Although not encouraged, favouritism is not new in the workplace, and I might have been perceived as guilty of it based on certain decisions I took during a particular hiring process seven years ago. I was unit head in a multinational company (MNC). I headed a unit of about 100, comprising engineers and line managers. A line manager position opened up within my unit, and the position was advertised both internally and externally. One of the engineers in my unit, who had been on the same job stage and role for more than five years, notified me of his interest in taking up the line manager position. At face value, he met the minimum requirements for the role, so I encouraged him to apply for the position. To be honest, we were buddies. We had hung out a couple of times and had a good rapport.
Somehow, some urgent work deliverables got in the way, and he didn’t get around to applying until the application period elapsed. He informed me of his dilemma, and I made some swift power moves. I contacted the HR admin handling the hiring process, requested an extension of the submission deadline, which was granted without ado. My buddy was surprised at the speed and relative ease with which I got the application portal re-opened to submit his application. Since he met the minimum requirements and the HR person also sensed that I was interested in his application, my buddy was shortlisted for the first round of interviews without ado. After he was notified of being shortlisted, he met me privately and said, “Now, I know the power of a grandfather.” (At the MNC, a person’s manager’s manager was referred to as grandfather, regardless of age.)
I chaired the interview panel, and it was smooth sailing for my buddy as he responded to the interview questions the panelists threw at him. From his body language, I could tell that he thought this was a done deal. It then came to my turn to ask questions. I set aside the interview questions HR had prepared for the role and began asking scenario-based questions (which I had asked all other interviewed candidates), questions that had no right or wrong answers – they only revealed candidates’ level of business maturity, and understanding of complex organizational dynamics.
My buddy caught up with me a few hours after the interview and declared that, based on my questions and his responses, he knew for certain that he was not yet ready for the role and wouldn’t be shortlisted for the subsequent round. He thanked me for the opportunity to be interviewed for the role and said the interview experience was an eye-opener for him. Yes, grandfather opened the door; grandfather also shut the door graciously after the candidate was weighed and “found wanting.”
There is no way I would hire someone who could not convince me of delivering KPI’s, who could not lead his team to achieve their targets. If I made such a recruitment error, I would have to invest significant time attending to escalations and issues that boil over in his team. Why would I make such a hiring decision rather than taking the pains to hire a more capable hand who would make life easy for me in the future? Business leaders look for good hands to delegate tasks to, so they can focus on higher priorities. A good hire takes the pressure off management; it doesn’t add to it. This is why I make a case that people watching from the sideline, who readily assume that business leaders hire unqualified former colleagues/buddies, might be making hasty generalizations. The business leader is more likely to hire someone who convinces them that he/she can deliver their KPIs – if the person who is most convincing at the interview turns out to be their buddy, former co-worker, so be it.
Many employees don’t outgrow their current role but desire to be given higher responsibilities, a higher budget to manage, and a higher salary. When they see other colleagues get promoted, they rationalize it away by claiming that nepotism or the favoritism card was played. What they fail to acknowledge is that business leaders are given KPIs, targets to meet. The average business leader will hire a person who they believe will help them meet their targets and make them look good towards upper management. If they have 10 mid-management roles to fill, they are likely to fill up to 70% of the roles with people who convince them that they have grown in business maturity to fill the role and deliver. Yes, there might be a 30% allocation reserved for political correctness, hiring decisions that they are constrained to make to avoid stepping on powerful toes. How about the 70% that are filled purely on merit? Why don’t employees who don’t have buddies in senior management work on themselves, so they become a natural fit for the positions filled purely on merit? Why do employees find it convenient to blame others for their career stagnation while taking no conscious step to grow their capabilities?
Adedayo Omotunde is a telecom executive based out of Dubai.