Favoritism on our team has reached unreal heights. I'm wondering whether there in fact exists a management strategy where one team member is set on a pedestal, similar to management strategies where the manager sets the team at odds with one another (in order to encourage internal competition.) Has anyone heard of such a thing?


update if anyone's curious, years later (after someone's maiden name had come back into use), it became clear that the "favored" employee in this case was the nepotistically-hired relative of an executive.


The "differentiation and affirmation" technique, where employees are categorized at A, B, or C and the 'A' people heavily favored sounds similar. This very big in the late 90s and was prominently practiced by GE and Enron.



From the New Yorker article:

"At the heart of the McKinsey vision is a process that the War for Talent advocates refer to as “differentiation and affirmation.” Employers, they argue, need to sit down once or twice a year and hold a “candid, probing, no-holds-barred debate about each individual,” sorting employees into A, B, and C groups. The A’s must be challenged and disproportionately rewarded. The B’s need to be encouraged and affirmed. The C’s need to shape up or be shipped out."

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  • Hi Matthew, welcome to The Workplace. Would you mind including the most relevant parts of the linked resources describing the technique you're mentioning? Links might change, making your answer obsolete, which would be a shame. – CMW Mar 21 '14 at 7:49
  • Matthew, this sounds like a good answer. Could you elaborate a little? – Walrus the Cat Mar 21 '14 at 20:10

Succession planning comes to mind where one may have someone be a "Number 2" so that if the manager or lead is away, this is who would step in to take their place. The theory here would be to ensure continuity of the work of the team should something happen to the lead or manager. Command and Control management styles may work within this framework. High Potential employees may be found and then elevated to see how they handle being given more responsibility or power. If someone appears to have management potential, there may be tests done with various projects to confirm how well this works or not.

Office Space would be a film that employed some ideas here as the guy that did little work was promoted while the real workers were fired. Funny film with some points that are rather interesting. While the film is a bit old since it references Y2K, there are some interesting ideas to the film about how people operate in the workplace.

Peter Principle would be another idea here to consider where some people that are good at their jobs will be promoted until this isn't the case.

There can exist situations where someone may have a close friend or relative that is favored on the team though this can be tricky in some cases. For example, if a husband is CEO and a wife is VP of Marketing then there may be times where Marketing will be favored because the guy wants to remain on good terms with his wife. Note this strategy is specific for him in his life, not necessarily great for the company.

Similarly, there can be cases where a couple of people have worked together and there may be favoritism to help the new person acclimatize as most of the rest of the team will either be terminated or asked to leave as new management wants to bring in their buddies. Again, this is more for personal gain than the company yet it may happen that some senior manager is hired and suddenly a lot of his friends end up with the other high positions within that department. The appeal for the company is that these people may have worked together for years and thus can work quite well together and may be useful if the company is in transition to a new stage where those used to companies of a certain size may have expertise that could be useful.

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  • I appreciate your answer. You seem to be getting at what I am asking. While I see many of the dynamics you mentioned present in the environment (though I didn't mention them), what I really want to find out is if it is conceivable that a manager might knowingly use excessive praise of some employee to some advantage. +1 for mentioning management strategies. By the way, an upvote on my question would be appreciated to offset people that have a problem with the question for who-knows-what reason. – Walrus the Cat Mar 20 '14 at 19:55
  • @WalrustheCat: I have up voted, your question can be edited further to make it broader for greater audience. – Thalaivar Mar 20 '14 at 19:59
  • Thanks. It's specific because it's exactly what I want answered (whether, in fact, such strategies exist and if so what they might be.) Suggestions will be considered, however. – Walrus the Cat Mar 20 '14 at 20:01
  • Ok, I'm accepting this answer, just so I don't forget to accept one, but will change if a better one comes along. – Walrus the Cat Mar 20 '14 at 23:32

There are certainly situations where someone is seen as a "hotshot" in some regard and a company goes out of its way to give him exposure/experience/training that will permit them to rapidly position him where they think they want him. Of course that sometimes backfires when he takes that experience and walks out the door to a competitor... or when her turns out not to have been the genius they thought he was. But it's debatable whether that's favoritism as the term is usually defined.

There are also people who simply work particularly well together, and a manager who sees that happening would be foolish not to take advantage of it. But again, it's unclear that's "favoritism".

Outside of those -- and even including that -- I would say that there are few, if any, GOOD management strategies which employ favoritism in the sense of favoring someone for reasons that are unrelated to the business. That may not keep people from confusing personal reasons with business reasons, or from lying to themselves about their reasons, or from simply doing something stupid.

On the other hand, if you're on the losing end of the decision, it's entirely too easy to see something as favoritism when it may actually be justified. Going back to my first paragraph, I've seen someone fast-tracked in a way that I think did some harm to the groups s/he was involved with, but I honestly don't know all the motivations, or whether the net result to the company as a whole was positive or negative; some of the repercussions are still settling out many years later. I have an unsupported opinion, but that's all it is... and s/he did do some sterling work along the way.

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To answer your question, there is NO such strategy which purposefully employs favoritism. There are people who purposefully employ favoritism.

  • someone (less experienced than you) may be given the job because they have a friend who works inside already
  • There was an instance that a director of the company hired a Technical Lead, who does not even know how to code and does not even know how to lead. Crazy right? Yes, here the director employed favoritism to his distance relative son.
  • Your PM dole out the benefits based on who they like, rather than who is doing the best job for the company

Favoritism might violate company policies or employment contracts. In any of these situations, an employee might be able to sue for favoritism.

To sum up, Its some people in Management who employ favoritism.

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  • Ok, thanks for an answer to the question I was asking. I'm going to wait to see if someone does mention any management strategies that fit the bill. It's not easy to prove that a thing doesn't exist! – Walrus the Cat Mar 20 '14 at 20:00
  • @WalrustheCat: Its against the law, i doubt unless the law itself permit to show favoritism. For instance if the law says 80 percent of employee in the company should be local, then there are chances where some X candidate can get ignored because he may not be local yet potential candidate to fill in. – Thalaivar Mar 20 '14 at 20:04
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    @Vinothbabu - what's against the law? Favoritism? Not where I live. – thursdaysgeek Mar 20 '14 at 20:09
  • It is actually against the law, how about you and me working in the same project and our PM shows favoritism based on race or religion. Its against the law. Now what the OP is asking is is there any specific strategy or principle laid out for favoritism. – Thalaivar Mar 20 '14 at 20:11
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    There was nothing to imply religious or sexual discrimination in the post. Outside of such legally defined protections, some of the symptoms of favouritism may be illegal but the concept itself isn't. – Dan Mar 20 '14 at 20:47

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