And no, I’m not posting this just so that there is ample evidence I did not forget. I’m telling you that because 24 years is pretty uncommon – especially for Marriage 1.0s.
This is my first marriage. It is my last. It also wasn’t “easy.” Anyone who tells you marriage is easy if you find the right person is probably on Marriage 2.0 or some other upgrade version (or downgrade version as the case may be.)
I think staying married and being engaged in your marriage can be an analog for business and employee engagement.
If you squint a bit it I think it makes some sense…
The Set Up - “I Might”
A marriage that lasts 24 years has to be based on some common values. You can’t stay with someone for that long without having foundational elements in the relationship that keep you connected. My wife and I dated somewhere between 5 and 6 years before we got married. There is still some disagreement on that (we’re both right.) Those years allowed us to really understand the values that drove us. We “experimented” with problems and issues to see how we would ultimately work them out (we called it breaking up and fighting.) We “sorta” understood the baseline we were dealing with.
Companies and employees are the same. If your company believes “X” and the employees believe “Y” you’re heading for trouble. Just fact.
Without a foundation a house is a tent. Tents are made to be put up and taken down. They are transient BECAUSE they have no foundation. Employee/Company relationships need foundational values. Employees without a values connection will be transient. The best relationships start with that in mind.
Start strong. Do some research. If you’re an candidate - check with other employees.
Employers – map your values against your candidate’s prior employment. Are the companies they’ve worked for similar to your own or very different? Did the potential employee excel in a similar environment or fail miserably? There are clues in there.
The old saw is you need to look at your wife’s mother and your husband’s father to see what you’ll see in the future. That’s not too far off in my experience. Employees also need to look at those that have stayed a while at a company to get a feel for what long-term will look like. Do the “old timers” still get along? Do they grey-beards still have energy and enthusiasm for their jobs and their company’s mission? Can you see yourself working with those folks? Are you comfortable with what you’re seeing? If so you probably will fit in long-term.
The Beginning – “I Do.”
In my opinion there is so much new information coming in that you just love learning and getting to know your spouse. Stuff you didn’t know but like and find interesting. New is good. New is exciting. New is challenging. Not to mention you’re still on your best behavior – both of you. The “real” person hasn’t fully emerged. Don’t get me wrong – there is a big difference between the daily activities and moods of the “real” person and the values foundation I mentioned previously. Enjoy this time but don’t think it will last forever.
All jobs start to get stale. Look for ways to enhance your job and if you’re a manager – understand that every employee needs to spice things up now and then – special assignments, new training, something to bring the “new” back into the job.
The Middle – “We Did” - Adding Kids
Most marriages at some point add some kids to the mix. To me this is similar to becoming a manager – or growing a company. This adds a new dimension to your job and to the company. As a manager you’re now responsible for someone else’s growth and development. As a company you now have more personalities to manage and develop.
Children, believe it or not, take a lot of work at first. More than you can ever imagine. You end up doing things you never thought you’d do (or be able to do) – but you do them because you love them and want the best for them. Your focus is almost entirely on taking care of their needs. And they need it. Believe me they need it.
Many marriages lose it at this point. Too often we neglect our partners in order to support the “new additions.” I see that in many companies too. Those that brought you to the dance are discarded for those that are just walking in. New hot-shot employees are treated differently than the rest. The new “VP Sales” get’s some perks and treatment that would never be considered before. Make sure you take the time to balance that equation.
Managers make the same mistake too. Often, the more seasoned employees who are doing some wonderful things – like keeping the base business running – are ignored and the “new” employee get’s all the attention. Yeah… the newbies are interesting and cool. They do stuff that is fun and exciting (like rolling over) – but so did your spouse when she remembered your favorite ice cream. Take time to recognize those efforts as well.
The Next Phase – “We’re Done”
The two toughest times in a marriage (I believe) is when you first get the kids… and when you start to lose control of them.
Just like kids, sooner or later your employees want to think for themselves.
Now is the hard part. How much control do you allow them to have? Here’s where a lot of the foundational stuff will rear its ugly head. If you and your spouse don’t agree on when it’s okay to date, wear makeup, go to Hooters – you’re gonna have problems. A united front with your kids is critical to guiding their behavior.
Managers and companies have the same issue. Knowing when an employee is ready to assume a more self-directed role is important. Holding someone back when they’re ready to fly will wreck all the work you’ve done to date. As a company and a manager – letting go is hard but it is required if you want a strong work force. As a manager you should be happy, proud (and yes a little sad) when your employee starts to move away and think for themselves.
Managers have a very difficult time with this. As soon as an employee wants to move on they see it as a failure. You wouldn’t think you were a failure if your kids wanted to grow up and be on their own would you?
As a parent and as a manager – Failure to Launch is the biggest failure you can have.
Assume Troubling Times
I know for a fact when I started the journey with my wife it wasn’t going to be all wine and roses (although if I remember that movie correctly, that’s not a good thing.)
I know myself. I know I can be terribly difficult to live with, around, near and within driving distance of. I knew walking in that I have flaws. I assumed (don’t tell her this…) she had some too. I knew I’d have to bend on some things and she’d have to bend on some things (I don’t know if she believed it as much as me though.)
For employees and companies to have strong relationship they need to understand there will be days that they differ in approach, tactics, programs. There will be times when someone gets credit they shouldn’t and blame when they shouldn’t. Companies and people make mistakes.
Assume that up front and you’ll be in much better shape to weather those speed bumps.
Thanks for allowing me this personal ramble today. Now – I have to go hug my wife, tell her thanks, give her a kiss and start planning our next 24 years…