New Study Reveals Objective Decision-Making On Promotions A Sham

Businessman Banker

A study released earlier this month by Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business indicates that connections and relationships play a significant role in employee promotions, despite policies and procedures at most companies designed to lower the impact of non-objective assessment and despite general acknowledgment that such favoritism leads to bad decision making.

The study was conducted by research firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) and commissioned by Jonathan Gardner, an executive at PSB, as part of his studies in the Executive Master’s in Leadership program at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. 

92% of senior business executives surveyed said that they have seen favoritism at play in employee promotions, including 84% at their own companies. But while nearly all see favoritism as widespread, only 23% were willing to admit they have practiced favoritism themselves – and only 9 percent said they have used favoritism in their last promotion decision.

Favoritism thrives despite procedures that 72% of respondents said their companies follow to make the promotions process more objective, and general agreement by 83% that favoritism leads to poorer decisions.

Survey respondents tended to define favoritism as giving preferential treatment to employees based on factors other than qualifications and performance, such as friendship or connections.

'This study confirms what many have suspected – that favoritism plays a much greater role in employee advancement than companies normally portray', Gardner said. 'I hope this study will help us acknowledge the prevalence of favoritism in employee promotions so that we can find ways to better understand the role it plays'.

The research sheds light on how common it is for managers to know in advance who they want to promote. In fact, 29% of respondents said their most recent promotion considered only a single candidate. When more than one candidate was considered, 56 percent said they already knew who they wanted to promote before deliberations. Not surprisingly, of that group, nearly all - (96%) - reported promoting the pre-selected individual.

Leadership and Communication

When asked to state their reasons for recent promotions, most respondents cited primarily objective factors, with the top five being: 'has excelled in current position; leadership potential; job-related skills; strong interpersonal skills; and history of strong performance reviews'.

'Employees should keep in mind', said Gardner, 'that despite widespread favoritism, objective measures such as past performance, leadership potential, and job-related skills are viewed as key criteria by those in charge of promotion decisions, and it is important for young workers to focus their efforts on these factors that are well within their control'.

The study included questions on leadership that offer further guidance for employees seeking to make an impact on managers. The top five leadership qualities cited by respondents were: 'good communicator; ethical; trustworthy; honest; and good listener'.

'It’s worth emphasizing that two of the top five involve communications, which is a good reason for business schools to make courses on this topic a standard part of their curriculum', said Lamar Reinsch, Gardner’s advisor on the survey. Reinsch, professor of management and academic director of the McDonough School of Business Executive Master’s in Leadership program, added that 'this survey reminds us that favoritism remains alive and well in the executive suite - many playing fields still aren’t level'.

Our thanks to 24/7 Wall St for drawing our attention to this item.

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