Skill /Learning 1 – Friendship vs. Work Relationship

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In this post we look at one very important lesson that I have learned as a manager: Friendship and work relationship should be kept separate; you may need to make uncomfortable staffing calls.

In my previous job I had a person working for me who, though competent, was not willing to work hard. Deadlines would invariably slip, and she/he would come back to me and the IT management team at the last minute giving one excuse or the other – there were no resources, I had a personal emergency or whatever. This frustrated not only me but the rest of the IT management team.


However, personally this person and I were good friends. This friendship prevented me from taking the tough calls required to either bring this person in line or let her/him go. As time passed the situation became more and more difficult. And since i had myselfrecruited this person, I felt that firing her/him may be seen as a failure of my recruitment approach. Regrettably, I left without taking a call on this person.

Forgive me for misquoting Enobarbus of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” “The band that seems to tie their friendship together will be the very strangler of their office relationship.” (Sorry, William)

And – I am ashamed to say this – a previous mentor / manager had as part of his coaching told me to be aware that such a situation happens to many people and that I should be prepared to act firmly if it happened to me.

So what should we do? One of the key qualities of a good manager is being honest with his/her people. I feel that we should deal with this problem from day one. Tell your reportee-friend that while we can go for a beer after office hours and bs all we want, in office things need to be done professionally. If the person is not being productive enough deal with the situation as you would with any other of your staff. Don’t sugar-coat your pointing out his mistakes/issues just because he is your friend. And, God forbid, if things don’t work out, you will have to tell the person to look for a new job. The earlier this is done, the better. Otherwise, as it happened to me, your stress levels and blood pressure are sure to rise. Of course, you have to be reasonable here and not be overzealous.

It will be interesting to hear other experiences and points of view on this subject.

In the next post we will look at another important thing I learned as a manager. Do not lose sight of the ball.

What do you think?

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