Hiring the boss’s buddy can poison a workplace

Dear Joan:
I work for a 15 million dollar manufacturing company as a manager. The company has been very successful, with 50 percent growth over the last few years. The problem is that some time ago I was forced to hire a friend of the President's wife to work in my area. I wasn't thrilled with the arrangement from the beginning, since I wouldn't have hired him on my own, if given the option.

He started causing trouble from the beginning. He would do things such as take extra smoking breaks and come in with alcohol on his breath. I conferred with my senior manager and we both agreed to "write him up" several times. He recently had his performance review and he wasn't very happy with the result. He went to the President's wife and complained about how "unfair" this all was. He completely undermined the disciplinary process.

To our amazement, the President and his wife got involved and my manager and I have had to back off. In the past, the President has been a strong supporter of TQM (Total Quality Management) and a strong supporter of the leaders. Now he has undermined the managers to the point where we are at a loss about what to do. We can't fire this bad employee. How do we trust the President?

Now the employee constantly mouths off in the back of the work area, laughing about all of his "connections to the President." He brags about how he's going to get a "big raise" because of his connections and talks about how he can do anything he wants.

We don't have a Human Resources Department, so we don't really have anywhere to go with our concerns. Any advice?

I hope your President and his wife read this. In fact, I hope everyone who has ever pressured someone else to hire family and friends is reading this. It can get ugly and your letter shows how. Nobody wins...the "favor" done for a friend can end up causing so much ill will from everyone else, it can destroy years worth of good leadership. That's why so many companies either have policies prohibiting nepotism or are very careful to manage hiring family and friends very closely.

Your employee has been quick to manipulate those who have given him a break and done him a favor. Unfortunately, he's probably so good at massaging the truth, he's made you and your manager out to be incompetent and nit-picky to the owners. Because the President and his wife are close to this individual, they are reluctant to disbelieve him. Let's hope your reputation, prior to this situation, is a good one, since it's going to weigh heavily in how it turns out.

Now it's time for you to take advantage of the break your employee has given you. Yes, that's right, he has given you a golden opportunity to turn his own behavior against himself. I suggest that you use his loud, cocky boasting to demonstrate to the President what is really going on.

As a manager you are supposed to coach inappropriate behavior that is disruptive to the team. His bragging must be causing some terrible morale issues about fairness and favoritism. I suggest you write down exactly what you have heard him brag about and put it in a memo to the employee with a copy to the President. Call the employee in to a meeting and spell out what is inappropriate and why it must stop.

When the President gets his copy he will likely feel duped and manipulated by this employee. I'd be surprised if the President doesn't invite him in for a little chat. The President will not take this lightly if he has any leadership savvy. He will be tipped off that this fellow is using their personal friendship to get away with murder.

I encourage you to deliver the memo to the President in person, which will allow you to elaborate on what has really been going on behind the scenes. In fact, I'd encourage you to do this, since you don't want the President to think you're trying to make him look foolish. Chances are he doesn't like surprises and he will appreciate being forewarned.

Hopefully, the President will realize he has been misled and will admit he made a mistake in judgment. It's time for him to stand behind you and your senior manager and let you do what he pays you to do: lead. If he hopes to rebuild credibility and trust with you and the other managers, he should let the family friend know where the personal and professional lines are drawn. If he can't do this, he risks losing the respect and support of his leadership team.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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