By Amber Cooper, Management and Human Resources
I was recently talking to the chief operations officer of a growing company about the biggest challenge in the business:
“We have all these original team members who aren’t doing the job we need done anymore, and the CEO won’t address the issues because he hired all his friends.”
This situation is common in gyms. Often, coaches and other staff members are hired from your inner circle of friends, acquaintances and clients. You know them, you like them, they are available—“You’re hired!”
I’ve done this myself. At the time, I saw the upside and didn’t think through what could go wrong. In the end, my friend didn’t like the job or the structure of the company. I felt guilty and pulled in two directions. On one side, I wanted to support my friend, and on the other side I needed to support the company into which I had brought someone who wasn’t a good fit.
Though friendship and business can go together at times, entrepreneurs who bring in a friend without following a hiring process can grow to have regrets and feel handcuffed to the person.
Maybe the job simply needs someone with more capability now that your company has grown.
Maybe you’re avoiding dealing with your friend on performance issues because you don’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation.
Or maybe you’ve realized your friend is a great person to hang out with on the weekend but work ethic and commitment to your business aren’t up to the standards you’ve set for others on your team.
The Friendployee Fix
If you are in this situation, here are several things you can do now to preserve the relationship and set the company, and the relationship, up for success.
1. Professionalize your work relationship: Whether your friend is just starting or has been with you awhile, it’s time to set the ground rules. Tell them you want to hit the “reset” button: You didn’t make your expectations clear from the start, so you’d like to do that now. Talk about boundaries and expectations including:
- Your leadership style and what it’s like to work for you (invite them to speak to others on your team if they are just joining).
- Work life and personal life and how you would like to keep them separate.
- The dealbreakers. For example, poor work ethic isn’t OK, speaking negatively about clients is an automatic goodbye, etc.
- How you will handle it if you have to provide feedback on something.
Be sure to check in to see if there are any areas they are “worried about” in this relationship. Ask, “Do you think this relationship will (continue to) work for you now that you know these things about me and how I run my company?”
2. Create an “eject” button: Come to an agreement on how you can part ways if you need to, and ensure either party can say “I’m done” with no hard feelings. Yes, it’s hard to stick to this one. But some short-term discomfort due to the eject button is better than allowing resentment to build and permanently destroy the relationship.
3. Hold them to the standards of the job. This might seem obvious, but we can get stuck in the trap of making more allowances for our friends. This creates a bigger issue and can ruin your friendship: You will let things go until you blow up. Talk to your friend early and often about issues as they arise. Bonus: Doing so will also mitigate the perception of favoritism among your other team members.
Strong friendships can make work a great place to be. But setting the right tone from the start can help prevent situations where a new work dynamic creates unexpected conflicts or places strain on relationships.