It's a slippery slope. Ultimately, every agency owner wants employees who will run through walls for him or her. We want employees whose company we enjoy, especially in small agencies. Show me the agency hiring only on talent and not chemistry, and I'll show you an agency with high turnover or strangers working together. Neither is good for the end-product or the client.
I have a rule at my agency that's put forth in the form of a question: Could you have a drink/coffee with someone we're considering hiring and a) look forward to it and b) enjoy the time spent with them? This has become the final hurdle for prospects after a series of inner-office interviews. Yes, it's disqualified people. Chemistry is king, especially peer-to-peer, but we're talking about the bossfriend here.
I've seen employees I work with go through some of the hardest times in their lives, and when times are tough on them personally, they don't need a boss, they need a friend. In terms of better times, if one of my employees enjoys the same band as me, why wouldn't I go to a concert with him or her and enjoy the hell out of it? We're lined up to go to a (No. 1 in their division, thankyouverymuch) Phillies game later this week, and I don't expect anyone to show up with their hands folded.
Before you think I hand out flowers and cotton candy at staff meetings when things are not right, I'm less than OK with it.
It's complicated. No matter how much of an All-Star an employee may be, things can always be done better ... Salary discussions ... Could I leave early to _____? You get the drift. You can be enjoying a baseball game one day and within 24 hours be in a heated discussion over working hours.
Who am I then? A bad friend? A smart agency owner? A walking paradox?
You can even see this play out visually. A few of us could be out on a Friday, talking about a movie and then the discussion turns to one of our advertising campaigns. Some people straighten up in their seats a little more, watching me for visual cues. Do I have mixed feelings about the campaign? Excited by it? Am I bossfriend then or just the boss?
Agency owners or anyone who is pro/con this way of running a business: Does being a bossfriend confuse your role and turn you into a pushover? I'd hope it lends itself to more openness and better work via shared bonds, and what agency doesn't stand to gain from more candor in the office? But really, even candor has its limits.
Ultimately, I'm the top cat, and I'd like to think a good one because I have trust and respect and admiration for the people that work for me. They are my friends in many ways. Does that make me less of a boss?