May 9, 2016

Well...I'm not going to get into the great debate about the ending of the addictive television drama The Good Wife last night.

Clearly, Julianna Margulies and the show's writers and creators, Robert and Michelle King, brought us seven years of award winning television, and I'm one of the fans that will be sad to face Sunday nights without the parade of scheming lawyers, politicians and courtroom hijinks. Yet beyond the great writing and acting, there's one thing that I believe made the series so watchable: the messy lives of its characters. No matter how successful, whether law firm partners or the governor or someone's apparently retired mother, the people all had personal lives filed with enough turmoil and tragedy to fill a soap opera.
Just like your employees.

"If you do become aware of a personal issue, 
you can be compassionate 
but steer clear of giving advice or offering assistance."
If you do HR or employment law you hear this every day but to some executives or managers it may be a shock to discover just how common it is for your employees' lives to resemble a country western song: the son is in jail, the wife ran off with the mailman and the dog just died. In my own practice, I've been amazed to have people tell me things I had no need to know:  a major law firm partner confessing an irrelevant affair in the midst of an investigation, a CEO telling me about his travails with his autistic son, an HR vice president confessing her romantic struggles. Sometimes I want to remind them that I'm not their priest or their therapist! 

What do you advise managers and executives to do with all this angst? One thing: focus on performance. In The Good Wife, Alicia was famous for shutting her office door, crying or screaming, and then straightening her power suit and getting back to business. If you have someone who is having performance problems, here's what you say:

"If there's anything that I am doing or that anyone else at work is doing that's interfering with your performance, please let me know. If there's something in your personal life that's interfering with your performance, that's none of my business, but we do have employee assistance."

If you do become aware of a personal issue, you can be compassionate but steer clear of giving advice or offering assistance. Trust me, the longer you're a manager or executive, the less you will want to know about your employees' lives.
If you have an irresistible need to know the details of messy lives, start over from the beginning of the seven years of The Good Wife.

Did You Know?

All of our workshops for managers and executives deal with the question of how to talk about these kinds of difficult performance issues. Call or write us for more information: 303-216-1020 or [email protected]

Check out Lynne's book on how to handle difficult conversations with employees.

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