02 May Do’s and Don’ts on Giving Feedback to Friends in Your Company
Hiring friends into your startup is a mixed blessing. The good part is that you know your friend’s strengths and weaknesses and whether they share your values. If, on top of that, your friend brings a skill your startup needs, bringing a friend into your startup can be great. Still, you might have to choose between supporting your friend and being a good boss. Sometimes being a good boss means delivering difficult feedback to an employee. And if that employee is your friend, the friendship might not survive the harsh feedback. Such conversations are typically the least favorite thing about entrepreneurship. As many have expressed, the most difficult part of being the boss is drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, which feels particularly negative when it’s people who are your friends. Here are 3 important strategies to maintain your emotional connection and make clear how the friend’s actions crossed the line.
Start by Clearly (Over) Communicating Your Values and Culture.
If everyone in your company is getting a consistent message about what kind of behavior you prize most highly, all employees should know where the line is drawn. Devote 20 percent of your time to articulating and communicating your company’s values and telling stories about employees who act accordingly. When you hold all-company meetings, if your company cherishes going the extra mile for the customer, make sure each meeting starts by celebrating employees who lived that value. If you clearly and consistently communicate your culture, then should you get a call from a customer complaining about how your friend in the company promised the customer something they did not deliver, you will have an easier time starting the unpleasant conversation with your friend.
Whenever Your Friend Crosses the Line, Let him/her Know Immediately.
It’s perfectly natural for you to want to avoid letting your friend know you’ve heard the bad news from the customer. One of the reasons you get the big bucks is that you have to do the opposite — and confront that misbehaving friend right away. If you wait, other employees will find out and you will discourage everyone in your company who is trying to do the right thing.
Frame the Conversation with Balance and Tact.
How can you deliver harsh feedback and preserve your friendship? Start off by continuing a conversation you last had about a common interest or a family member. Next, bring up the employee who went the extra mile for your customer that you discussed at the last staff meeting that your friend attended. Deliver the bad news: You spoke with the customer who was disappointed that your friend had failed to deliver on a promise. Then let your friend talk. Your response will depend on how the friend responds. If your friend offers a sincere apology followed by a specific action plan to win back the customer’s trust, there is hope that the friend can be rehabilitated professionally.
If you fail to engage a friend in such difficult conversations, you may be putting your company’s entire future at risk. The good news is that if you follow these four steps, you may be able to preserve the friendship while protecting your company for all the employees who are doing the right thing.