I will try my best not to sound too cynical when discussing this topic, but to me the word favoritism is something that makes me cringe just a little bit every time I hear it. My natural reaction is that it is an ignorant conclusion that negates any personal responsibility for something not turning out as they would have liked. It is used by people to save face, and shift blame, rather than acknowledge that there is an opportunity for self-improvement.
There is no question that office politics can be a significant challenge for many people, and it is important to recognize that there are managers out there who do put personal preference ahead of professional consideration of a decision. When faced with this challenge what is the best way to deal with it? The first step is to ask yourself if you have all of the facts. In every single case I have observed the answer is a firm NO. There are two sides to every coin and frequently jumping to a conclusion without consideration of the bigger picture is a characteristic of the mediocre.
Favoritism can show its ugly head in many aspects of working life. Where I hear it most is on the subject of promotions. An unsuccessful candidate may default to favoritism being the reason why they have been overlooked. “Agent xyz was only promoted because they are friends with the manager” often being the go to line. I have lost count of the number of potential new hires that have spouted this line when discussing why they have left their previous employer. This highlights two things.
The first is that this person has a victim mentality and is most likely a poor candidate. Although it is always worth a follow up question to see if they can explain how they reached this conclusion – I am yet to hear an answer based on anything but wild assumptions.
The second is that whether favoritism is real or not, the perception of favoritism can be disruptive to your business and is a risk that must be anticipated and managed.
The ambitious agent
You will be surrounded by people in your workplace social circles feeding you the favoritism line. It is easy to get on the bandwagon, and be part of the crowd. Don’t! If you do you will forever condemn yourself to being mediocre. Below are
- Do you put the effort in to build good relationships with co-workers? It is very difficult to promote someone who does not pass the basic likeability test. Often the source of the “Agent xyz was only promoted because they are friends with the manager” claim stems from the fact that this person may be excellent at building relationships with co-workers. An essential skill for anyone seeking to progress their career. The mediocre many not understand this.
- If you are unsuccessful for a promotion seek detailed feedback as to why you were not successful, and what are your priority areas to work on.
- Find people who are already good at what you are not. Ask them questions, seek guidance, and drive your own learning here.
- Make it known to your superiors that you are actively filling in the skill gaps in anticipation of the next opportunity. However, be careful not to look like you are just trying to impress them. Any decent manager will see right through you. A better approach is to seek their opinion on your progress so far. Show them what you have done, and what your plan is for the future. Ask them if this still aligns with the current requirements for that position that you are chasing, and what you could do better.
When the next opportunity comes up you will be able to confidently demonstrate everything that you have accomplished since you were turned down. This will show resilience, persistence, independence and a desire to get the job done. All are behaviors desired in anyone looking for promotion. If you are unsuccessful again, rinse and repeat. Don’t give up!… Of course at some point there may be a harsh truth to face. You may just not be capable of performing at the required level, or the job may not match your talents and you may find a better fit elsewhere.
If your workplace is being plagued by claims of favoritism then step one is no different to what you would expect from someone at the source of the claims. Conduct an honest self-assessment as to why people may be feeling this way. Are you reaching the best decision possible, and if so, why do your staff not see this?
It is important to seek opinions of trusted staff on the ground who will be able to share their perspective, and the opinions of others in their social circles who may be too shy to share these with you. Remember, that perception is key here.
Look at your assessment process:
- Do candidates understand exactly what it is you are looking for?
- Is there structured skills development in place to help candidates prepare for a desired opportunity?
- Do you conduct skill assessments that give candidates the opportunity to showcase what they have to offer that is relevant to the position?
- Are there independent people from other departments involved in the interview stage, such as HR?
- How detailed is the feedback they receive, and the support post application for those who are unsuccessful?
Promoting anyone based on personal preference rather than competence is a dangerous practice. Not only will it unsettle your staff, it is likely to create more work for yourself when that person inevitably performs poorly. If you are a manager that is committed to building a high performing business then it is unlikely that your decisions are the source of your problems. It is the transparency of the process that leaves gaps for people to make their own conclusions. By improving the structure, feedback and support candidates receive throughout the process you will minimize any fallout from unsuccessful candidates. They can be your best advocates to influences the masses that may be stuck in the mediocrity trap.
One last point I will make, and this is the main source of my frustrations when it comes to baseless claims of favoritism. If you are one of the mediocre and you have read this far then this is directed squarely at you. Criticizing management’s decision is one thing, but criticizing the successful candidate is incredibly unfair and a low act. They will have worked hard to get where they are. An unfortunate reality of the Filipino workplace is that that successful people can bring out the worst in creativity from the mediocre. Often they become the target for the office chismis. In Australia we call this Tall Poppy Syndrome, in the Philippines Crab Mentality. Having the guts to stand out from the crowd in spite of this is something that deserves respect and admiration. The only way to answer back to the critics is to stand up and do an excellent job, and prove the doubters wrong. If you have made a sound promotional decision then you will have faith that the person you appointed will do exactly that, and can proudly stand behind them.
The word favoritism represents a choice. For the agents, a choice to get sucked into a life time of mediocrity, or to take responsibility for yourself and stand out. For the manager it is a choice of acceptance and risk management, or ignorance. Whatever way you look at it is a very real, and intriguing part of the Filipino workplace… as frustrating as it may be. It is a challenge that must be taken head on.