This is part II of a three part set of posts on ReThinking Mixing Friends And Business. Part I can be seen here.
Eventually, if you’ve been around long enough you’ll have the opportunity to hire or work with your friends. It happens all the time. On more than one occasion I’ve been involved in a conversation that leads to someone saying, “we should just get the band back together again.” When you’ve created magic, fought battles, and seen each other succeed it’s tough not to get nostalgic about the opportunity to work with those people.
But for every Eagles Hell Freezes Over moment, there’s a New Kids on The Block reunion. I’ve got to tell you, there’s nothing sadder than seeing former teenage stars, now in their 30s, trying to recapture the magic of their youth. But think about it. All they’re doing is getting the band back together. They’re trying to get lightening to strike in a bottle.
When we’re trying to put the band back together we often forget about the bad times and the problems each person brings to the table. We get swayed and influenced by the nostalgia. We get caught up in the moment and only focus on the positive. We’ve seen this happen time and time again in sports and music.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with several previous co-workers and colleagues. Many times I’ve passed. Several times, I wished I had passed. And on a few occasions it’s worked out perfectly. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about working with your friends:
- Develop a really solid set of role requirements. Focus on that role, not the person. Once you’ve identified the role, you can evaluate the person against the role. Don’t try to shoehorn the person into a role.
- Leverage and learn from history. The nice thing about considering a friend or former colleague for a position is that you have history. You know the type of skill set and attitude they bring to table. You know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Apply that history when considering the person and don’t be afraid to ask them to acknowledge and account for that history.
- Realize that people change. While history is important you also need to remember that people grow, learn, evolve, and change over time. Ask them pointedly, how they’ve changed since you last worked together.
- Politically, it’s safer to bring in your friend at a level above you. Why? Because they provide air cover. They can save your ass. This is especially true on the client/corporate side. There’s simply more value in hiring someone above you than below you.
- The dynamics of managing a friend are challenging, but setting those clear expectations from the very beginning are critical to making it work. They need to understand that they have a role to play and your job is to make sure they play that role very well. Lines and boundaries need to be established. Most importantly, they need to understand that they earned the job/position and were hired based on merit, not because they were your friend. And, that fact needs to be true. If you hired them because they’re your friend and they aren’t qualified, you’ve made a serious mistake.
Make no mistake, at some point you’ll have the opportunity to hire a colleague or friend. There’s nothing wrong with getting the band back together so long as all the people/players are filling roles you need. Never force a hire because someone is your friend. Granted, I’ve had friendships strained by not hiring or recommending them for a role. A real friend will be able to absorb your candid and honest feedback. If they can’t, they probably weren’t your friend to begin with. That’s just the facts.
Part III is coming later this week and will focus on working with your friends, when they’re the client or vendor. Trust me, that’s an interesting one.