Most management books and many business school courses are adamant about not forming personal relationships with people who work for you; particularly, not socializing with them. The theory seems to be that becoming friendly with employees will cloud your judgment, confuse employees about their true status
and role in the company, and lead to favoritism and less than even-handed management between the people you like and those whom you don’t. According to this notion, playing favorites can lead to disciplinary problems among those who are close to you, low morale among those who aren’t, and a general lack of motivation throughout the company.
While these are all legitimate concerns for any business owner or manager, I believe that there’s a far better solution. In fact, I think this dictum against forming personal relationships is not only wrong, it’s counterproductive and usually impractical, especially in small companies–such as independent advisory firms. Rather than evening out your management through a lack of attachment to employees, I advise my clients to take just the opposite approach and do themselves and their employees a favor: Hire only people that they like, that they know will respect them, and get rid of anyone they don’t like and who are disrespectful. After all, you’re going to spend a large portion of your life with the people in your firm; you might as well enjoy being with them. What’s more, in my experience, if you like them, they’ll be better, more productive employees.
As a litmus test, I ask firm owners if they can truthfully say about each of their employees: “They work hard and it shows. They get the job done, they get it done right, and the results are always outstanding.” Then, for the employees about whom they can’t answer “yes,” I ask them: “Do you genuinely like that employee?” If they’ve answered “no” to the first question, they almost always answer “no” to the second one. To my mind, this correlation is more than just a preference for good employees (or a prejudice against bad ones): it’s an indication that your personal feelings about the people who work for you go along way to dictating their actual job performance.
It’s Only natural
It’s human nature to give attention to people you like, and not so much to the people you don’t. What most bosses don’t realize is that this natural dynamic is setting up the people they don’t like to fail.
On the other hand, if you like an employee, you’ll give them more attention, and be much more likely to give them: constructive feedback about how they’re performing, encouragement to do their best, praise when they succeed, and support when they struggle or fail. And while you’re spending time with them, you’ll undoubtedly be giving them an additional informal education: the invaluable benefit of your education, years of experience and hard-earned insights and perspective, which often are the keys to whether young advisors and other staffers ultimately succeed or fail. It’s very difficult to effectively mentor and train someone you don’t especially like.
When you like an employee, you’ll also more readily identify their strengths and their preferences. You’ll be more likely to let them do things they like to do and are good at, rather than forcing them to do things they don’t like and aren’t good at. I think the predictable results of these tendencies are pretty obvious. Of course, you don’t want to let your firm descend into chaos with no one doing the hard, tedious, or unglamorous tasks (OK, so maybe there isn’t much glamour in financial advice, but you get the point). But my experience is that employees who are happy, and feel liked, respected, and appreciated, tend to also be the ones who voluntarily and without complaint, step up to tackle the most difficult tasks. That’s the other side of my earlier litmus test: The best employees are almost always liked by their employers.
The simple fact is that none of us can help but like some people, and dislike others. Sometimes it’s attitude, other times, just a clash of personalities. But either way, you can spend the rest of your working relationship with an employee that you don’t much care for, wrestling with your ill feelings, feeling guilty–and oscillating between trying to make up for them, and avoiding the person who makes you feel that way. Or you can just face the reality, accept it for what it is, skip the judgment and self-criticism, and choose to work with folks you feel good about for whatever reason.