Ask the Expert

Is It Smart for Entrepreneurs to Hire Friends?

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A: What are your views towards hiring friends? If you do recruit friends how do you manage to protect the relationship while still incentivizing work tasks?
-- Zoe Ellen Davenport

Q: When my business partner Garrett Boone and I founded The Container Store back in 1978, I was already dating Sharon, the woman who would eventually become my wife. She was working as a landscape architect at the time, but quickly got swept up in the passion and energy of our little store and “officially” joined the company in 1980.

Sharon immediately began to gravitate toward merchandising. Thirty-seven years later and my wife Sharon is still serving as our chief merchant.

So, as you might expect, Sharon and I are big believers in married couples working together, as well as family members and friends. Some of my dearest friends have become employees and partners in the business. For instance, our president and COO, Melissa Reiff, was a good friend of mine for 15 years before we asked her to join the company. To me, it just seems like common sense to do business with those you love and trust the most.  After all, if your values at home and at work are the same, you have nothing to fear.

Related: 5 Things to Consider When Hiring Friends

However, not every friend is the right friend to hire – here are some things to consider before making an offer:

Only hire the good cousins.

There’s truly nothing more important to the success of a business than the people you hire. At The Container Store, our hiring philosophy is “1 Great Person is equal to 3 Good People” in terms of business productivity.

This philosophy applies in every hiring situation – including when hiring family and friends. If you hire a great person, you won’t need to worry about them “slacking off” and requiring extra incentives to work hard.  On the contrary, they’ll be so passionate, so energetic and wildly fanatical about your business and their role in its success that they’ll work even harder than you ever imagined.

Related: The 5 Must-Ask Interview Questions to Determine if Someone's a Fit

Communication IS leadership.

One of our "Foundation Principles" at my company is leadership. We believe that there can be no leadership without trust, and there can be no trust without open, transparent communication. When hiring a friend, it’s especially important to set clear expectations for productivity from the beginning, including outlining specific goals about what “success” looks like. This will help ensure a mutual respect and understanding from the get-go.

Then be sure to also set regular “touch base” meetings to discuss the employee’s performance and invite them to share any challenges, questions or worries with you. I’d recommend doing this weekly, in addition to a formal 60-day, six month and annual performance review.

Blend work and play.

When you hire a friend, it’s an incredible feeling to have someone you already like and respect also be your trusted business partner. Don’t feel like you have to draw a clear line between your personal and professional relationships in order to keep both healthy. If you love what you do, hiring a friend will just strengthen and deepen your relationship – not drive you apart.

Related: The Law of Attraction: Finding the Perfect Hire for Your Company