Perception Matters

Somebody asked me recently where I get the inspiration for my blogs; how do I decide what to write about?

A large source of inspiration is from experiences shared by friends and colleagues.  I recently heard a doozy of a story that had me shaking my head.  I wish I could say I made the following story up.   The only thing changed is the names of the applicants.  Sadly, the rest is true.

Two co-workers, we’ll call them Jill and Bill, were encouraged to apply for a newly created management position within their organization.   Jill and Bill were interviewed on a Thursday by the general manager and the division manager.   At the end of the day, a co-worker was looking for Bill and asked Jill if he was still in and if not, would be in on Friday?  Jill answered “yes” to both questions. Bill was actually close by, overheard the conversation and advised Jill and their co-worker that he was not going to be in the next day because he was leaving for a weekend fishing trip … with the general manager.  The manager, who had just finished interviewing both Bill and Jill for the same job, extended an invitation to Bill to join him and a few others for their annual “guy’s get-away” fishing trip. 

What was he thinking? Both Bill and Jill were competing for one opportunity to take on more responsibility, to take their career in a different direction, and to make more money.  To invite one candidate away for the weekend, prior to a hiring decision being made, opens the door to accusations and allegations of unfair hiring practices.

When the general manager found out Jill knew about the fishing trip, he hastened to assure her that there would be no discussion about the job opportunity and that Bill was not being given an advantage over her.

When in a leadership position, it’s important to ensure that actions do not create the perception of favoritism.   Here’s my rule of thumb.  Act in such a way that you don’t have to make excuses or “hasten to assure” a team member. Act with integrity; be open, honest and transparent. And when you do make a mistake, apologize and make it right, with no excuses.  Leaders get more respect when they admit they made a stupid decision than when they try to fumble their way out of it.

In the end, neither Bill nor Jill got the job and that is probably a good thing. The bad news is that trust has been broken, not just between Jill and the general manager, but also between Jill and Bill. And that really is too bad, because when trust is broken, the team is broken and productivity and employee engagement suffer.

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