by Marc Cenedella
What a perfect fit! You have an opening and your niece is looking for a job in the industry! Or your college buddy is disgruntled with her current employer and wants to move on. Or your Board member has some spare time on his hands and wants to help out by taking on some operating duties.
And you? You’re enthusiastic about working with your niece/college friend / Board member. You get along so great, you come from the same place, why… it’s going to be like having two of you around!
Of course, you’ve never heard the ancient warning “never hire someone you can’t fire,” so you jump right into this new stage in your relationship.
Things go OK at first — it’s fun seeing your friend at the office every day — but soon enough you notice a creeping difference in expectations. You figured that in the same spot, you’d work twice as hard to make your friend look great, but he seems to use the opportunity to take twice as long to get things done.
Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.
Then come the out-of-the-ordinary requests. He wants to work from home Wednesdays so he can take care of his dying dog, she needs extra time off to visit Aunt Martha who isn’t getting any younger, or a personal crisis means he needs the flexibility to miss the Tuesday staff meetings.
It gets worse. She comes in later and leaves earlier, he never seems to fulfill his professional duties, or he takes liberties where none should be taken, slowly wearing down your patience and your goodwill. You suffer in silence as your long-time employees lose respect for you.
Yep. Professionals discovering the mismatch between personal affection and corporate discipline travel a sad and lonely path.
Here are four things to remember about hiring friends, relatives, and family:
If you must hire friends or family, set boundaries and expectations
A great deal of the trouble in working with friends and family is misaligned expectations. You assumed they’d put in 100% more effort to make you look good, they assumed that as a friend, their primary goal was to hang out and, you know, be friendly.
Before you agree to work together, set boundaries about behavioral norms in your workplace, and make clear what will be expected of your friend or family member. The more explicitly, objectively, and quantitatively, you can define it, the better.
Review in advance how you will handle conflicts
With friends and family, there are a lot of things that are better left unsaid. Unstated assumptions, convenient rationalizations, and polite white lies assist us in keeping good family ties and reasonable civility at Thanksgiving.
The exact opposite is true in the workplace: “what gets measured gets managed”, 360-degree feedback, performance reviews, all seek to make performance explicit.
Walkthrough, in detail, what will happen when performance obligations are not met, extra favors are asked for, special circumstances requested. Point out that it’s a business, you have other team members reporting to you in your organization, and your boss won’t cut you any slack. Be explicit about the situations in which you’ve unfortunately had to let people go for poor performance, and point out that you would have to treat your friend or family member the same way.
Have structured and regular 1-1s from Day 1
Because of your good relationship and the fact that you already see eye-to-eye, you’ll be tempted to do away with the 1-1. This is a mistake.
Regular weekly or bi-weekly 1-1s to make sure expectations are communicated and met, and that any difficulties are raised in a regular, private, direct manner, will help ease some of the awkwardness of treating someone you know socially in a professional manner.
Mix friends and money and you’ll lose both
And most of all, realize that if you mix your personal and social relations with the demands of the modern workplace, you’re likely to lose the friend and lose the performance you were hoping for. While there are always exceptions that prove the rule, they are few and far between.
Perhaps your friend is the one true friend who can pull this off and make you look great. I sure hope so, but the experience can be a bitter teacher. May you be the exception!