Tiny Efforts, Big Benefits : Keeping a steady flow of information in relationships

Tiny Effort, Big Benefits

I was in Chicago earlier this month for work. My primary reason for this trip was for the 101 Best Companies in Chicago to Work For Awards ceremony. It was an honor for Retrofit to receive the award, it was also a nice gesture to be asked to attend the event with some of my co-workers. While the event on Friday was nice, I found that many of the recurring thoughts and challenges from that trip, actually came from the all company meeting which was on Thursday.

This company meeting was different then our typical monthly meeting, because this month we had a guest presenter. The founder and CEO of TinyPulse, David Niu, was there to share his entrepreneurial journey. (You can watch a similar presentation he gave in Fargo here.) The journey that has currently lead him to found TinyPulse. If you are not familiar with TinyPulse, you should take a look at the service. As a simple description, it is a weekly question that is sent to employees of a company. The questions are generated via the service, then answers are collected and reported back to the individuals at the company that need to understand the general ‘pulse’ of the business’ employees. An additional feature of the tool is that it provides a simple way to send “cheers” to your colleagues for work that was done well and deserves highlighted. The basic premise of the service is that a company should take these smaller, more consistent responses from their employees in order to have better insight to the happiness and organizational health. This methodology allows the company to see trends over time, which allows for early detection and redirection when things start to trend in a negative direction. Or, when things are trending correctly, to continue current practices and possibly increase the effort on some initiatives.

It’s a simple concept. It’s also a very difficult concept to put into practice, which is why a tool like TinyPulse is useful.

There were several stories that David shared during his talk, which lead him to found TinyPulse. One of the main themes was his personal “careercation”, where he and his family took six months to travel, as part of his time away. Why wait until you are too old to enjoy travel, when you can take smaller breaks throughout your career and do a personal reset. The concept is not a completely new idea, as I believe Tim Ferriss discussed the idea of doing similar things, which he called “mini retirements” in his book the 4 Hour Work Week. Again, it’s a simple idea – but I’ve found it impossible to put into practice at this point in my life.

While the idea of careercations was interesting, it was the discussion from David that he and his significant other (now wife) attended John Gottman’s program early in their relationship. Gottman’s book, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, was introduced to me several months back by Nikki. It has been an interesting book, that discusses relationships in the context of marriage and what the signs and best practices of happy marriages. It also shares signs and symptoms of a marriage that is not on a pathway towards happiness. While we’ve not completed the book and all the activities, I’ve found it interesting to take into context the TinyPulse methodology, knowing that David was familiar with the work of John Gottman.

One of the take-a-ways that I’ve had from David’s discussion, in combination with reading the 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, is that regular and consistent “check-ins” is valuable for any relationship to thrive. It does not matter if it’s a marriage, an employee, a friend or even a customer or client, regular and sincere insight into how the relationship is progressing is valuable, if not necessary.

The alternative is trying to dissect the health of a relationship in big downloads and insights. In a marriage this might be waiting until Sunday afternoon each week, to see how the week went. It could mean waiting until that long awaited for vacation, because that is when it feels like there’s the opportunity to spend quality time together. In the worse case scenario, it means that the right time never comes along, until the relationship starts to break apart.

In the workplace it might mean waiting until the next meeting you have with a manager. Or it might mean waiting until the annual performance review. In todays world, how often will someone stick around at a job they hate, when they know that the next opportunity for them to voice their feelings is a year away?

I think that one of the keys here, is not only does there need to be regular communication, but that both parties involved in the communication need to be willing and open to listen to what is being said.

I will admit that I do not view these types of things as one of my strengths. It’s not that I don’t care about communicating consistently with others, it’s just that it does not come naturally. I find it challenging to regularly keep up with friends, family, etc. I am more prone to obsess about a project or role, which then enables me to block nearly everything else out. I actually find trying to keep up with friends and family a very exhausting and stressful task. Many of my friends can attest to the many unanswered and unreturned phone calls over the years. I actually set a goal for 2014 to write to 50 friends. By the end of 2014, I had sent exactly zero letters.

This is one reason why, the first step at becoming good at regular and consistent communication is setting up a system for doing it. That’s what TinyPulse does for us at Retrofit. Over the years, I’ve heard many different strategies that couples do to make this happen in their marriage. Some couples have date night, while others choose to eat dinner at the dinner table together every night. Matthew Sleeth talks about having a single day of rest each week in his book 24/6, which if I recall was a day of rest and family. Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor wrote an entire book, Startup Life, which discusses the system they’ve developed. Their system includes things such as their life dinners, and their 1 week every quarter of time off the grid spent together. Whatever the decision is, the point is to develop a system that works for you, so that you don’t leave it up to chance and circumstance that it actually happens.