In business we spend a great deal of time measuring. We keep close tabs on sales, profits, rate of growth, and return on investment. In many ways, part of being an effective leader is setting up systems to measure everything that matters. It's the only way that we can know for sure how we're doing.
Given our addiction to measurement—and its documented value—you would think that we would be more attuned to measuring the way we act at home. After all, almost everyone I know agrees that the people at home are even more important than the people at work.
About 18 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a better father. So I asked my daughter, Kelly, "what can I do to be a better parent?" (This is a question that we, as parents, don't ask enough.)
Causing My Daughter Pain
"Daddy," she said, "you travel a lot, but that is not what bothers me. What really bothers me is the way you act when you are at home. You talk on the telephone, you watch sports on TV, and you don't spend much time with me."
As she went on, I began to wonder if I should have asked this question after all. "One weekend, after you had been gone for a couple of weeks, I wanted to go to a party at my friend's house. Mommy didn't let me go. I had to stay home to spend time with you. Then you didn't spend any time with me. That wasn't right!"
I was stunned. First off, she totally nailed me, and secondly, I felt like an oafish dad who had unwittingly caused his daughter pain. There's no worse feeling in the world. I recovered best I could by using a simple response that I teach all of my clients. I said, "Thank you. Daddy will do better."
Family Time Helped My Earnings
From that moment, I started keeping track of how many days I spent at least four hours interacting with my family without the distraction of TV, movies, football, or the telephone. I'm proud to say that I got better. In the first year, I logged 92 days with four hours of unencumbered interaction with my family. The second year, 110 days. The third, 131 days. The fourth, 135 days.
(As an aside, I made more money the year that I spent 135 days with my family than I had ever made before. What did I learn? The San Diego Chargers don't really care about me.)
When we track a number, it may remind people that we are really trying to change. It's one thing to tell your family members that you'll spend more time with them. It's a different ball game if you attach a real number to that goal—a number they are aware of. They become much more sensitized to the fact that you're trying to change. They also get the message that you care. This can never be a bad thing.
One-on-One Pays Off
Many things in life are measurable that we don't think about: hours spent with our family members, the number of times we call our parents, or (my wife's favorite for me), the days we remember to pick up after ourselves.
Another easy measurement that I tracked was the number of days I spent 10 minutes engaging my wife and each of my kids in one-on-one conversations. Ten minutes is not a long time, but it's a significant improvement on zero. I found that if I measured the activity, I was much more likely to do it. If I faltered, I always told myself, "Well, I can get a credit toward my goal, and it only takes me 10 minutes." Without that measurable goal, I was much more likely to blow it off.
Four years after that first conversation with my daughter, I was beaming with pride, not only with the results, but also with the fact that I had documented them. I was so proud, in fact, that I went to my kids, both teenagers by this time, and said, "Look kids, 135 days. What's the target this year? How about 150 days?"
My Kids Had Changed, Too
Both children groaned and expressed the opinion that I had "overachieved." They both called for a massive reduction of "Dad time." In fact, my son, Bryan, concluded that 50 days might be a much better goal.
I wasn't discouraged by their suggestions. It was an eye-opener. I was so focused on my own numbers, on improving my at-home performance each year, that I forgot that my kids had changed, too. An objective that made sense when they were 9 and 11 years old didn't make sense when they were teenagers. It was a good reminder that the goal shouldn't be just about yourself but should take into account the needs of others as well.
What do you need to measure, not at work, but with friends and family members? Please send in any comments with your ideas. Who knows? The measurements that will help you may also help them.