Browsing the archives for the favoritism tag.

Managing People: Don’t be a Friend

Geek 5, Managing people

In the last few weeks, we’ve talked about how managers should not become therapists for their direct reports and provided some responses to serious issues and less serious issues.

Another unwritten rule is similar to that one – managers should not try to be friends with their direct reports.  I’m not saying that you should not be friendly.  As a matter of fact, it is usually beneficial to create a collegial, comfortable workplace.  People are social creatures and we bring those needs into the workplace.  It’s okay to have non-work conversations, tell appropriate jokes and have fun while working.

But there is another one of those invisible lines that can be easy to cross.  As a manager, you cross the line if you go from being friendly to being friends.  Some people can pull it off, but most of the time it ends poorly.  It’s hard to be friends with your direct reports because:

  • You are the boss and have power over his/ her career and future
  • It can look like and lead to favoritism
  • It’s hard to manage a friend objectively – you’ll tend to be too easy or too hard
  • It’s hard to draw the line between on-the-record work conversations and off-the-record friend conversations
  • You might become privy to information or gossip in after-hours conversations that you are required to act on (such as reporting harassment)
  • You have to watch what you say to the associate – you have access to confidential and sensitive information

I witnessed an example of this recently in my office.  There was a group of five people who all did the same job.  They created a very tight-knit group and spent a lot of time together outside work.  Due to some re-organization, a new leader position was created and several of them competed for it.  The one who got the promotion (we’ll call her Jill) went from being a peer and friend to a boss who was trying to still be a friend.  It was a tough situation – especially with one former peer (we’ll call her Mary).  Mary was disppointed to not get the promotion herself and took some of her frustration out on Jill, her friend and former peer.  Jill was struggling to define a new role and learn to work at a higher level job – on top of it, she had Mary being difficult and disgruntled.  Jill tried to balance being a boss and a friend.  She found that she was frequently harder on Mary than the others, because she was worried about being unfair.  Finally, Mary left the company.  When she left, everyone on the team sighed in relief.  The whole team had been impacted by the dynamic between Jill and Mary.  Their friendship did not survive either.

If you enter a manager role with a new direct report – keep the relationship professional but friendly.  Don’t cross the invisible line.  If you get promoted over a peer, like Jill did, you need to have a very clear conversation to set expectations from the start.  You need to be a manager first and a friend second – otherwise you jeopardize your own career.

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Managing People: Don’t Become a Therapist (part 1)

Geek 5, Managing people

There are a lot of rules you have to learn when you become a manager of people.  Some of them are legal rules like knowing the proper questions for interviews, the basics of EEOC and FMLA, etc.  If those acronyms don’t mean anything to you, you should sit down with an HR person and get a quick refresher of the basic legal stuff.   Some rules are guidelines or processes for tasks like how to have a difficult conversation or put someone on a corrective action plan.

There are also a lot of unwritten rules.  One of those rules is that you should never become a therapist for your direct reports.  Huh?  What does that mean?  It means that you need to know where the line is between helping a direct report with work-related issues and getting sucked into their personal dramas.  The complication is that the line is fuzzy and sometimes hard to see – you need to use your managerial judgment about this.   Why is this important?  Some reasons include:

  • It’s a time suck for you
  • It can be uncomfortable to know personal details about a direct report
  • It can cause you to be too lenient and not hold the person accountable
  • Your other direct reports could see it as favoritism
  • It is distracting for work during work hours
  • You might find yourself too involved in a personal situation

As a manager, you are responsible for helping associates with work-related issues.  One filter for you is to consider whether or not an issue impacts business performance or other associates.  With projects and tasks you might sometimes needs to run interference to get something back on track.  But if an issue is drama-based, you should coach the associate to deal with it or at least set the expectation that work performance needs to stay solid.

Drama can take many forms and is often spun to look like it is job-related.  Drama can be about family – such as an associate coming to you to unload about her divorce proceeding and about how the soon-to-be-ex spouse is evil incarnate.  Drama can be personal – such as the associate who comes to you to complain about his sciatica, corns and acid reflux.  Drama can also be tangentially work-related – such as the long-term associate who feel entitled to a cube by the window due to seniority.

Caring and listening does not have to translate into becoming someone’s therapist.  You can listen compassionately to drama-related issues when needed, but don’t let it become an ongoing role.  You have to draw the line.  As a manager your must also continue to hold them accountable for their work.  If you become a therapist, you might feel compelled to give them too much of a break when they are not performing well.  In today’s workplace, we’re all faced with too little people for too much work.  If you continually excuse one worker due to personal drama, the weight falls on everyone else.  You should expect solid work performance regardless of outside drama.

You need to be fair and balanced in your approach.  It is different to give some a day or two off to care for a parent who just had a heart attack versus dealing with weekly absences due to marital trouble.  As a manager, you are responsible for complaints that cross a legal line such as harassment, hostile workplace, violence, discrimination, etc.  When you encounter these, get HR help.  You are also responsible for the work of your team.  You are not responsible for solving someone’s personal problems.  It is okay to coach your associate about work performance, even if you know there are other issues.

In the next post, we’ll cover some common “therapist” traps and how to respond to them.

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