What Happens When You Write A Letter to Your Employee’s Parents?

For years I’ve been preaching to HR and Talent Pros all over the country that the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to increase engagement and loyalty in your employees is to write their parents a thank you note.  Now, the CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, has come out and admitted to doing this with her direct reports. From the Fortune article:

I became CEO in 2006, and it was a matter of some pride to my family, but not too much. So I went home to visit my mother in Madras, in India, and stayed with her. And she woke me up at 7 o’clock and said, “Come on, get ready.”  I said, “I’m on vacation, how about noon today?” She said, “No, people are coming to visit, so get up.”

So she made me sort of dress up and sit there, and then a steady stream of third cousins, fifth cousins, 20th cousins, three-removed, all started to show up. And each of them would walk into the house. They would sort of look at me and say, “Oh, hello,” and then go to my mom and say, “You should feel so proud that you brought up this daughter, and you brought up your child so well.”

So, this was not about me.  This was about what a good job my parents had done in bringing me up. It dawned on me that all of my executives who worked for me are also doing a damn good job, but I’d never told their parents what a great job their parents had done for them.  I’d never done that.

And I thought about my kids and I said, “You know what?  If I ever got a report card on them, after they’re 18, I would love it, because in the U.S., once they turn 18, we don’t get report cards.  We pay their tuition, but we don’t get their report card, right?”

…I wrote to them and I told them the story of my going to India and what happened with my mother, and 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.  Parents wrote back to me, and all of a sudden, parents of my direct reports, who are all quite grown-up, and myself, we had our own communication.

And one executive, I remember, he went home and he said to his mom, “you know, my boss is really giving me a tough time.” And his mom told him, “Nuh-uh, not about her.  She’s my friend!” 

Okay, I know this will not work 100% of the time.  There will be times, when an employee of yours has had a very bad relationship with their parents, and this kind of ‘engagement’ practice will not be welcomed.  I would still argue, those times are rare.  One of things this exercise forces a leader to do is to ensure they at least know their direct reports. IF that is the case, you would know which reports would not want this to happen, and you adjust accordingly.

Read the full article. Nooyi takes it one further step and talks about retention and talent attraction.  Image you are in a heated talent fight for a certain type of person. The candidate interviews with your firm, as well as others, and you all make offers.  Which company will the candidate choose? Nooyi has made calls to parents of candidates, telling the parents why this position, with Pepsi, is the best fit.  Now, she has the parents also helping her recruit!  Powerful stuff, visionary leader who really gets it!

Would your CEO write thank you letters to your employee’s parents?

13 thoughts on “What Happens When You Write A Letter to Your Employee’s Parents?

  1. I have done this in the past and actually in the midst of doing it again with my newest team members. My team is young in their age BUT such hard, dedicated workers that I have the privilege to manage and be part of their team. My managing skills over the last 10 years is always thinking outside of the box and be creative in showing how I appreciate them. You would be surprised how far that goes. Then to add to it, sending a card of THANKS to their parents it amazing of their responses thanking me.

  2. I’m on my second round of cards today. If fact I did a very brief update of what we did last year, who joined our team, who left, who promoted and telling them to watch this space for new people joining our team in the near future.
    I’ll write a personal note as well.
    There was one coworker whose sister used my card as a coaster, this time around I’ll send the card to her dear, dear friend.
    The feedback and gratitude is worthwhile.
    It tells my crew, I see you, I appreciate who you are and where you came from.
    Win win for Team Records

  3. Hi, I am doing this right now. I sent a thank you to my boss’s parents and received a very heart warming response back. I have sent thank you to our two newest supervisors and received favorable comments from the employee, I have sent cards to most all employees families and have been told how happy this makes the parents and grandparents feel, bringing them to tears. There are 3 cards still to send. It’s a quick, simple effective way to show genuine appreciation for your team. I send birthday cards, catch up after retirement cards, it’s never a waste of time.

    I was asked by my cosupervisors why I bother, I answer, because it’s the right thing to do. I received flowers from coworkers for being the best I can be.
    Win, win!

  4. It truly is ideal a chance to come up with a several ideas to the long term in fact it is a chance to smile. We’ve study this specific submit in case I’ll I’m going to suggest for you quite a few useful factors or maybe recommendations. Maybe you can create upcoming articles or blog posts about it post. I’m going to continue reading things about this!

  5. I would be considered as HR as can be and I think this is great. Sending a letter to someone’s family under the right circumstances makes them feel like a big deal, but it cant be a shotgun approach but very targeted….now getting my team’s parents address is the difficult part.

    Now, Karla, talk to your peeps.

  6. I’m one of those crazy HR director types who wouldn’t send a note to a family member about my employee’s performance good or bad or thank them for the ‘sacrifice’ of being married or related to a person compensated fairly for their labor. I also wouldn’t want my employer reaching out to my family in that way. After all, my work may not be something I discuss with them for a variety of reasons – one of which could be I may not have a white picket fence life. This is rather misplaced appreciation and acknowledgement and one of the oddest practices I have heard of. Or is this a joke and I’m on candid camera?

    • Karla,

      This is no joke! I mentioned, and so did Paul, you just don’t randomly do something like this. You have to know your people. If you worked for me, I would know this would not be something that you would appreciate and I wouldn’t do it. But many other direct reports might really like it. It’s not a broad stroke approach, and it’s not for every organization and culture. But for many, it can be extremely powerful!

      And, BTW, your response is very typical from the HR set as a whole. Leaders, though, actually really like the idea. I wonder why the difference? I’ll have to think on that.

      Thanks for the comments,

  7. We did something like this for spouses a while back (pre Great Recession). Long hours, 7 day weeks and travel are common and expected in our industry. Mid busy season we sent token gifts to the spouses of employees thanking them for their contribution to our success and recognizing the sacrifice to their family. We really tried to create a regular recognition program that recognized not only the employee but their significant other or friends and family as well with dinner and a movie give away gift cards. Most people really appreciated that we acknowledged the impact of the demands of our business on them. The effects of this on retention? Well unfortunately there isn’t much of a scientific way to really measure because of the many variables involved. We can surmise if our rates improve. However we know our employees tell other people when we do nice things so we build brand culture at the very least.

  8. it would require us to be human – be vulnerable and to (gasp) find out what is going on in the lives the people we work with. And that makes riffing them harder… we don’t like to fire people we like and know. Easier if they are just another brick in the wall.

  9. Similarly – think about significant others… I got a huge amount of mileage and engagement/loyalty when I’d send a personal note thanking the significant other for their sacrifice and understanding if an employee on my team was putting in long hours… or in some cases I’d just send a note saying – “hey – thought you should know how much we value your husband/wife/friend/partner here at the company.

    You really need to think about employees a whole people not just employees. Great post Tim…

    • Paul,

      It’s crazy to me that when I go around and speak, and share this idea – HR Pros look at me like I’m completely insane! It’s so simple and so effective – I can’t imagine why it’s not used more. Would definitely have more impact than many things we do for engagement and recognition.


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