Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Home Alone, Family Embarks on a Mission Impossible

Editor’s note: Our own Steve Eaton, who writes a column for the Deseret News once wrote about a time that he tried to apply business principles he had learned at home.  Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Home alone, family embarks on a mission impossible

At our house we all share in the chores. My wife, Barbara, is never ever expected to do any more than her fair share.

Well, sometimes she does more than her fair share but she can take comfort in knowing that we understand what we call "the principle." "The principle" is that to be a strong and happy family we must work, when we have time to do so, as a team.

I remembered a time years ago when Barbara left her supportive team behind and out of town to go skiing with her parents. She left expecting that we would give our all each day to the accomplishment of many small and great chores she detailed out for us in longhand as we drove to the airport.

I didn’t remember most of the advice she offered and I lost the instructions as soon as I got home. I still remembered a few key things like don’t spray Lysol on the plants and always use one kind of laundry detergent on colored bleaches or something like that.

Frankly, I didn’t need her advice. I was, after all, a professional who, at the time, worked in a tall building in downtown Seattle. I was someone who knew how to draft strategic plans, create action steps and hold meetings to accomplish things. I knew that I could come up with a better approach. I created a multi-colored Excel spreadsheet that divided up the important household chores. It was a practical plan and yet one that was beautiful to behold and contemplate.

The plan really only required us to work for the first few days and then, unless someone ate something, we’d be done. In fact, I envisioned the family playing miniature golf and going to the movies on school nights before our week was up.

Everything went according to plan until we hit the first day. That was when we realized that none of us actually wanted to do our assigned chores that day. This complicated the second day because the first day’s chores were undone.

On Thursday I was troubled when I saw some food from Monday making its way across the dining room table on its own power. I realized that it was time to take action. So, I drafted a mission statement.

"Our aim is to dialogue and synergize in win-win approaches that will allow us to proactively channel our transforming energies into household outcomes that will help us win pleasure and avoid pain when Mom returns."

I read the mission statement and sought buy-in from my children. Unfortunately, no one did the dishes. We had to buy clean ones.

The day before Barbara was to return I mobilized the family using new principles learned from the book, "Management by Threats." Using multiple large and small containers my daughter, Sara, and I loaded, organized and sorted the debris we found spread about the house.

While we worked away in sort of a controlled panic, Jackson dug holes for the containers in the backyard. We poured apple juice on the kitchen floor in hopes our dog would be more motivated to lick and clean the floor as she had been originally assigned to do on the Excel chart.

We purchased air fresheners to add that Martha Stewart touch to our cover up. I even found the hand-written instructions Barbara wrote and put them out on the counter to make it appear that they had been our guiding directives while she was away. It was a fool-proof plan unless Barb decided to go in the backyard or actually walk across the kitchen floor barefoot.

I remember that was the first week time Barbara ever grounded me along with the kids. I had to call in and try to explain to my boss why I would be locked in my room with 30 air fresheners for a week. Barb forced Sara, who was only 13, to go to school for a week wearing discolored clothes and carrying a dead plant. Jackson, who is 16, and has never seen the movie Cool Hand Luke, was forced to dig and fill holes in the back yard day and night for three days straight. We have a new mission statement now drafted by Barbara.

"My husband and children will, from this day henceforth, work their tails off helping me clean the house or I will proactively set their discolored clothes on fire and spray them with Lysol while they sleep."

--Steve Eaton

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