One Trick Others in Your Office Don’t Know

BusinessWeek

June 3, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

Most of us 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 we can know for sure how we’re doing.

Given our addiction to measurement – and its value – you would think that we would be more attuned to measuring “soft-side” values. For instance, how often we’re rude or polite to people, how often we ask for input rather than shut people out, how often we bite our tongue rather than spit out inflammatory remarks. Even though soft values are hard to quantify, they are as vital as any financial number. I can guarantee you that most of the people in your office don’t measure the “soft side”. And, if they did, they might change from “jerks” to wonderful and fun people!

For example, about 20 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a more attentive father. So I asked my daughter, Kelly, “What can I do?”

“Daddy,” she said, “you travel a lot, but what really bothers me is how you act when you are home. You talk on the telephone, watch sports on TV, and don’t spend much time with me.”

I was stunned; however, I recovered quickly by reverting to a simple response that I teach all of my clients. I said, “Thank you. Daddy will do better.”

I started keeping track of how many days I spent at least four hours interacting with my family without distractions. I’m proud to say that I got better. The first year, I logged 92 days. The second year, 110 days. The third, 131 days. The fourth, 135 days.

I was so proud of these results – and with my documentation – that I went to my kids, both teenagers by this time, and said, “Look kids, 135 days. How about 150 days this year?”

My son, Bryan, suggested paring down to 50 days. The message: “Dad, you have overachieved.”

It was an eye-opener. I was so focused on improving my at-home performance that I forgot that my kids had changed. An objective that made sense when they were 9 and 12 years old didn’t make sense for them as teenagers.

Soft-side accounting has other benefits. If you track a number, it will remind other people that you are trying. It’s one thing to tell your employees or customers that you’ll spend more time with them. It’s a different ballgame if you attach a real number to that goal, and people are aware of it. They become more sensitive to the fact that you’re trying to change. They also get the message that you care. This can never be a bad thing.

Everything is measurable, from days spent communicating with employees to hours invested in mentoring colleagues, and once you see the beauty of measuring soft-side values, other variables kick in!