activities that have no purpose other than to say, "You matter." If a professional grading system existed, executives would never settle for a D- in their careers. Why settle for near-failing grades in marriage and or family life? With a slight shift in mindset, the skills you've acquired over time that lead to your career success can simply be transferred to your personal relationships. In the end, they can help you retain those who are arguably your most valuable customers.
Louis_upkins
Louis Upkins Jr. is an entrepreneur who has created alliances and partnerships with Fortune 500 companies in the sports and entertainment industries. A resident of Franklin, Tenn., he is the author of Treat Me Like a Customer (Zondervan/Harper Collins, January 2010). He recently launched Upkins & Co., a consulting firm for individuals looking to improve their professional and home lives.

Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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