What to Do When You Get Promoted - and Your Friend Doesn't

by Saba Software | Posted | Leadership

What to Do When You Get Promoted - and Your Friend Doesn't

Emily and Gaby were studying environmental design for over 5 years together. They were the top students in their year. They did all their projects together, won awards for their work and when they finished school they were even interviewed by the same design firm.

The firm wanted to hire both of them but at the time could only afford one salary. Gaby had more work experience and was picked initially. But in less than a month, the firm signed a big new contract and Emily was hired too - the design duo was together again!

Almost a year later, one of the owner's took Emily aside and told her how impressed he was with her work. So impressed in fact he wanted to promote her and give her a raise.

Emily was ecstatic about the promotion, but she worried about its effect on Gaby and their relationship. How would Gaby react to her promotion? Would they both be able to make the transition from peers to manager/employee? How would this affect their long-standing friendship? And how would others in the group react?

The Rub

Promotions and dismissals come with work territory, but when these events occur between friends who work together, it can be awkward for both parties. While it's logical to think "it's just business", it's hard to leave emotion out when your friend suddenly has to answer to you - or in other cases - suffers a career setback while yours soars.

While your friend wants to be happy for your success, it's a bitter pill to swallow if both of you have similar ambitions.

With that bitter pill in mind, here are some tips for managing this change in your relationship in a professional and respectful manner.

Be The One To Tell Your Friend

A true friend is an honest friend. When a career-changing event like a promotion occurs - and you know very well that both of you wanted it - hearing from someone else that you got the job will hurt. Not only will your friend feel rejected professionally, but maybe personally too. While ideally, your manager will announce the promotion to the team, you should still take your friend aside beforehand and speak to her personally. Don't let your friend be blindsided by the news.

Leadership is about making tough decisions and devising effective solutions to even the most challenging problems. Make breaking the news to your friend, your first leadership challenge.

Be Professional

Once you've told your friend about the promotion, explain what is expected of you in your new role. One of the biggest challenges in managing friends is having clear boundaries between work and friendship. Dynamics in the work setting will change, as they should. In your new role, you have to treat everyone with equal respect and fairness and cannot show favoritism.

Both you and your friend have the responsibility to remain professional so other employees don't feel you manage them differently or that you are in cahoots discussing work matters they can't be in on. Concentrate on managing the majority effectively.

Understand the Implications of Your New Role

When transitioning from subordinate to superior, it's normal to worry about how it will affect your peers' attitudes towards you. We may think, "My peers won't like me anymore", or, "I'll become the manager people rag on", or even, "They won't respect me".

Being in a position of authority requires some detachment from what others think of you and a macro perspective on what's best for the health of the company. This is not to say that you shouldn't be open to constructive criticism when it is offered to you!

On the contrary ask for it frequently so you can grow in your new role. But know that there is no one way to lead a team and different situations will demand different leadership styles. Sometimes you'll have to be tough, sometimes you'll need to make decisions not everyone is going to like. Other times you'll need to step back and listen.

Be Fair & Objective in Your Performance Appraisals

While it may be tempting to give your friend an outstanding performance appraisal that could help her get promoted, stick with the facts and judge accordingly. As you already have a close friendship anyway, you should be able to discuss professional matters in an open, honest way.

If you want what's best for your friend, then set high expectations for her and what she can achieve. An effective manager knows the importance of setting expectations and providing coaching where needed.

For more insight on conducting effective performance appraisals, read this article on How to Ensure Consistency in Performance Appraisals.

Be a Friend

If you see that your friend is having a hard time adjusting to your new role as manager, address the problem early on. Though your work dynamic has changed, you are still friends and you should be able to talk to each other about anything that may be coming between that friendship.

It's important to remember that you both have a role within the organization and if friction between the two of you begins to impact performance or professionalism on either side, you may need to consider involving HR to find a solution. That said, on-going and open discussions between the two of you about her performance and performance expectations can mediate that need.

Making Friendship & Work, Work

There is no failsafe method for handling friendships in the workplace because so much depends on timing and circumstances. Becoming your friend's supervisor won't necessarily be easy, but that doesn't mean it can't work.

While it may take time for the two of you to adjust to this new work dynamic, the best thing you can do on your part is ensure that you are honest with your friend from the start, and that above all you act fairly towards both your friend and the team you're now leading.

Have you been in a situation where you've been promoted over a friend and/or became her manager? How did you deal with the situation?

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