Survey Finds Favoritism Trumps Objectivity in Promotions

Aug 29, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

You always suspected you didn’t get that promotion because the boss played favorites. Now there’s evidence you’re right.

The majority of bosses in a new study admit they knew who they wanted to promote before the formal process got underway.

Published by Georgetown University, the study by Jonathan Gardner, COO and senior managing director of Penn, Schoen, & Berland Associates, found 56 percent of large company (with more than 1,000 employees) executives with more than one candidate for a promotion already had a favorite. After going through the evaluation process, 96 percent of those managers with a favorite gave them the job. Twenty-nine percent of the managers had only one candidate.

No wonder, then, that 78 percent of managers said their promotion decision was easy. And no wonder, too, that 92 percent say favoritism exists in most large organizations.

Remarkably, though three-quarters of the survey participants say they have personally witnessed favoritism where they work, only 23 percent own up to playing favorites themselves.

What is this favoritism? Gardner, the study’s author, defines it as: “Preferential treatment of an employee for assignments, credit, opinion, influence, or advancement on the basis of factors that do not directly relate to a person’s ability to perform his or her job function, such as background, ideology, or gut instincts.”

Despite knowing about favoritism in their organization or having practiced it themselves, 83 percent of the senior executives in the survey said it leads to poorer promotion decisions.

If you find this all has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it, consider that by a large measure the executives said job performance, leadership potential, job skills, and similar work-related measures were among the most important factors influencing their promotion decision.

The study goes on to detail what the executives considered important traits in a leader. Being a good communicator and ethical came out on top.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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