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Getting Personal at Work

Getting Personal at Work

By Barbara Bry,

In today’s politically correct, lawsuit-happy work environment, it’s easy to convince yourself that your employees’ personal lives, goals and ambitions are completely taboo. On the other hand, distancing yourself might handicap your ability to understand what drives your employees so you can uncover more effective ways to motivate and mentor them.

In a recent poll at Vistage View, I was somewhat surprised to find that 68% of respondents said they discuss personal as well as professional goals with employees. Another 12% didn’t, but thought that they should. And only 20% felt that it was appropriate. Why are so many CEOs and senior executives discussing personal goals with their employees? And what are the benefits?

For Vistage member Marlene Olsen, founder and CEO of Olsen & Associates, a Reno, Nevada based public relations firm, this strategy helped her retain a key employee who shared that her long-term goal was to start a non-profit. “This person is very marketable, and I’ve had an end run on her twice, but I’ve managed to keep her because she confided her personal goal, and she knows that I want to help her achieve it,” said Olsen.

Aligning Personal and Professional Goals Olsen takes an informal approach. She meets individually with each of her eight employees before the annual strategic planning meeting to share goals — both professional and personal. “In a small business, [sharing my own personal goals] is particularly important because your employees wonder whether you’re going to quit or sell as you get into your 50s,” said Olsen. She says sharing her goals first helps the employee feel more comfortable about sharing his or her own. She checks in on these goals during her monthly one-to-ones.

Cyrus DeVere, Vice President, Human Resources at Panda Group, which has 17,000 associates in 37 states and recently opened its 1,000th restaurant, has a more formal process. During the initial training for unit managers and above, each person is invited to write an optional personal mission statement. “Panda believes in the importance of developing the whole person and identifying their passions and their strengths,” said DeVere. “Knowing what someone wants makes it a whole lot easier to give it to them.”

Young managers, he told me, are focused on their professional aspirations… for example, to become a regional manager in five years. As people grow older, DeVere sees personal mission statements that focus more on family and spiritual issues such as “I want to be the best father that I can be” or “I want to work less and be a better mother.” Knowing these goals can help a manager guide their careers and help them create a better life balance.

Vistage member Mark Peters, CEO at Butterball Farms, Inc., meets individually with each executive team member to ask if their personal and life goals are in balance. He wants to ensure that the work environment supports these goals. Sharing personal goals is not mandatory, just encouraged. This process starts during strategic planning. “This approach really pays off when your executives are engaged during tough times. You have more staying power through difficult times,” said Peters.

Sometimes it’s hard to measure cause and effect. Yet Panda Group’s DeVere said that his company has a higher retention rate than the industry average, and he believes that the company’s emphasis on personal mission statements is key to achieving this.

Jim Meyer, a supervisor at Dreamworks Animation, shared a great example of the loyalty and dedication that resulted from talking to a staff member about personal goals and interests. His project coordinator Laura confided that her long-term goal was to become a producer. She also said she owned a dog, which was very important to her. Knowing this, Meyer made it a point to involve Laura in any production-related initiatives, and when an important project required weekend work, he invited Lisa to bring her dog to the office. After Meyer moved to another department, he was handed an enormous project with a short deadline. He knew that Laura’s participation as a coordinator would make a big difference, so he asked her to join his team for an intensive two weeks. “She was fantastic, and if I hadn’t known what tickled her, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Another benefit to Laura was that people in production got the opportunity to see her shine.”

Walk the Talk “Your behavior has to be consistent with what you preach,” said Bill Strauss, CEO of Provide Commerce. “For example, I know that one executive wants to be at home with his family for dinner. If I ask him to attend a late meeting because that’s the only time we can do it, I have to acknowledge that this is an exception and an inconvenience. If I don’t, the trust and respect will start to deteriorate.”

Sharing personal goals should not be mandatory — nor should you try to incorporate it if you aren’t willing to share your own goals, such as retirement plans, weekend hobbies, or a desire to spend more time with your kids. But if you think you might use the information in a way that doesn’t help their career or make the workplace a comfortable place, sharing might not be right for you. But for many Vistage members, the practice has proven a success.

Tips to Aligning Personal and Professional Goals

1. The process must start with the CEO-owner. Develop your own direction statement… your mission, vision and priorities…and share them with your team first.
2. Have regular one-to-ones with your direct reports.
3. The process can only be successful if there is trust between employees and management, and there must also be a promise that you won’t use this information against the employee.
4. Provide an example of why aligning your personal and professional goals is important and why sharing these goals at work might benefit them.
5. The effort has to be sincere and based on a desire to see the people around you succeed.
6. Be open and flexible about what you might hear.

Gary Perman is President of Perman Technical Search Group, a national search firm that specializes in recruiting Executives to Engineers in the technology industry since 1996.
If you have questions about this article, feel free to contact him at [email protected]

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Gary Perman is a certified recruiting professional and owns PermanTech, which specializes in recruiting technology executives, managers and engineers. He hosts an employment-technology blog.

See our Blog for Technology discussions,Interviewing advice, comments relating to IT, Software, Technology issues.