A family's 360-degree exec feedback

Stress at work often carries over to stress at home -- but it doesn't have to be that way.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Keeping a family together and running a business are not that far apart. Sometimes, you can apply lessons from one to the other. For example, one book suggests you give yourself a job review -- at home. This technique is called 360-degree feedback.

In the workplace, employees are asked to rate their boss. But now some executives are getting 360'd at home. From the Work and Family Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.


Sarah Gardner: Lee Bird is chief operating officer at the Gap, one of the most recognized brands in the world. He's only 39 years old, but he's already moved his family to six different states for his career. And it's fair to say his current job is... demanding.

Lee Bird: I'm responsible for the store operations, the financial operations, sourcing and production, merchandise planning and all the distribution -- as well as strategy and Canadian operations.

Bird's been evaluated on his job performance many times. But it's a bit more nerve-wracking, he says, to be scored by these guys:

Ashley Bird: I'm Ashley Bird, and I'm 15.

Wesley Bird: Wesley Bird, and I'm 14.

Lewis Bird: Lewis Bird, and I'm 11 years old.

Haley Bird: Haley Bird, I'm 9 years old.

Emily Bird: Emily, and I'm 7 years old.

Ainsley Bird: Ainsley... me old.

I think she meant to say 2. There's also a 4-year-old boy, shy around microphones. Bird got what you might call a domestic report card by using an Internet program called Family 360. He asked his wife, his parents, his in-laws and four of his seven kids to rate his performance at home.

Lee Bird: I did quite well -- I was surprised.

Bird scored an overall 6.2 out of a possible 7 on the so-called Family 360 test -- perhaps one of the reasons he was willing to let us interview his kids.

Ashley Bird: I thought it was a good chance to kind of like tell him what we did like, and what we didn't like -- without saying it, like, straight to his face.

The kids' scores and written comments were anonymous, which left them feeling unusually emboldened. But they said Dad was too smart -- he figured out exactly who said what. The bottom line? Bird scored highly as a provider, communicator and vacation organizer. But he left something to be desired in the "handling stress" department. Eleven-year-old Lewis:

Lewis Bird: I sort of wanted him to know when he comes home more stressed, it sort of makes the whole family stressed. Because if he gets mad at someone, then they blame it on someone else, who blames it on someone else -- so the whole family gets sort of mad.

Gardner: It's like a chain reaction?

Lewis Bird: Pretty much.

Nine-year-old Haley analyzed the problem with the precision of a practiced psychoanalyst:

Haley Bird: Because he has all the control at work... and then if somebody doesn't obey him at home, it's not like he has all the control like he does at work.

Bird admits he's a punctual perfectionist and says he's learning to lower his expectations when he walks in the door after a 40-minute commute home from downtown San Francisco. Perry Christensen, co-author of the book Family 360, says lots of Type-A execs can't turn it off when they pull in the driveway.

Perry Christensen: They tend to come home very wired, and they'll walk in the door and they'll be on edge. And of course when you see the house isn't clean, or the dinner's late, or the kids are fighting, you tend to go ballistic on occasion.

Christensen and co-author Ben Porter say they've seen other executives bark orders to their kids and spouse just like they do to their employees. They wrote the book, they say, because they'd seen too many ambitious people mess up their marriages and alienate their kids while climbing the corporate ladder.

Porter likes to tell the story of how he stepped off before it was too late:

Ben Porter: It took me to collapse in the streets of New York as I was going to a play with my wife and another couple -- only to find out a couple weeks later that it was stress and exhaustion that I started to think: Is this all worth it, or not?

At Lee Bird's ranch-style home in a wooded East Bay suburb, he and his wife wonder if the sacrifices they'll need to make for Lee to become a CEO is worth it. Linda, who home-schools three of their kids, gave her husband pretty good scores, but let him know she wanted him home earlier, she wanted to keep those date nights, and she wanted him to help the kids more with their homework.

Linda Bird: You need to be there, and sometimes that means every time, just being around. People that say it's "quality time" really don't get the importance of parenting.

Bird's family says he's taken their comments to heart. He took his 9-year-old daughter with him on a business trip to Utah so they could spend more time together. And he's already implementing Family 360's method for de-stressing.

Maybe you want to try this yourself tonight: 10 minutes before you get home, turn off your car radio, (did I really say that?) turn off your cell phone and think about the worst-case scenario walking into your house. Screaming kids, no food in the fridge, maybe your kid got suspended? Whatever. Then, think about how you'd handle it.

Chances are, though, when you walk in that door, it won't be that bad -- and you'll be grateful. I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Jagow: Lee Bird is no longer with Gap -- he's now the president of Nike Subsidiaries in Beaverton, Ore.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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