BrainTrust Query: Favoritism

Discussion
May 23, 2011
Doug Fleener

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of Dynamic Experiences Group.

We all have employees who make our life a little easier. They take on tasks without being asked and can always be counted on to get things done.

This same person often reminds us of ourselves. If we’re driven and dedicated, they’re often driven and dedicated. If we’re outgoing, they are too. The fact is that you simply like the person. It doesn’t mean you like the other staff less, but the truth is that you have a favorite employee.

I always knew that I shouldn’t have favorites, but I couldn’t always help it.

One day when I was talking to one of my managers the topic of favorites somehow came up. I said I felt badly that I had favorites, but I couldn’t help it. There were just employees who for one reason or another I liked more than others.

He told me something I’ve never forgotten. He reminded me that having favorites isn’t an issue, but showing favoritism is. Bingo! I couldn’t necessarily control how I felt about people, but I could manage how I acted in front of my team. Favoritism divides a team and creates unnecessary conflict. It gives some employees more opportunities than others. It’s just plain not a healthy thing for leaders to indulge in.

I took a hard look at my own actions as a manager to see if I was showing favoritism. I can’t remember the specific list, but here are few things I’m sure I was "guilty" of:

  • Hanging out in my office or on the floor with some employees more than others.
  • Not sharing tasks and projects evenly among the team. I’m not sure that would have broken a non-favorite’s heart, but at the same time it did give the favorites a leg up on being promoted or getting time off the floor.
  • Slipped my favorites a couple extra sales. Of course, I justified this because of everything they did for me, but at the same time I was depriving others of the opportunity.
  • Confiding in favorites. I was definitely guilty of this when I was a young manager until it caught up to me. I had way too many conversations early in my career that began, "Just between us…" Not a good thing. (I hate admitting that!)
  • Sharing what my favorites and I were doing outside of work at the store. I could write a whole Daily about whether or not a manager/owner should be friends with employees outside of work, but the reality is that most of them are.

Over time I learned to not show favoritism, but I always had to remain on guard against slipping back into that behavior. I wasn’t perfect, but just being aware of the issue made me a better leader of a stronger team.

Discussion Questions: In what ways, if at all, is favoritism by store managers harmful to retail selling? How widespread is favoritism on retail’s selling floors? Are there steps upper management could be taking to reduce favoritism at the individual store level?

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10 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Favoritism"


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Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

It’s human nature to bond with people whom you find helpful, supportive, etc. One need not try to resist that natural temptation. However, exhibiting favorable behavior towards others, while at the workplace, or even outside the workplace can be used against you via litigation if that favoritism proves to provide an unfair advantage for those whom you befriend.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Doug illuminates some excellent points and if we take favoritism out of retail, we probably don’t have favorite customers, products or vendors. Retail is human.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 11 months ago
Favoritism is a slippery slope. It occurs for two reasons: either because someone comes to be counted on as the “go to” person based on past performance, attitude, etc.; or because they are better at sucking up than they are at working. In the first case one could argue that managers want to send a message that hard work, initiative, creativity, etc., are rewarded. After all, that’s the way some people get selected for promotion. On the other hand, most managers fall victim to showing the second kind of favoritism which demoralizes the rest of the workforce and over-rewards essentially bad behavior. It also teaches workers how to get ahead–by putting their nose where the sun is rarely seen. The problem is that managers are human and faced with an efficient but unlikable employee on the one hand and a less than efficient but personable “yes” person on the other, they usually err on the side of pandering. That’s why more objective performance standards need to be in place. Of course those who pander get… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 11 months ago

The human animal responds favorably to positive impulses created by other human beings. Such people make us feel more secure, more accepted, proud and accomplished. That’s why we like some people better than others. But showing favoritism to such people in a store environment is always noticed by those not favored and that builds resentment, which in turn can create subtle disruptions and discords.

A manager must be a leader for he/she must lead the entire organization without any favoritism. In so doing, it allows the manager to evaluate associates and their production fairly and that lets the chips fall where they should.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Showing “favoritism” to an employee who does outstanding work is simply rewarding merit. Real favoritism is about showing extra consideration to those one “likes”…and those are usually people “just like me.” That’s where the problem lies. The challenge is to not blind oneself through rationalization. The challenge is to be able to recognize performance regardless of personal preference.

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Having a favorite isn’t a crime, and I usually end up paying them more, and giving them more responsibility. If the person performs up to expectations, it actually gets a few others to start improving their work habits as well. I’m one of six kids, and my mother says to all of us that we are her favorite kid. Keep your distance on a personal level, and make sure that the “chosen one” is earning their paycheck.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Anyone who can’t tell the difference between acknowledging merit and showing favoritism–or why the latter is harmful–won’t be a manager for long. Indeed, you wonder how they became one in the first place…favoritism, perhaps?

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

If the favoritism is due to performance, who cares? If I give my best associate a raise or call them out because they have gone beyond the call of duty and led by example, then so be it! That’s what happens in capitalism; survival of the fittest, the cream rises to the top, etc., etc.

And to me, the associate who takes their own initiative to solve problems (i.e.; doesn’t have to be told how to help, they just figure it out) is so rare and should be so valued, I would hope, expect(!), that they get some favoritism. On a silver platter.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Thanks everyone for your insights. I had back then and still have now plenty of favorites. As many of you have said, it’s natural. We’re in the people business. My goal though is to never have an employee, client, or even family member feel they’re less important than anyone else. Well, that is as long as your meeting the expectations. As Tony’s mother put it, “They’re all a favorite.”

Thanks again.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 11 months ago

Over the course of my career, I’ve been both the beneficiary of and victim of manager favoritism. And like Doug, I’ve learned that it’s okay to have favorites, but the key to being a good manager is learning to manage equally those you like and those you like a little less.

Just as in offices worldwide, favoritism in the retail space can have long-term negative impacts. While favoritism creates an uneven playing field, the real damage is in that it eats away at the team dynamics that so many brands espouse and need in order to succeed. Favoritism’s corrosive nature is manifested in a variety of staff issues, e.g., lack of morale, cheating, lies, hurt feelings, anger, anxiety, retention, etc. And those can, in turn, grow into other issues that ultimately impact how consumers are served.

Gravitating toward those we like–for whatever reason–is human nature. Overcoming such human failing doesn’t require superhuman skills, just persistent education, training and monitoring.

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