How to go from BFF to Direct Report
January 2, 2014 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I've been close friends with a man since 2009 who I see about once a week socially, and text and email with frequently. I recommended him for an opening at my company, and now he will be my direct manager starting at the end of this month. Any advice on making this transition smoothly? (More inside.)

My friend and I met at a large West Coast (US) software company five years ago as peers on the same team. Since then we have seen each other quite drunk, have discussed our respective sex lives (we are 100% platonic, so that's not an issue), and in the past spent a lot of time bitching about work politics, deadlines, etc. He is very work-focused, and his triumphs, frustrations, and projects have been a big part of our conversations since I am both a friend and someone who understands our field. As an aside, every job I've had in the last few years has required my specialized degree, and the division of the field I'm in in my city is relatively small. It's not uncommon for many of us to know each other and to work in various configurations together at companies in our city.

I recommended my friend for this position both for him and my team. He was a miserable stress monkey at the same large software company that we met at, and this role will be a step up for him in every way (better culture, location, pay, stress levels). My team needs a kickass manager, which I have every reason to believe he is. As I said above our field is somewhat small and specialized, so it made sense to recommend someone who is a talented manager and who knows our field. Managers for this particular position are certainly not falling out of trees, and when my coworkers found out my friend was interviewing, their general attitude was, "Oh good, we need a good manager and this team needs some fresh blood" (the typical practice is to promote from within because of the nature of the work).

I have taken steps to already create some boundaries with him. When he was invited for his first round of interviews, I gave him a sketch of the team's structure and workflow issues/problems, mostly so he would know what he was stepping into. He semi-jokingly asked me to "give him the dirt" and I deflected any questions that I thought were too personal or "cheaty." I have been telling him I won't be able to dish the dirt with him about work, because I do not want to be the manager's little footstool.

Likewise, with coworkers, I have been trying to keep boundaries to demonstrate everything is above board and my friend earned his position. A coworker who was on an interview loop with him offered to let me peek at the interview questions she'd written and I declined. I knew I wouldn't spill them to my friend, but I didn't want my coworker to think there was any chance I had blabbed. During the loops, I made it clear to my peers that I would be a-ok with them if they felt like he wasn't the right fit, and that I really want the best manager. Around Christmas, my friend shared the happy news with me that he was hired, and I didn't tell my coworkers, because obviously it should come from management. I don't think this is human relations/office politics rocket science, I am just trying to say I have been conscious of these issues.

So there is some background and history about how this happened. A couple of additional complications is that a person on my team applied for this role as well, and did not get it, and I am afraid of the fallout there ("Sorry the job you wanted went to my friend who I recommended.") but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I am also aware of another team in my department with a similar relationship with a manager and direct report that has been about as nepotistic as possible and has caused toxic levels of resentment on their team. I actually had a talk with the coworker who offered to show me the questions along the lines of "We don't want another situation on our hands like Frick and Frack on the other team."

What I want from this is a good manager, and to hang on to my friend on some level, though I know our relationship may (will) change. I do not want to be his "mouthpiece" to my coworkers nor do I want to be feeding info up to him. I want him to be my manager at work, and to discuss our myriad other interests when we see each other socially. I am actually looking forward to discussing something other than work with him (I am the type to leave my work at work when I finish and have a lot of hobbies, friends, family, etc, that I prefer to focus on).

My team is mostly "cozy" with each other--we know some things about each others' lives and do happy hours sometimes, and some people are already real meatspace friends as well as coworkers. This company isn't my life and where I will retire, but I don't want to lose the feeling of having broken in socially and politically (I believe I am respected by most). I would also not be opposed to leaving if an opportunity presented itself or if something went south with the position.

There's a lot of moving parts here, but has anyone done what I am aiming to do? Any advice? Blind spots? Regrets? Thanks for reading.
posted by Lardmitten to Human Relations (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When at work keep building these boundaries both with him and with your co-workers, focus on being polite, professional and doing your job.

When you socialise outside work establish a rule that you will not discuss your joint place of work at all. Hopefully he is able to see the benefits of this. And then stick to it. It sounds as if this may be more difficult for him than for you as you say you are one of his main outlets for work discussions outside work. So you probably need to be firm on this one.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:11 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've already avoided several potential pitfalls, so good for you. The specific nature of the boundaries should be something both you and your friend/manager agree to, perhaps in a meeting early on in his tenure (with a follow-up discussion about a month later to cover any new issues that have cropped up). Since your teammates already know about your prior relationship and to minimize misunderstandings, it would probably be a good idea for the two of you inform them of those boundaries.
posted by DrGail at 9:18 AM on January 2, 2014

There's a lot of moving parts here, but has anyone done what I am aiming to do? Any advice? Blind spots? Regrets?

I was really good friends with my last manager - we did lunch often, bought each other stuff that we thought the other would like, etc. We talked about stuff that frustrated us about our workplace, but never actual work projects while socializing. We became friends organically through the job, so the experience might be different, but here's my two cents.

At work, I often thought "would I do this for another manager I respected as much as I do my friend?" If so, I did it. Things like going the extra mile or prioritizing something he had a personal desire to see completed. If not - say, spilling the beans on a co-worker's searching for jobs - I wouldn't. A good manager (and a good friend) won't put you at odds with your team very often. They'll look to get value from you as an employee, but they won't use you as a stepping stone towards their own career goals.

When not at work, we included other co-workers for drinks - yes, we might chat more with one another, but being exclusive wasn't good for the team. It's the manager's job to make sure that cohesion remains, but you can proactively suggest ways for your friendship to be part of a larger team development scheme.

A good manager will have thought these things through and will avoid explicitly favouring anyone for the sake of their personal relationship. It sounds like he's good, so that bodes well. I wouldn't go overboard on setting hard and fast boundaries - set them where pitfalls occur, but don't box off a personal friendship for the sake of appearances. It's okay to be friends with those you work with/for.
posted by rutabega at 9:57 AM on January 2, 2014

Ya know, you've described your situation so very thoroughly and professionally here. I think you should print out this question and have a long private sit-down with your friend. Show this to him, list your main concerns, brainstorm some strategies and set some boundaries that you're both comfortable with. Good communication is ALWAYS the answer to situations like this.
posted by raisingsand at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

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