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Why Managers Should Play Favorites

Aug 17, 2007
What? You should play favorites?

But that's... that's... unfair!

I'm being blasphemous I know.

After all, we've grown up to believe that favoring some people over others is wrong.

In many cases, I agree. Favoring someone because of their gender, race, nationality, religion, economic status or any other quality that has nothing to do with the job is wrong.

Favoring the boss's son or daughter, or an old friend from school, or anyone else because of who they are -- rather than what they can do -- is bad.

Not just morally bad, but also bad for business.

But what about favoring someone because they're good at their job?

Well, as I'm about to show, that's definitely good for business.

And it's certainly not unfair -- no more than giving Jane a bigger bonus than Ian because Jane's has performed much better than Ian.

So what does "favoring" people because they're good at their job actually mean?

It simply means giving people more enjoyable and rewarding assignments, projects or tasks. More of the work they enjoy; less of the work they don't enjoy.

For example, it might mean giving a top salesperson a more lucrative territory. It might mean giving a waitress the shifts she prefers. It might mean giving a consultant the most interesting projects.

But... if your best people get the best work... and your poorer performers are left with the tougher, less attractive work... won't that lead to your best people just cruising along, while your poorer performers struggle... causing overall results (however you define them) to decline?

Actually, that's quite unlikely.

I mean, are your best performers really "cruisers"? People who like to rest on their laurels? If this is how you categorize your top performers -- you need to rethink what it means to be a top performer!

On the other hand, do you perceive them to be talented, passionate individuals who thrive on a
challenge and produce outstanding results no matter the circumstances? If so, you'll probably find that they squeeze even more and better results out of the "more attractive" work you give them than either you or they thought possible.

Yes, your poorer performers may well struggle with the less attractive work... but the "cost" to you -- and your organisation -- of giving them this work is far less than the cost of giving them the good work, and giving the less appealing opportunities to your top performers.

In this scenario, not only will your poor workers be far less likely to make the most of the opportunities given to them... but your top workers will probably become less motivated (why should they work hard when their "reward" is to do less appealing work?), disgruntled and ultimately likely to leave.

It's a bit like investing. If you have a ten-dollar bill and a one-dollar bill and can only invest each bill in one of two investments -- one earning 10% per annum and another earning 20% -- where do you invest the ten-dollar bill? Where do you invest the one-dollar bill?

Hmmm... let's see... $10 in a 20% p.a. investment earns $12 and $1 in a 10% p.a. investment earns $1.10. So the total would be $12.10.

Meanwhile, $10 in a 10% p.a. investment earns $11 and $1 in a 20% investment earns $1.20. So the total is only $11.20.

Pretty obvious, isn't it?

Allocating work among your staff is similar to allocating those bills to two different investments. By giving the best work to your best employees, and yes, sad to say, your worst work to your poorer employees, your overall results will be better than if you allocated the work the other way around.

So, as long, as it's based on performance, go ahead -- play favorites.
About the Author
Anna Johnson is the author of the How To Manage People System, including her book, How To Manage People (Even If You're A Control Freak!). Get Anna's FREE 12-page report How To Be An Outstanding Manager - The 8 Vital Keys To Managing People Effectively
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