How to Manage Former Peers
Three necessary shifts to balance personal and professional relationships
Many managers find themselves, as a result of a promotion or reorganization, needing to directly manage individuals that they have already developed a personal friendship with. You don’t want your friends to feel that they might get special treatment because of your existing relationship. Here are tips from three managers across Africa:
Clearly document deliverables and deadlines: Chilekwa Banda from Zambia once found herself managing staff who were friends and she faced the almost inevitable case one of her friends missed a work deadline. When her friend claimed that she didn’t understand the deliverable, she decided at first not to give strong feedback to her friend. But later when this missed deadline raised alarms at a more senior leadership level, Chilekwa herself was made accountable, which caused her to hold a grudge against her friend for some time. As a result, Chilekwa has made an effort to more clearly document details in order to hold all of her team members accountable.
Don’t short-change them on important feedback: Often managers will overcompensate in their intention to seem impartial and end up not giving enough important feedback and guidance to the friends they manage, which ultimately is a disservice to them. Keep the communication lines open as you would with any direct report. As a leader, your team will expect you to play an active role in their professional development, hence open communication with you and your team is paramount. As you give feedback, make sure it is clear, honest, and constructive. When Chris Rumenda from Kenya first took on a team leadership role while at Jumia Kenya, he found himself directly supervising several team members that he already considered close friends. In order to prevent bias and cause perceptions of favoritism, he listened closely for related feedback that came up in performance reviews and began taking more time to clearly document important feedback early on with his team members. By providing all of his team members with frequent feedback, both positive and constructive, there was less room for the risk of misinterpretation and doubts.
Make it clear how decision-making power has changed: Often when you are promoted, you now hold greater decision-making responsibility. While previously you may have had an equal voice with peers, you may now have the ultimate say on specific types of decisions and this should be made clear to avoid confusion or endless debates. When founding his first startup, Matthew Henshall from South Africa had several other co-founders whom he considered more technically advanced. It was for this reason that he volunteered himself to figure out the business side of things. His co-founders embraced this and he shares a story of a particular case early on where there was a disagreement around a decision that needed to be made. One of his co-founders told him that he needed to be the one to make the final call, and that they would rally behind the decision together. He found this very humbling as it made him realize that he needed to make a smart decision that will be the right one for the team and to set up the business for success.
CoffeeChat is a Future of Work technology company on a mission to democratize access to coaching support for the estimated 15 million managers working across Africa. Founded in early 2019, CoffeeChat has worked with dozens of companies to facilitate access to both professional coaches and peer coaches. CoffeeChat was featured in the HolonIQ Africa EdTech 50 list in 2020 and was ranked as a top startup during the Village Capital Future of Work Africa program in 2021.