All it takes is just one person acting unprofessionally to tarnish your company's reputation, sometimes irreversibly. Yet a fine line can sometimes exist between employee unprofessionalism and employee friendship building.
We usually recognize unprofessionalism when we see it. A trusted doctor suddenly crossing the line in asking questions of a personal nature he has no business asking. An accountant taking liberty with the books. A tradesman coming into your home and acting with lack of discretion around your family. We instinctively shut down when we experience an unprofessional situation and vow to take our business elsewhere.
Sometimes, though, an employee may just be reaching out with the intent of trying to build a working friendship. His attempts may be misguided or awkward, but not malicious. And relationship is what it's all about in today's business climate.
A recent study was published in January, 2013 by Daniel W. Elfenbein and Todd R. Zenger of Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis called "What is a Relationship Worth? Repeated Exchange and the Development of Relational Capital".
The authors were interested, among other things, in determining how professionally procurements were made by staff at a particular business, and if buying decisions were influenced by friendships between members of the companies involved.
Their intention was to address the questions, “what is the value of a relationship built through repeated exchange?” and “when does repeated exchange lead to the creation of valuable relationships?” They discovered that repeated interaction between organizations frequently leads to the development of relational capital, which generates value for future exchange relationships. They proposed that "repeated exchange is more likely to generate relational capital when the costs of social interaction are low, allowing interpersonal connections to form..."
There is clearly a benefit to allow employees in the workplace to generate relationships with outside vendors and clients. The ability to move your business forward may hinge on something as simple as whether or not your employees feel they are making a valuable contribution to the overall welfare of the business, or merely just cogs in a wheel.
With social media rapidly taking over every part of modern life, relationships have become more casual. Years ago relationships worked through the many layers of trust-building; today those layers are often leapfrogged over because of the nature of our fast-paced environment.
There is still, however, no excuse for an employee to act in an unprofessional manner that can jeopardize your company. But there may be an opportunity to coach good employees to address borderline unprofessionalism while still using that employee's ability to create and form friendship with your clients. Is a lack of professionalism hurting your business? Before pulling the trigger and showing your employee the door see if you can coach the employee to refine his drive to build friendship into a first-class professionalism that will be an ongoing asset to your business. A little bit of guidance may be all it takes.