People, Talent, Teams

Q&A: Do not play favourites

Peter Livingstone of St Leonards, New South Wales asks:

I own a business organised into 5 teams of ten people, each led by competent managers who report to me. Often, in their first week, new recruits reporting to my managers will corner me for an off-the-cuff audience, asking advice about their job. I generally like these moments. So I find myself in impromptu training sessions which they seem to like and these sessions even turn to career advancement tips. I sometimes take the more enthusiastic of them to lunch. Though I’m not sure, I sense some of my managers are a little territorial about these interactions but I’m motivated only to ensure the recruits are trained properly. What do you think?

Kenelm Tonkin, Chairman, Tonkin Corporation answers.

This management style will cause an exodus.

The employees who keep their heads down and don’t play this game will see you rewarding office politics. Having invested themselves in the hard-work, no-politics approach and hoped to be recognised for this, they soon lose respect for the business owner and vote with their feet.

Staff who cultivate a favoured relationship with the business owner believe they are making real progress at first. They are pleased with the entrepreneur’s attentiveness. Then, over time and as other recruits walk through the door, they begin to realise the owner does this with everyone willing to project themselves. Soon, resentment festers and negativity emerges. Familiarity breeds contempt. They walk eventually because their political efforts aren’t advancing their careers quickly enough.

The managers become discouraged very quickly. When a business owner starts second-guessing their training skills, it really is a case of poor management skills by the business owner or a vote of no confidence by the entrepreneur in the manager. Either reason encourages the manager to leave.

With immediate effect, it is best to actively shun these ad hoc interactions. Say “I haven’t the time right now. However, I’m confident your manager is well placed to help you.” Control any temptation to train the team members directly. You should train the trainer not train the trainee.

Finally, no-one respects an owner who plays favourites.

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