The Employee Friend Zone

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One of the biggest issues around hiring a new employee, is a mistake made in the very beginning of the relationship. A mistake that is bound to set the entire working relationship off to a bad start—becoming friends with a new hire before knowing if he or she is going to be good at their job.

What truly causes most of the problem here is, when owners first assess a new candidate's skillset and personality, they end up choosing to prioritize personality over skill. They end up liking the new hire and they become friends, but when the time comes to discipline the employee, they can’t do it—they put the personality before the skill.

If the owner had kept his or her distance, remained the boss, and took the time to figure out if the person was qualified, he or she could then give themselves permission to be friends with the employee. If the individual isn’t on the right track, the owner should not give him or herself permission to be friends with him or her, and continue to be distant while holding the individual accountable.

The reason I had to figure this out is because I am a very friendly person. I like to be friends with everyone, including my employees. It took me getting burned, yelled at, and quit on for years, before I was ever able to come to the conclusion that I had to put some type of guard up in my life. I kept being friends with these people and they kept disappointing and hurting me. I would believe in them and then they would either be a bad employee or they would quit on me—after being a bad employee.

I started realizing a pattern, and it all came down to becoming friends first and then assessing skill set and job performance second. Had I reversed the order, I would have saved myself a lot of pain and a lot of those employees. I truly believe that to be true, because my employee turnover today is probably half to one-third of what it was 10 years ago, when I had this problem of wanting to be everybody’s friend.

When you go and chase personality because you're lonely or need a friend, you’re going to reap what you sowed—just another bad relationship, that you are paying for with bad performance.

One of the biggest reasons owners struggle putting a team together and accomplishing goals is because the team doesn’t respect the owner. If they don't respect the owner, the owner will not get the respect back—and if there was never respect in the very beginning, there most likely never will be.

How do you get that respect? By laying a proper foundation from the very beginning. Because if you set up the foundation from the very beginning, where the two of you are on the same page with clear expectations, everything going forward will be smoother.

If you are the boss of an employee that is already your buddy, you immediately need to change the relationship, and it needs to start with a sit-down conversation. If, all of a sudden, you start giving that employee write-ups, and holding him or her accountable out of nowhere, the employee is going to become offended; he or she didn't see the relationship as between a boss and an employee, and instead as a friend.

The best way to have this conversation, is by looking at things from his or her perspective. You have to announce to him or her that the relationship has changed. Sit them down and say, “I’ve been a little lost. I have not communicated the vision well—I wish that I had—it’s my fault and I’m sorry. Is there a way that we can hit a reset and have an open dialogue with you to tell you what I need you to do to take things in a new direction?”

Then, tell the employee that, from here on out, you are going to be very clear about goals, and that you are going to hold him or her accountable.

They will be shocked the first time you discipline them, but you still have to do it. At least this time, it’s not a surprise and the offense is taken considerably down. You've got to give the employees a chance to feel like they are a part of this new decision, because, ultimately, they are already your friend.


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