If you’re thinking about hiring a friend here’s how to do it.
Don’t start a conversation about hiring if saying no isn’t an option. Ask yourself, “If I open the question about hiring this person, can I imagine myself saying, ‘I’m not giving you the job’?” If you can’t, you’re doomed at the outset. If you wouldn’t say no — because of your own insecurity or your doubts about the emotional maturity of your friend — if no was the right answer, don’t even consider becoming this person’s boss. Otherwise, you will rationalize or cower yourself into a yes that you’ll probably regret. If you can’t turn your friend down for the job, you’ll never be able to manage them once they’re on your team. If your friend has already opened the question, shut it down honestly. Say, “I don’t think I’m strong enough to do what it takes to be both your boss and your friend.” You may have to deal with some resentment, but if they do resent you, then they’d be the kind of person who would despise you when things cratered.
Give yourself an off-ramp. If you decide to entertain the possibility, set proper emotional expectations by explaining that no is the likeliest result. If the other person’s hopes begin to gallop at the prospect of being hired, you’ve lost already. Don’t conspire in their choice to set their expectations high. Say something like, “I can see some advantages to working together. And yet I think there are more reasons it won’t work than reasons it will. I’d like to explore the possibility with you, but I want to be clear I think it might not be a good idea.”
Rehearse the boundaries. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that being a good friend is a good predictor of being a good employee. Someone who is congenial as a friend can show up as lazy, petty, resentful, dishonest, or even political as a colleague. Let’s face it, you occasionally show up in some of those ways as well. Before you explore the candidate’s qualifications, give yourselves a chance to mutually consider how you’ll deal with some difficult situations. For example, ask your friend how they will feel when:
- You override a decision they made.
- You give them a negative performance review.
- You disagree with them publicly.
- They disagree with you publicly.
- You press them to achieve an uncomfortable goal or deadline.
- You give a plum assignment they wanted to someone else.
- You deny them a raise.
Rehearsing these scenarios helps the two of you think through some of the challenges you might face in your new relationship. This helps both parties set the psychological boundaries you’ll need if you’re to be a boss rather than a buddy. If you can’t imagine yourself holding these boundaries, then don’t proceed. In fact, doing so would mean, in essence, agreeing you will subordinate your duty to your company to the interests of your friend. You’ve sold out before you even begin.
Hiring friends is risky. But if approached correctly, you can avoid threatening the relationship and possibly even enrich and strengthen it.
Adapted HBR July 2018 Grenny