Boss vs. Buddy: A Critical Conversation

I recently attended a local panel discussion featuring both in-house team contributors and leaders from several major consumer retail and technology brands. It was a good discussion until the question about hiring, retaining and releasing talent was asked.

Although many of the comments made by the panelists were insightful, there was this overwhelmingly universal desire, by the panelists, to hire folks who could potentially become their good friends. They seemed to believe that hiring “friends” made their jobs as managers easier.

I remember sitting there and thinking that being friendly with or naturally becoming friends with a member of your team (or even the entire team) outside of work is awesome, but to go into the hiring process looking for a “friend” seemed shortsighted and potentially problematic.

At the end of the day, each manager has to do what they feel is right for their team, their employer and themselves. But I also believe as an in-house manager the hiring process is a high stakes endeavor where many factors must be considered, fit being one of those factors.


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If you go into the hiring process screening for friends, how will that affect your ability to manage all aspects of their performance in the future? Hiring a new employee should not be like attending a speed-dating event at the local bar. Friendship can mean so many things to different people. You must be careful not to blur the lines between your personal and professional behaviors.

Think about the last time you had to have a critical conversation with one of your good friends that doesn’t work with or for you. Maybe it’s your childhood best friend, the neighbor who shares a similar interest in something you’re passionate about, or even your significant other. Whether it’s a really good friend or even a “frienemy,” the truth can sting for both you as the initiator and your friend as the receiver—no matter how sensitively it was delivered.

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Problems can arise when some employees don’t feel like they receive the same benefits as those on your team you consider to be good friends. These employees can sense the difference and will eventually point out this imbalance to you. Those employees who are viewed as your pals may expect you to look the other way when their performance misses the mark.

To manage a team effectively, there needs to be a gap, a space where critical conversations and developmental feedback can occur openly and honestly without the added burden of hurting a “friend’s” feelings. As a team leader, you are responsible for the growth of all your employees and the organization that employs you both. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a few beers with them after work or even attend a wedding or birthday celebration; just remember that you are the manager and that a little bit of space—known as the gap—is healthy and necessary for you to perform your job effectively.

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