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Thursday 04 Jun 20

The TakeawayPlaying Favourites

Pros and Cons of Playing Favourites

In the second Dominic Cummings inspired article of recent times, we thought that we could examine the more internal workings of the situation with regards to the government, concerning Boris Johnson’s refusal to reprimand his colleague.

In this example, we will assume that what the person has done is, factually wrong, but due to their relationship to a more senior leader in the organisation, they seem to be immune to any punishment or consequences for their actions.


As usual, the answer to a situation like this is not simple, assuming that nepotism is not involved; usually, these people are sheltered from consequence because they provide some actual or perceived benefits, more so or perhaps different to anyone else. 

So you have to weigh up the pros and cons around losing those benefits that person brings to the organisation against the consequences of displaying favouritism.

Super High-Performers

So the analogy is, you have a super high-performer in your team, they break a rule, nobody gets hurt, but the rule exists for a reason, and you would and have in the past reprimanded people for breaking it. 

You have two choices, to allow this infraction to keep the high performer happy and not to jeopardise their performance in the future or to reprimand that person in line with policies and procedures just like anyone else.

It might seem easy and safer to let the person off lightly and to protect this valuable asset and ensure that they remain motivated and committed to your organisation, but in doing so you:

  • Show the rest of the organisation that there are two classes of people that work there
  • Undermine your leadership position by showing that you are worried about enforcing the rules
  • Destroy the trust you have built with the rest of the team
  • Undermine the rule itself, which is not too important
  • Demotivate other people
  • Possibly bring your organisation into disrepute 

All of these factors potentially, and we would argue probably, jeopardise the motivation, commitment and performance of the rest of the team. 

A Working Example

If you have a sales team of 11 people, your high performer outperforms the average by 20%, you may keep that extra 20% by letting them off the hook, but in doing so, the average performance drops by 10% across the other ten people...hence you lose an entire person from the team in performance terms and are net worse off. This means that the only possible benefit of letting this person off the hook, is negated by the knock-on effects on the rest of the organisation.

High performers are always great to have around, but strong team performance will still produce better results.

Where do you see this playing out within your organisation?


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