Leadership

Who's the boss? Tips for managing friends and former peers

If a promotion placed you above your current peers, would you be composed enough to maintain both your new title and your workplace friendships? Here are some tips for successfully making this tricky transition from peer to boss.

Easing into a new management role is fairly straightforward. Sure, it’s a little bit strange to delegate coding issues and bug fixes instead of handling everything yourself, but that’s not that difficult to get used to, right? If you’ve been promoted from within, however, you might be faced with the sticky issue of handling your new relationship with your former peers. How, for example, do you give a performance evaluation to someone you’ve, well, bonded with?

Stay professional
“Nothing in a performance evaluation should be difficult to discuss between two people who have a history of friendship,” said Mark Kimbell, president of Kimbell Associates LLC, a business improvement firm. “An evaluation is nothing more than a fact-based summary of issues that you should have been addressing all along anyway, so there shouldn’t be any awkward surprises.” In fact, Kimbell says, a close friendship can even lend extra credibility to your comments: You genuinely want what’s best for your friend.

It’s perfectly permissible to remain a part of your team’s social group, as long as you remember that you can’t give team members the inside scoop on what’s what with the higher-ups. If you don’t make a habit of dishing out the dirt, there won’t be any need to cut out your weekly bowling night or turn down invitations to after-hours parties. It is all right to make a passing reference—in very general terms—to business events, but any specifics should be shared only in more appropriate settings, and information should be revealed only to people who are supposed to know it.

“If you have a specific business issue to discuss with one or more of your employees, it’s fine to do that off-site,” said Kimbell, who recommends that you simply clarify the purpose of the meeting beforehand and include only the specific individuals affected by what you have to say.

You need to remember that your true friends won’t want you to compromise your professional responsibilities; they’ll want you to succeed. They won’t, therefore, put you in a situation where you’ll be forced to choose between friendship and career. As for the folks who place contingencies on your relationship—well, with friends like that, you’d better watch your back.

Kimbell cautions that you should be sure you don’t treat your friends any better or worse than anyone else on your team. “Treat them the same way you treat everyone else,” said Kimbell. “It is their responsibility as much as yours to make sure there is never the appearance that you manage your friends any differently than you manage the rest of the team.”

So what do you do if you’re doing everything right and one of your former friends just won’t give you a break? Let it go, says Kimbell. “You can’t manage someone else’s feelings.” You’ll never win over a person who resents your hard work and the promotion it earned you. Instead, focus on doing the best job you can and making your team successful and productive. If, despite your best efforts, your team member is actually disruptive to that success and productiveness, then set the “friendship” aside and let your management skills take over: Reassign or fire the employee, and find someone else who will make a positive contribution to your group.

The transition to management requires a good deal of flexibility. You’re not going to be able to please everyone. You can either kill yourself trying or concentrate on managing the majority effectively. Guess which choice is the best use of your time? Answer that correctly, and you’re already on the way to succeeding as a manager.

Workplace friend or foe?
Have you succeeded in maintaining both your professional edge and your workplace friendships after taking on a management position? Or have you failed miserably at being your friends’ boss? Tell us about your experience on this topic by joining the discussion below.

 
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