Friendships at work

I recently heard two stories involving managers who hired friends. Both had bad endings.

In one case, a senior manager, Becca, filled her staff with people she’d known for years and considered friends. Several of her friends floundered in the new jobs. Becca didn’t want to damange the friendships, so she glossed over problems, made excuses, and emphasized the positive.

At the end of the year, Becca’s manager reviewed Becca’s results. She found them wanting, and as she probed, dicovered that the Becca staff was weak and that Becca hadn’t been doing much about it. (Needless to say, Becca’s manager wasn’t a paragon of proactivity, either). Becca’s manager informed her that she, Becca, would have to deliver the news during yearend performance reviews.

Becca’s friends were shocked when they saw their ratings and heard Becca’s harsh assessment of thier work. Not surprisingly, her friends felt Becca had betrayed them.

Several of Becca’s friends have salvaged their careers at the compnay, but Becca is out of a job.

The other story involves a technial lead who brought in a guy he’d worked with previously. Rick, the tech lead, and Ted, the new guy, spend a lot of time together, talking about the technical problem, reminiscing on previous triumphs, shooting the breeze. They often go to lunch together.

The rest of the team feels like Ted gets away with things they get called on. They believe that if they get the code wrong, Rick will hammer them, but if Ted makes the same mistake, Rick will fix it and cover for him. This team has separated into two camps. Rick and Ted in one camp, and the rest of the team on the other. Rick and Ted are pretty happy, but morale on the rest of the team is in the pits.

Hiring people you know has a great appeal: You’re hiring a known quantity. You know his/her strengths and what she’s capable of doing. You’ve got a communication short hand, and you’ve developed trust.

And there are pitfalls.

If you hire people who you also consider friends, you’ll have to navigate mulitple roles in the relationship. It helps to be clear on which role you’re in at any given time. If you have to say the words, “I need to do this in my role as manager,” say the words.

Be clear on how you’ll handle the situation if your friend doesn’t work out in the job. If you think “that will never happen” or it would be too difficult to handle, don’t do the hire, you’re in trouble already. Figure out for yourself what you’d do and then have the coversation with the friend you are thinking of hiring. If you’ve already hired a friend, tell them you recently read a post on the topic, and use it as a lead in to the conversation.

Be clear on the job requirements and expectations. Don’t rely on beliving it will be just like the last time you two worked together. Something will be the same, somethings won’t. Go through the job requirments and expectations as you would with anyone else.

Don’t play favorites. Lots of us think as lunch as personal time — time we aren’t on the clock and can spend with whomever we choose. And we can. But be aware that other people on your staff will notice if you eat lunch (or take breaks) with your pal and not with other people on the staff. And they are likely to draw the conclusion that you favor your pal. It may even start to look like an us vs. them situation. This is probably not the dynamic you want on your team.

Hiring people you’ve had good working reltionships with can simplify communication and reduce the uncertainty of hiring. And it can also cause big problems, if you don’t approach it with awareness and keep the boundaries between roles clear.

What has your experience been? How has it worked / not worked when you have hired friends or been in groups where the manager hired friends?