Everyone knows that employees work better for bosses who care. But showing interest in people's nonbusiness lives -- without appearing to intrude -- can be tricky. However, at Computer Output Printing Inc. (COPI), a laser-printing business in Houston, CEO Andy Plata has an interesting approach. Every quarter, his 25 employees commit themselves to a set of objectives -- and at least one of the goals must be purely personal.

The business objectives tend to be straightforward, says Plata -- improving communications skills or learning how to operate a new piece of equipment, for example. But the personal goals are more diverse.

Recently, a few of Plata's employees said they wanted to slim down; another wanted to finish some home repairs; someone else wanted to help his child improve her grades. Over and above articulating their goals, employees are expected to set up steps for achieving them; progress is reviewed by a manager every 90 days.

The system has been in place for three years now, and Plata thinks it's made a difference in people's performance. "A lot of companies aren't interested in personal matters," he notes. "But we feel differently. When people feel successful in the rest of their lives, they're more apt to be successful in business.'