5 Ways to Tell if You’re Playing Favorites

Posted on May 17, 2012.

Managers are only human, despite what you’re employees may say. So it’s not surprising that in a recent Georgetown University study , 92% of senior business executives said they’ve seen favoritism play out in promotions.  Oddly, only 23% of those same executives admit to practicing favoritism themselves. So how can you tell if you’re one of the clueless ones?

1.    Did you preselect someone for a promotion? Did you even look at the talent grid within your organization or did you already decide who should get the nod?  You may have rationalized your reasons, but not taking an objective look at all the qualified candidates exhibits a level of favoritism.

2.     Do you spend more one-on-one time with certain employees? I once knew a woman who regularly babysat for the senior executive on our group.  Not surprisingly, she was promoted above other more qualified candidates. While babysitting may not qualify as outside socializing, she clearly spent personal time with the executive that no one else did.  So think about who you’re always grabbing lunch with, golfing with, sitting next to at events, etc.  Every moment of one-on-one time gives someone a clear advantage.

3.    Do you confide with only certain individuals? Again, you’re only human so there’s bound to be people you trust more than others.  But before you share the company secrets, think about the advantage that information is giving to the recipient.  Will the confidential information give him or her a leg up? If it isn’t information you’re willing to share with everyone at the same time, then keep it to yourself.

4.     Do you always rank someone as high potential even in bad years? Most companies conduct some sort of ranking or talent planning.  Much as I find them extremely biased (see the problem with stacked rankings), they seem to be a reality.  Years ago, one of my fellow managers consistently ranked this one employee at the top, despite the fact that he was arrogant, stole credit for work others did, and was disliked by his peers and partners.  Open your eyes and mind when ranking your team.

5.    Do you find it easy to make promotion decisions?  Along with #1, if you find the selection process a breeze, you already have an idea of the type of person you want in the job. So instead seeing what value someone might bring to the position, you’ve crafted the position to fit your pre-selected bias. In other words, the job description and qualifications for the promotion exactly match your favorite candidate. Coincidence?

According the study, 83% of all respondents felt that favoritism led to poor promotion decisions.  So take a hard look at what you’re using as your decision criteria. Then step back and take another look.