Disobey Your Attorney: Get Personal

Todd Richardson Foresight, Foresight Contributors Leave a Comment

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 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.♦


Look for Part 2 of “Disobey Your Attorney” tomorrow, March 17.

Todd Richardson

Todd Richardson

Todd is the former Executive Vice President of Administration for Salesforce.com (previously ExactTarget before Salesforce.com acquired ExactTarget in 2013)
Todd Richardson

Latest posts by Todd Richardson (see all)

Comments, thoughts, feedback?