Ironically, developing relationships can make tough business decisions less painful through being more personal.

I learned this phrase early on when the business environment led the company to decide to downsize.  I was asked to be part of the decision-making process of who would stay and who would go.  This would be my first time going through this, and I found it to be a very difficult process.  While I was able to look at an individual’s performance to make the correct business decision, I couldn’t help but think of the impact on that person’s life.

I had built relationships with these team members.  They supported me, cheered for me, helped me navigate this manufacturing career I was starting.  I understood that managers had to make these types of tough decisions, but it still really sucked.

I felt confident in our decisions, but when my boss saw I was upset, he said, “Remember, it’s not personal; it’s business.”  I believe I said something along the lines of, “I bet it’s personal to them.”

As I watched those individuals being led out of the building, I snuck into the bathroom and cried.  I empathized with the thoughts and fears going through their minds.  I knew I couldn’t indulge in these feelings for long, so I quickly went back to work supporting the team members that came to talk with me and helped explain who was going to take on the work of their co-workers.  It was personal for them too.

While this “first” would unfortunately not be even close to the last time I would have to go through this; I found myself having the same reactions each time.  Some may think that this is why you don’t develop relationships with subordinates, but I couldn’t disagree more.  When this type of thing happens, those relationships allow you to be a leader, not just a manager, for your employees to know that you did care about them, that they had meaning, and that, in fact, it was a business decision.  I bet there would be more positive workplace cultures if more managers fostered relationships with all team members as much as they focused on metrics.

Stay tuned for more highlights and stories from the journey