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Top Five Reasons Not To Hire a Friend

August 22, 2014
by Tim Tolan
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Tim Tolan

The notion of hiring a friend, while an easy decision for some, can become a very slippery slope for others. I hear stories all the time about hiring managers who pull the trigger and decide to hire a friend.  To many it may seem like a safe bet, but you should consider these consequences before you make that call.

Preferential Treatment. Whether it’s real or perceived, you will always have others in your organization believe there are a separate set of rules and guidelines for the rank-and-file and a different set for your friend. Perhaps it’s assigning an important project to your friend that others on your team are more qualified to do. This will create dissention among the troops, and potentially put you in a bad situation with human resources and your boss if a formal complaint is made against you. Not ideal.

Confidential Information. As a leader and executive, you are inside the executive circle and often have access to highly sensitive and confidential information. If this information has any bearing on major changes to the organization that are about to be announced, you may be viewed as a possible source who can potentially leak this information to your friend. If there is a leak, be prepared to have others question your ability to keep the information confidential, since you hired your buddy and you and everyone else knows you have a relationship outside of work.  This could be very bad.

Organizational Performance. One of your missions as the HCIT leader of your organization is the way you mentor and grow the talent on your team. If your friend is a weak link in the chain and you elect to give them a pass when he or she fumbles the ball, don’t be surprised when human resources calls you out if another member of the team anonymously blows the whistle. This could impact you for giving an undeserved promotion or special treatment to your friend. There is always the risk that one day you make have to put your friend on a performance plan or worse, terminate their employment. There goes your friendship. This can get ugly fast.

Wearing Two Hats. You really have to be careful about your communications style and what you say to your friend and to others in this type of work environment. You and your friend will need to have a line of demarcation and clearly defined boundaries of when to communicate as friends versus your boss/subordinate communications. That includes avoiding sharing stories about how you and your friend enjoyed attending the football game, dinner or the concert where you enjoyed a nice bottle of Pinot Noir with your significant others. It could be your friend actually sharing the story. Either way this is not the way to manage and you will need to have ground rules on communications with your friend.  

Risking your Reputation. The other risk of hiring a friend is that they turn out to be a non-performer or do something so bad that it reflects directly on you and your reputation. That puts you in the uncomfortable position of having to defend your hiring decision.  Hiring a member of your team who does something that puts the organization in a negative light is one thing. When others find out it was your friend—who you hired—all of the sudden it’s your fault, plain and simple. It demonstrates bad judgment on your decision-making skills.

Building a world-class HCIT organization takes time and leadership talent to achieve. Don’t risk your reputation by hiring a friend. Having a positive outcome would of course be great—everybody would win. However, if it doesn’t work out everybody loses—the organization, you and your former friend. ◆

Tim Tolan is senior partner of Sanford Rose Associates-Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at