We’ve all heard about the value of writing thank you notes to our employees (Doug Conant being a role model having sent 30,000 handwritten notes to employees while he was CEO of Campbell Soup Company). I’ve written previously about the US Marine Corps’ tradition of including family members in promotion ceremonies.
But should you write notes to your employees’ parents – or even call them on the phone?
Reaching out to your employees’ parents is precisely what PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, thinks you should do. Normally an idea like this would be easy to dismiss, but when it’s offered by the executive named by Forbes as one of the ten most powerful women on the planet, we should probably take note.
In a wide ranging interview conducted at Davos, Nooyi describes her wholehearted leadership approach. She says, “We’ve worried about buying employees, we’ve worried about bouncing them when things didn’t work, but we’ve never focused on engaging them with their hearts [emphasis mine].”
Nooyi’s epiphany came when she visited her own mother one day and was greeted by an endless parade of her mom’s friends. Nooyi realized that her own career success didn’t just make her mother proud, but was also an indicator of “what a good job” her mom had done in raising her.
Nooyi decided to write to the parents of each of her direct reports so they could experience pride in their children, and could also know that they had succeeded as a parent. Nooyi describes her approach: “I said, ‘therefore I’m writing to thank you for the gift of your son, who is doing this at PepsiCo, and what a wonderful job this person is doing.’ I gave a – it was a personal letter for each family member. And it opened up emotions of the kind I have never seen.”
In the same interview, Nooyi describes how PepsiCo was struggling to hire a candidate that she wanted badly. Taking the outreach to parents even further, Nooyi decided to call the candidate’s mom on the phone and sold the mom on why PepsiCo was the right choice. She landed the candidate.
Other companies have begun to integrate the parents of their workers in different ways, too. LinkedIn has established a “Bring Your Parents To Work Day” which has been successful, and at least 22 other companies have signed on to participate as well.
While critics may suggest that this is another sign of unhealthy “helicopter” parenting, our bonds to our parents – and their desires to see their children succeed – are certainly timeless.
We live in a time when most business leaders are focused more on quarterly goals than on the company mission, and focused more on tasks to be done than on people to be led. Integrating employees’ family members into their work experience is an example of wholehearted leadership, and recognizing the “whole person” at work.
Ideas like Nooyi’s may be unconventional, but may also be a direct way to strengthen relationships with employees and to increase engagement.
This article first appeared at forbes.com.