Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s traditional for people to use February 14th to make a symbolic gesture of their love for one another, or panic because they’ve forgotten to buy flowers or book a cosy table for two.

It’s easy to take someone for granted when they’re part of the furniture. Perhaps those flowers and those gestures are the point: I do appreciate you; I know I’m lucky to have you.

I don’t like seeing good people overlooked in the workplace, and it’s doubly frustrating when people are overlooked because they’re romantically connected with a colleague.

In my experience, the above usually happens when a candidate for a role is romantically linked with somebody more senior; they are overlooked for promotion despite clearly possessing the credentials to do the job. It’s a shame, and it’s a waste. It usually happens for fear that a promotion will be misconstrued as favouritism – the relationship conferring unfair advantage on a candidate. Re-cast the circumstances into more generic terms – a strong candidate is overlooked because of their personal circumstances – and it starts to sound like discrimination. Why is this an issue for companies? Because one of the single biggest reasons why senior people leave a business is lack of progression.

It’s more difficult when both individuals are climbing the ladder and one might need to start reporting into another, or perhaps to share the same Board table. I have seen a good many companies take the easy option to avoid this happening, rather than bend over backwards to maintain good staff by finding a way to make it work.

At one of my past employers, it was “known” that inter-work relationships were frowned upon; subtle contractual wording made this clear without stating it outright. There was also a formal policy about how to handle the situation should a relationship arise despite the company’s best efforts to nip them in the bud. People tended not to get involved with one another for fear of reprisals.

It’s no surprise then that many people keep workplace relationships a secret. Driving something underground is never healthy – covert behaviour tends to beget covert behaviour.

It’s the way that companies deal differently with “little” things like this that often distinguish the good ones from the great. If it hasn’t hit home yet just how badly businesses are going to need good leaders over the next few years, and to attract and retain the very best they can get, it soon will. The case cannot be overstated. The automotive industry is at pivotal moment, and we need visionary, strong, charismatic, knowledgeable and inspiring leaders, all the way through the chain of command.

If you have two talented members of staff in a relationship, and you don’t want to look as if you’re currying favour with them, you need to have some options. I’m interested in how different organisations approach this. I know a lot of people within the automotive industry who met their partners at work and have had to move organisations in order to move upwards – and who remained “under the radar” at their place of work because of their relationship. Some have had to come out of the sector altogether to move on.

This is not right at a time when we need to maintain the best level of management in order to help us keep our heads clear as we steer the industry through perhaps its most exciting period to date. In fact, with issues such as connectivity, consumer journeys, and car sharing so front and centre, you could argue that right now, the industry is more relationship-focused (at all levels) than ever before!

I’ve seen a lot of articles recently about good interviewing techniques. They’re often valid and useful – but we also need to concentrate on ways to sustain and retain good leadership – in any way possible – and that includes not driving away good people.

We’re changing how we work. It’s happening. We also need to change the way we think. I’m sad to see so many managers feel they have to leave organisations – the reason discussed here is just one of many cited in personal conversations with some of them – wouldn’t it be good to see this change? This is one of the subjects we’ll be discussing at our conference in April, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear about how your organisation approaches the issues discussed here.