It’s so unfair! I hear this all the time from clients who work really hard to get ahead and can’t seem to get the attention of their boss because he/she has favorites. It’s a problem for sure, but it’s not unusual.

photo credit: John Abbott

photo credit: John Abbott

Favoritism is part of human nature. We naturally want to work with those individuals that we like and with whom we feel comfortable. Senior executives are not immune to this behavior.

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business surveyed senior executives at large U.S. corporations and found that 92% have recognized favoritism at play in employee promotions. 84% have seen it at their companies and 23% said they have practiced favoritism themselves. What’s particularly troubling is that 56% said that when considering candidates for promotion, they knew before any deliberations who they wanted to promote and 96% said they promoted the pre-selected individual.  29% said that they only considered one candidate in their most recent promotion.

It certainly is not fair!

My client, Marie, was particularly frustrated that her boss had a clear favorite in her department and it wasn’t her. She works in a financial services firm and the entire team shares an open work space with their boss. Her boss sits next to a young woman and they laugh and share private jokes during the day. There is no question that this person is in favor despite the fact she is not the top performer on the team. This not only seems unfair, but unjustified to Marie. She works really hard, puts in long hours, and has high hopes of advancing her career.

What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

My best advice is to follow these suggestions:

Understand your value proposition and how your work contributes to positive business outcomes. It’s important for you to know how you add value to the organization and how you can potentially help your boss succeed. This helps you build influence and credibility not only with your boss but with the entire organization.

Figure out what’s important to your boss.  What are their goals? Do they currently have initiatives that need support? How are they incentivized? What are their business objectives? If you don’t already have this information, do your homework and ask. Offering to help based on the value you add is a powerful way to strengthen a relationship and supersedes a “favorite” relationship that’s not based on performance. You can vastly improve your relationship this way.

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