Monthly Archives: March 2015

In part two, Todd Richardson shares real-life examples of how caring for your employees can lead to a stronger business.

Below are examples of real life cases where I ignored traditional legal counsel and instead focused solely on the whole employee, both professionally and personally:

Stacy, an HR Specialist working for me, had been trying to get pregnant for over three years. During that time, she had two failed in-vitro attempts and one miscarriage. While Stacy was not one of my direct reports, and I did not have routine interactions with her, I had heard from others of her pregnancy woes. One day, I saw her at her desk weeping. I asked her to come into my office. She immediately broke down and asked that I not fire her for being distracted and less effective the last few years. I offered her a tissue and re-assured her that our meeting was not a professional meeting, but instead a personal meeting. I explained that I first and foremost cared about her health and well-being. I then stressed that I cared about all of her life goals, including personal goals. Stacy shared that she and her husband wanted a family more than anything else and then outlined the challenges that they had encountered. I immediately explained that I am part of their team and that I would do what is necessary to support Stacy and her husband in achieving their parenting dream. I subsequently scheduled time to meet with Stacy and her husband and talked about opportunities where I could be more supportive in their birthing efforts. We ultimately agreed to have Stacy come to the office later in the morning, work from home every other day, and travel less. These moves helped lessen Stacy’s stress and provided her the support she needed to ultimately get pregnant and have a beautiful baby boy. An attorney would advise not to engage an employee on this type of situation. I could have opened the door for exposure under the American with Disabilities Act and a variety of pregnancy-related and sex discrimination laws. Instead, I formed a relationship with Stacy that helped her achieve her personal goals and ultimately resulted in Stacy’s tremendous loyalty to her employer.

Steve was a long-tenured product leader who was a high-performer for many years. However, he had become less engaged and disconnected from his team. I asked Steve for coffee and discovered the source of his angst was not work, but martial challenges. His wife of many years had an affair, and Steve was navigating, albeit unsuccessfully, marriage counseling. I maintained regular communication with Steve, listening to his challenges, counseling him where I could help, and generally offering him a support system at work. I even went so far as to pray with Steve, knowing we shared similar religious beliefs. We worked out a work schedule where Steve could take the time he needed to attend both couples and individual counseling, and to generally create space for him to work through this intense personal pain. Steve experienced close to two years of turmoil, resulting ultimately in his divorce. Steve is re-married and back to a stable place personally. He is re-engaged at work, operating at an even higher level than before. An attorney would advise not to engage an employee facing these types of personal challenges. I could have opened the door for exposure under the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or the Family and Medical Leave Act. Instead, Steve became re-engaged and became a star performer.

Kelly was a professionally ambitious recruiter and the most productive contributor at an important time in our company’s growth. With that said, Kelly had dreams of managing a recruiting team, and shared those dreams with me. I met with Kelly and discussed her professional aspirations. She explained she wanted to start a family, but not before achieving some career milestones. Time was of the essence, and she asked how she could accelerate her professional growth. After a few discussions, it became clear Kelly could not achieve her ambitions at our company. I instead actively worked with Kelly to identify outside opportunities where she would be able to meet her professional goals more quickly. Kelly ultimately took a job with a company I introduced her to that better met all of her aspirations. While I lost a key player at a critical time in our own businesses evolution, satisfying Kelly’s needs was not only the right thing to do for her, but also showed other employees how much I cared for them as people. Through actions, not words, I demonstrated my commitment to their professional and personal growth, regardless of the impact on my business interests.

In the above three scenarios, I (1) discussed an employee’s physical conditions impacting childbearing and met with her family to ensure I was playing a role in helping them achieve their family goals; (2) provided counsel to an employee around a marital situation; and (3) actively found a key employee a new job that better fit her professional and personal goals. An attorney or business professor would never recommend the above actions. I got personal with each of the employees and ensured they knew I cared about all aspects of their lives, professional and personal, even to my own detriment.

I have adopted the care-for-the-whole-employee strategy for more than a decade, touching over 7,500 different employees. This required my team and me to manage through a variety of employee personal issues involving mental health, physical health, marital challenges, sexual orientation topics, personal financial troubles— the list goes on and on. Most attorneys and traditional business professionals would advise never to address or discuss these personal topics with employees. They would claim it is better legally and from a business perspective just to ignore all topics not tied directly to work duties. I discount this advice and instead preach the exact opposite—get involved in your employees’ lives and care for all of them, the whole person. For me, this approach has paid off in higher employee engagement and loyalty. Furthermore, I have never encountered a situation where an employee alleged or pursued legal action against me or the company for having gotten personal with them and expressing my care and support for the whole person.

