Why You Can't Force Friendliness

An article in the The Wall Street Journal last week shed light on a new management trend at some big businesses: the use of “influencers,” or those “who are particularly well-connected and trusted by their peers” across their organisations.

Companies like Procter & Gamble and Salesforce, the Journal reports, have begun finding ways to leverage their most friendly employees to connect teams and help spread information, says inc.com.

On the surface, the idea appears sound. It recognizes the value of interpersonal connections. It’s consistent with countless studies showing the importance of a happy and friendly workplace. And it seems useful as a way to recognise employees with future management potential. But there is one area where the idea seems less than ideal.

Judging Employees on Friendliness

It’s one thing to find ways to leverage your best intraoffice networkers. It’s another to judge employees based on how friendly they are.

This is an issue explored later in the Journal piece, focusing on the idea that not every job really should require friendliness.

“When it comes to promotions or layoffs, that’s when it starts to get hairy,” management professor Jerry Davis tells the Journal. An employee, he says, might ask, “Wait a minute, I thought I was doing my work really well, and because I didn’t spend my time networking, I’m going to be fired?”

Beyond that is the very notion that friendliness can be managed. Consciously or not, by demanding networking abilities and friendliness, those qualities become diminished–they become forced.

Previous research has shown that employee connections grow organically from the bottom up, and do not start with leadership. To that end, there are plenty of ways leadership can move to foster greater connections–from setting up a company social network to putting protocols in place to keep uncivil behavior to a minimum.

More importantly, you can (and should) consider every candidate’s fit in your culture while hiring. One tip for doing so: interview like you’re talking to an old friend.

All of these strategies might help you cultivate the sorts of employees who can bridge gaps at your company. But once managers start mandating friendliness, the result probably won’t be actual, genuine friendliness in the long run.