This is a posting that I started back in January of 2013 but didn’t quite get to finish because things at work were heating up and the time I had to put my thoughts down just got less and less. Unlike my technical postings which I generally spend time researching and then writing, this one was really meant to be written “from the heart”. In my years working the in the military and post military, as well as things learned through my MBA program (and then practiced in real life) I have observed some things that I think are exceptionally important in the boss / employee relationship dynamic. The past couple of months though challenged everything I thought was right, and as such I felt the need to share my experiences with you. Just fair warning…this posting will be a little longer than normal.Let me start by saying that I am a true believer in transparency…and I believe that transparency and honestly needs to go both ways in the relationship between the employee and the boss. Just as your boss should feel they can come to you and correct or guide you, I STRONGLY believe that the boss needs to have an open door policy and be willing to LISTEN to the employee about anything the employee wants to talk about. While this has been the norm in *most* places I have worked, sometimes the culture of the organization does not encourage that sort of openness. Just because you have been at a company for thirty years does not mean you know everything about a particular segment of the industry. In the same light, when you come into a company fro the outside, you may know everything there is to know about that segment of the industry, but you don’t know everything about the company you are going into.
At my last company I was surprised to find that there are literally no offices. Well, let me restate that. There was one…and it belonged to Michael Dell. But everyone else…open cubes…management included. Sure, the cubes were larger (significantly in some cases) but they were open by design. The result…I was able to walk up to anyone’s cube regardless of their title and have a chat. I was able to build relationships and in most cases, good friendships. Some might say “isn’t that counter-productive?” No…it is not. I never forgot who was the boss, and when needed, they would not hesitate to remind people who was the boss (that was amusing to see at times).
By now you are likely asking yourself where I am going with all of this. Here is the answer: if you are the boss you need to be willing to ask your people (no matter how long they have been with you) the hard questions and be willing to genuinely hear what they have to say. It should be the goal of EVERY boss that hires someone to do a specific job to make sure they have EVERYTHING they need to do their job, and to make them feel welcome in the organization. I will come back to this point in a posting that I have already started, but am saving for the right time.
Now…here is where I need to make sure I have your attention, because this is, in my opinion, MORE important than the boss listening to the new employee. If you are the employee, don’t allow yourself to get too close to your boss too soon. What does that mean? No Facebook friendship. No invites to come over and meet the wife and kids right away. Be careful when you go out for team drinks and dinners and keep it to a handshake and a “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” relationship. Keep it professional. My own experience shows that you can absolutely have a productive, professional relationship with your boss, and still be great friends…but it should be given time to develop because at the end of the day they are still the boss, and if BOTH parties are not able to handle that separation, it can make life really interesting if down the road. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a friendship ruin a great working relationship that ends up causing problems for EVERYONE in an organization.
Maybe it is my military background, but I have always had excellent personal relationships with the men and women that I have worked for…but those took time. In the military you put your lives in each others hands in many situations, and as such, you learn to separate work and personal relationships. Let’s be real…it’s hard to deploy into a combat zone or be locked away underwater or on a ship for months at a time without getting to know those you work with. You find those commonalities, and you learn to respect the work relationship will still being able to enjoy the off-duty friendship. When things get tough…when you or a loved one are dealing with a health or personal issue and you need someone to talk to, that friendship and relationship is worth more than their weight in gold. The same thing holds true when you are in a corporate relationship. You usually spend more time with those that you work with than you do your family. It is intellectually unrealistic to expect that there will not be relationships / friendships that develop in that environment. Again, it takes time and trust by both parties, and it takes the maturity to know that sometimes your friend still needs to be the boss.