It’s almost a universal rule:  You have to know someone to get a job.

In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to reach supremely qualified job candidates from all over the world and get them to apply for jobs.  Yet, hiring managers still fall back to hiring friends, acquaintances and referrals.

“There’s less risk,” they say.  “I don’t know what kind of baggage I’d be getting if I hired a stranger.”

I don’t deny the fact that being familiar with someone – their history, their personality, their work ethic – has value in selecting someone for a job.  But, please don’t treat the “hiring a friend” approach as having no risk.

Actually, hiring friends and acquaintances has risks all its own.

And I’ll put one of those risks bluntly:  If terminating an employee becomes the right business decision for some unforeseen reason, it can be very hard to terminate a friend, acquaintance or referral.

I’ll share a couple of real-life examples.

Last year, a church in my neighborhood bought a new building where they would not only house the church, but also a community center complete with a cafe.  They were diligent in making sure that the cafe was going to be ready for their grand opening.  They bought all the necessary equipment, planned out their food offerings, and hired staff.  One of the people they hired for a cashier role was the pastor’s wife’s boss’ wife (got that?).

All seemed to be going smoothly until the cafe manager abruptly quit.  Two days before the grand opening.  Ouch!

Needing a warm body to replace the manager, guess who got promoted?

Yep – the pastor’s wife’s boss’ wife!

We’ll call her PWBW, for short.

PWBW was a good fit for a cafe cashier role.  She had like 10 or 20 years of experience in the food industry.

But she was no manager, much less a leader.

In a few short months, she alienated many employees who quit specifically because of her.  In a hot economy, no business can afford to mistreat employees.

In addition, she engaged in some behavior that crossed some ethical and legal lines.  Some of the employees who stayed complained to the pastor to no avail.

Replacing a toxic manager should be an easy decision for any organization.  But it wasn’t for this church.

The relationship that existed between church leadership and PWBW made it quite difficult for them to make the right business decision.  Essentially, PWBW had the church by the B-A-L-L-S.  All because of the “friendship” that made it easy to hire her.

This is an ongoing saga.  It’s hard to see it end well.  Toxic employees like PWBW usually get increasingly toxic until something really blows up.  Church leadership either needs to summon divine intervention or grow a pair before what seems like the inevitable happens.

Now, for a second example.  And it is from early in my own career.

I hired a friend once.  It was a bet or sorts, but it worked out great.  At the time, it made me feel like hiring friends was an OK – maybe even preferable – thing to do.  When you and your friends are smart people, you won’t face the problems people warn you about, I thought.

Fast forward a few years later.  This friend-employee’s husband was looking for work.

He was not only a brilliant guy, but also a friend – someone I genuinely liked as a human being.  Would there be a problem with husband and wife working for the same company?

Again, I thought that smart people would be able to avoid the pitfalls that leaders read about.  I bet that everything would be fine.  So, I hired him.

Well, I won on the first bet.  Lost on the second.

The friend-employee’s husband didn’t work out so well.  The company wasn’t a good cultural fit for him and he wasn’t a good cultural fit for the company.  And having a healthy business culture is almost everything these days.

Ending the employment relationship was the right business decision.

But wanna talk about risk?

What would happen to the wife if the husband was let go?  Would she quit, leaving the organization down not one, but two people?  If she stayed, would it bring a new awkwardness to the organization’s culture?

Talk about a dilemma!

But, I had to do what I would advise the aforementioned pastor to do:  grow a pair.  If I didn’t, I’d risk the culture of the organization imploding and the business potentially being harmed.

So, I offered the husband a generous severance and he accepted.

Fortunately, the wife stayed on board and continued to perform well.  I was lucky in that way.  I give her a ton of credit for that.  But, I can’t help but feel that good personal relationships were tarnished a bit.

If I had to do it over again, I’d do things differently.

So, that’s why I advise you to use a great deal of caution when hiring friends, acquaintances and references (including existing employees’ friends, siblings, parents, children and spouses).  It’s not a risk-free proposition.

Of course, I’m not saying that the ease of which someone can be fired should be a reason for them to be hired.  It isn’t the most positive thinking to hire someone while simultaneously thinking of firing them.  You want your hiring decision to be the best decision you’ve ever made.  You want the employment relationship to be great and to last forever.  If you’re thinking of someone’s termination as you extend an employment offer to him/her, it kind of feels like a bad sign, you know?

But I am saying to watch out for situations where your leadership can be undermined by employees having a certain “power” over you due to a “complicated” relationship.  In some cases, it may be less restrictive of your leadership capabilities to hire a complete – but properly vetted – stranger.

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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