It would be nice to think so. But there is a power-dynamic issue that most friendships don’t encounter. And there are, of course, times when the owner has to put the needs of the company ahead of the needs of any one employee, which can make maintaining a friendship challenging.
What has been your experience?
In my now 19 years experience coaching and consulting with small business owners they have enough of a challenge managing employees with specific job performance expectations and holding their people accountable to them in a way that seems fair and equitable across the board.
There is often a feeling that different employees are treated differently without real substance so trust and respect is lost in the work environment. Often standards are applied inconsistently and seem to be arbitrary and capricious. This may or may not be the case, but because of perception and a terribly poor approach to communication (which is an epidemic in small business leadership) this is the reality of too many small business work environments.
My point being that being, becoming, or worse, hiring friends exacerbates these issues.
It’s similar to a family business where there is always an air of family favoritism and entitlement that gets in the way of the best work environment with consistent accountability and high levels of trust and respect between team members at the company.
Agree...and there are times when confidentiality agreements are signed barring the owner/CEO from sharing information that could directly impact employees and the "friend". When the friend gets the eventual news they could be very upset that they were left out of the loop causing unnecessary grief all around.
I tried to hire people I liked and respected, because that makes work so much better, so an element of friendship and mutual caring often developed early and deepened over time. That made it tricky when people hit rough patches and emotional agendas (including my own) were a little confused. But it also gave us a basis for working through things.
I suppose one needs to define the definition of "friends"...
I socialize with several of my employees during afterhours hikes, bike rides, drinks, and sporting events...so I enjoy their company...but I'm not really sure I consider them friends (or that they would consider me a friend / confident). During the time together outside of work, we will talk about a variety of things that are essentially non-work related...and we will also discuss "deep topics" concerning perhaps hopes, fears, and dreams...but there seems to always be a certain line of respect between us...in an almost mentor/mentee relationship.
I think that communicating in a non-formal setting, a lot of time, helps the employees to understand my dreams of what our company can be and my expectations of myself, themselves and the entire team...they like being on the inside as to what is going on between my ears and why I'm making the decisions I'm making to steer the company.
Alternatively, I get the chance to understand the aspirations, frustrations, and roadblocks of each employee which is helpful. Sometimes I can't do anything to help them...but they like the fact that someone is listening to them and seeing them as a person rather than just a cog in the machine.
Always the contrarian I am Loren....I can honestly say that I am friends (or at least “friendly”) with all 84 of my team. As Skip points out below, the key is consistency. We have worked hard over the past several years to develop our heathy conflict skills which can only happen in an authentic environment based on trust (big Lencioni fan here). Transparency is critical to make all of this really work so utilizing tools like the Great Game of Business is very helpful- everyone knows what they need to know to get the job done and this helps with the trust issue. Our folks know that the needs of the business come first and that at times we may all need to sacrifice something to protect the crown jewel. If that happens, we all share in the pain just like we all share in the reward. So, despite different roles and responsibilities, I do believe it is possible to have deep, caring relationships with everyone on the team who is willing to reciprocate.
Rule #1: Never hire family.
Rule #1 Corollary: Never hire a friend if you want to keep them as a friend. One day you'll have to make a hard decision that will impact their life - then you won't have them as a friend.
You can be friendly and compassionate with employees; come to their aid if necessary, but not their friend.
I believe that Jay and/or Paul discussed this on one of the Podcasts. Something along the lines of "sometimes you have to make the cold, hard decisions" if you're the boss/owner.
This is a GREAT topic and I have opinions based on 40+ years of experience. in fact, I've managed to work with my wife for 35+ of them. I also worked for over 30 years with one employee who I considered family...until we had a major disagreement.
Harvey Mackay gave the best advice I ever heard on this, employer-employee and B2B and B2C issues: "AGREEMENTS PREVENT DISAGREEMENTS".
Most people like to know the rules of the game. They need boundaries that define roles and responsibilities, while still allowing and encouraging initiative and innovation, which requires freedom.
In my experience, the challenge comes when circumstances change. And, as an employee's non-work life is often hidden and certainly uncontrollable, these circumstances, given enough time, invariably arise.
Having AGREEMENTS that cover as many scenarios as possible as well as an agreement on CORE VALUES helps prevent such changes from negatively impacting relationships.
And by the way, IMHO, ALL relationships have some sort of power-dynamic.
There is a difference between being friendly and being friends. I was given the good advice by a colleague to go for drinks with the team but duck out before the 2nd round. This has served me well in my career. It’s hard enough giving constructive feedback to staffers, adding the emotional aspect of hurting a friendship just makes it more complicated.
I tend to keep things kind of simple, I spent 30- 40 - 50-60 hours per week with some of my staff, so by default you create relationships that go beyond strictly business. I too have also hired some friends and family that I thought would hit cover off the ball and did not. We had and always do have clear expectations which on their own set standard for who stays or not. And yes, I have had to let friends/family go without hesitation. I find as I mature (age) I want folks around me I respect and enjoy without compromising accountability. You can have it both ways contrary to what some like to say!