how to manage your friends

Guest Post by Sarah Landrum

It’s a dream come true: You got the promotion you were so hoping for. It’s also a nightmare come true. You now supervise a lot of people, many of whom you call friends. One day you’re sitting at lunch, griping about the messy break room. The next day you’re overseeing everyone’s work.

Companies that promote in-house recognize and reward quality personnel as they climb the ladder. If you’re a familiar face who’s suddenly looking down from above, you need to rethink your interaction style.

How to Manage Your Friends

You and your office friends are no longer peers. Adjustments are needed, and they revolve around one point: you must start acting like a boss.

1. Introduce Yourself

Of course, everyone knows what you’re like as a friend and co-worker, but they’re probably wondering – and discussing – what you’ll be like as a manager. Don’t make them guess. Assemble the whole group, or meet with your staff individually. You know these people well enough by now to know which approach to use.

Acknowledge that the dynamics have shifted, and that’s a bit weird for everyone. Then assure people that the qualities they value in you as a friend are still there. You still want them to succeed. You’re ready to offer help. You’ll listen to their on-the-job problems … but now you’re in the position of actually being able to do something to help.

Once you’ve said this, though, you must follow through. Maintain an open-door policy. The goal is for everyone to succeed, and it’s your job to facilitate that. Make yourself available. This doesn’t mean you’re on-call 24/7, but don’t hide behind your office door, either. Find a balance.

2. Be Crystal Clear

As you lay out plans, be clear about your performance expectations. Maybe you used to laugh when your friend sneaked in late on Mondays or slipped out early on Fridays. You can’t turn a blind eye to that anymore. These expectations must be specific, enforceable and all-inclusive. You can’t cut your friends slack now that you have the corner office. That’s a sure way to kill morale – and it won’t do production any favors, either.

If you’re seen as evenhanded in your interactions with staff, any advancement or support you give friends – which, of course, they deserve – won’t be viewed with suspicion or jealousy. If you’re known as fair, no one will want you to hold back a deserving co-worker just because you two have been close.

3. Back Away

Perhaps the toughest part of earning a promotion is the change in relationships. If all of you act like friends at work, your buds might not respect your authority – and you might not demand excellence.

As a boss, being chummy with a few folks might get you accused of playing favorites, even if you don’t. To many, perception is reality. No more individual lunches or exclusive get-togethers. It’s fine to go to happy hour if it’s a whole-group experience, but don’t hang around. Copious amounts of alcohol make people too buddy-buddy. That can’t be you anymore.

Don’t let your interactions get too personal. Family issues, weekend shenanigans and controversial politics make great conversation topics … among friends. At work, you can’t be a friend to your staff. Keep conversations business-related or superficially personal. This doesn’t mean you’re hard-hearted. You’re just focused on the job.
While you’re thinking about social interactions, consider social media. Professional sites like LinkedIn are fine, but disconnect from your staff on Facebook and other relaxed, self-expressive – and occasionally wild – forums.

Another reason to maintain that manager-employee relationship: Your bosses are watching you. Don’t give them a reason to worry about confidentiality by seeming too close to subordinates.

4. Start Small

You probably wanted the promotion, in part so that you could instigate some changes. That’s fine, but don’t overwhelm everyone with your new ideas. Too much too soon leads to confusion, resentment, anger or all of the above.

Start with moderate but significant adjustments. Give your staff some time to see that your policies are appropriate and beneficial. This establishes trust and paves the way for the sweeping overhaul you have in mind. Since you’ve been reliable so far, your staff will support you.

5. Give the Thumbs-up

Just because you don’t act like a friend at the office doesn’t mean you need to be a tyrant. Offer feedback in a positive way, even when you’re asking for changes.
Being a good manager means letting employees know when they’re on the wrong track, but you should also acknowledge excellence when it appears.

The transition from underling to overling isn’t easy. Pressure comes from all sides. While you’re negotiating new behaviors with your friends, your superior is watching you.

So do what you’re being paid for: Be the boss.

Guest Post

sarahSara Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, a career and lifestyle site for young professionals, as well as a freelance writer for various career and business sites including Personal Branding Blog and International Coach Federation. Among others, her writing has been published on Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Muse and Levo.