In many cases, accusations of favoritism will never surface as an official complaint, but being spread around as rumors instead. And a rumors goes, along the way stories are being added and adjusted by the people carrying the rumors. Before we know it, it becomes such a stigma. It could get even worse when the leader, trying to salvage his reputation, is seen as taking revenge on the accuser. So, leaders should really make an effort to avoid falling into the situation of being accused of playing favoritism, because the remedy is not very simple.
Let's try to understand what are the triggers for favoritism accusations.
SENIORITY vs. PERFORMANCE
One of the most common triggers for favoritism accusation is when a junior colleague overtakes a senior one in promotion. This is really a misconception, but it is nobody's fault. We can find this misconception rooting back to way back then, when seniority carries such a prestigious status.
Indeed, back then promotions were given out in recognition of duration of service (i.e seniority). But since the explosion of the K-Economy (Knowledge Economy) in the 1970s, this corporate mindset has gradually changed. Organizations are continuously looking for new ideas and solutions to stay competitive. Methods, processes and procedures are being checked constantly.
Seniors may have been a STAR once before and thanks to the them the company is where it is now. But opportunity does not come always. And perhaps during their stardom, there were not much opportunities for their career progression. So, they remain where they are and continue doing what they have been doing. After a period of time, it is almost always that some seniors will get stuck with their 'old' ways and success stories and become resistance to change. But for the company however, to ensure that the it stays competitive, change is a constant. In fact, with the technology advancement, changes are happening even more rapidly.
In today's world, although seniority is still being put on the weighing scale when considering promotions, another attribute has now taken its place as the top priority and being given more weight on the promotional scale - That is CURRENT PERFORMANCE. If there is a few EQUALLY good candidates, then seniority would make a very good tie-breaker criteria.
Another common trigger for accusations of favoritism may not be an intentional, but rather the inaction on obvious misconduct being seen as favoritism.
Reality check - There are only a few lucky ones in this world who are doing exactly what they love to do. So to them, money may not be at the top of their priority. But for the rest of us, given the choice, we would rather be at home or do something else, don't we? It is not a secret that the majority of the public works for the money, to earn a living and there is nothing wrong with that. Ask ourselves, what would happen to those top performers if they are not being paid salary properly. Would they still be top performers? I don't think so! So, sincerity is such an abstract topic in the workplace.
How does this relates to favoritism?
Well, leaders may misinterpret hard work for sincerity. Just remember that every now and then, everyone need to release some steam, take a break - take a chill pill as they say it. But there will be some who would take advantage of the leniency given and go overboard with it. If no action is taken, others will start to question - why do they need to work so hard? And the favoritism will spark when 'suddenly' action is taken on those who takes advantage LESS frequently on whatever leniency given.
Another common triggers of favoritism accusation is when promotions or opportunities are given without reasonable justifications. Leaders really need to stay objective all the time because, like it or not, other people's rice bowl is in our hands. We should not be lazy to keep trackers on performance and discipline. It may be tedious, but it will help in a lot of ways, mainly to stay objective with our decision making. Should an opportunity comes up and the leader needs to decide who among the employees should be given the opportunity, they can quickly refer to the tracker and make a sound and non-bias decision.
Sadly, some leaders can still proudly declare that they use 'gut feelings' in managing the teams and promotions. While gut feelings (which should correctly be referred to as 'intuition', which requires experience to develop) is a recognized leadership attribute, but leaders are humans too. We can be affected by emotions and mood swings. And we also forgets sometimes, just like anyone else. This is when a tracker will come in handy.
- First and foremost, avoid falling into the favoritism trap because the remedy is not very simple.
- Do not despair or be de-motivated should such accusation being level on us. The worse that we can do to address the accusation is being presumed as taking revenge against those who spread the accusation.
- Clear our conscience and reflect on the accusation if it has any truth in it at all.
- My stand on favoritism - I am totally against 'personal favoritism', but I have absolutely no problem with 'performance favoritism' because I feel that top performers deserved to be recognized and celebrated.
- If recognizing performance is the basis of the rumors - then Smile!! We are doing the right thing. It should send a signal that if anyone wants to be in our 'good book', they need to perform - which is a good thing.
- Rather than a signal that if anyone wants to be in our 'good book', they need to be nice to us - which is a wrong signal to give.
- Most importantly, if the rumors has any truth in it all, then be prepared to change.