This article advocates for caring for the whole person. However, never forget that general business principles (e.g. cost/benefit analyses) should govern how much attention should be provided to a particular employee. We have all had the employee who is a constant swirl of drama and non-value-added activity. Some employees cannot be helped or don’t want to be helped. Other employees are in need of so much help that if you were to invest in them, you would be neglecting other employees and business interests. The balance is not always easy. The bottom line is that managers must make a judgment call on when to invest in employees and how much to invest in those employees. But avoiding all investment is a mistake.

Originally published in Forefront Magazine.
Also published in Indianapolis Business Journal.

Long-term management success depends on caring for the whole employee, which includes their personal lives
Disclaimer: What you are about to read will be counter to everything your high-priced employment law attorneys have taught you, namely, “Don’t get personal when you are managing employees.” It will also fly in the face of most of what you have learned in business school as part of a traditional curriculum. With all due respect to my employment attorney and academic brethren, it is time to re-think how you engage employees. You will only unlock your full management potential and achieve maximum business success if you get personal with your employees and care for both their professional and personal interests.

Relationships are the motors that drive business. Strong and effective relationships with employees, customers, and vendors increase the chances that your business will be successful. Effective relationships are formed when two parties “relate” to one another. Rapport is accomplished when said parties are able to find instances where they share experiences, approaches to work challenges and even life challenges. Management success is accomplished when a positive relationship is present between the manager and his or her team. Too often, managers focus strictly on the professional aspects of the employee, such as whether the employee has the technical skills to complete a task or whether the employee is operating as effectively and efficiently as is expected by some pre-set production guidelines. Clearly, those focus areas are important pieces to the manager/employee relationship, and specifically their professional relationship. However, only focusing on the acute professional needs of the employee wholly ignores the part which makes us all dynamic humans and discounts what makes us truly unique, namely our lives outside of work. Building personal bonds is an often ignored part of the holistic manager/employee relationship.

I challenge you to identify instances where you truly connected with someone over a strictly professional work topic. Have you forged a meaningful relationship with someone over a case you worked on, a pitch for a client or a joint sale you made? The shared experience of any of those items may have provided some form of bond, but would you really consider it a connection that would lead to a relationship?

Now, consider instances where you have connected with someone on a park bench while watching your kids play, or while at a birthday party for a friend, or while attending a philanthropic event. The connections made in these instances create natural relationships based on shared personal experiences.

A truly effective manager must forge relationships with employees based on professional and personal traits. Only when the manager relates to the whole person can the employee’s full potential and loyalty be unlocked, ultimately enhancing overall business goals. Countless business books detail how to enhance employee productivity through a variety of managerial practices that focus on professional development. While these pieces add immense value in the manager/employee relationship, they neglect the most important part of the relationship-building dynamic: the personal side of the equation.

Employment law attorneys will tell you not to engage employees around personal issues. They will counsel you to avoid discussions around personal struggles, physical/mental challenges, family matters, and other like topics. Advice to avoid these topics is common from attorneys, usually ending with the admonition that the less you know and/or are engaged with an employee on a personal front, the less risk you run of triggering an employment law claim. For example, if your employee shares with you that he or she is suffering from a medical condition and you subsequently separate that employee, he or she could sue you, claiming disability discrimination. If you never knew about the medical condition, you would have a much stronger defense. Attorneys typically preach ignorance is bliss and managers should remain as disconnected from employees’ personal matters as possible.

Childhood experiences, family background and makeup, outside activities and interests, religious preferences, marital and parenting challenges and accomplishments, and health issues with employees or their family/friends are all examples of personal topics that attorneys would tell you to run away from. I would instead tell you to run to these topics.

Enduring relationships are formed when you start caring for the whole employee. This may run counter to your short-term business objectives and may even result in a short-term “loss.” However, you will achieve your long-term business goals more readily when you have a loyal and engaged workforce. Nothing elicits employee engagement and loyalty more than making a personal connection with your employee.

Originally published in Forefront Magazine.
Also published in Indianapolis Business Journal.