Imagine a business environment where the best performers garner the highest remuneration and associated rewards. Sounds like your average, everyday workplace, right? Think again. It is rare, if not unheard of, to find an employer who does not claim that appointments and promotions in its organization are based on merit, yet the evidence is usually to the contrary.
Have you ever wondered why that not-so-competent colleague of yours got the undeserved promotion and later on you realized that he was related to someone senior and highly influential? In reality, the practice of favoring and promoting relatives or paramours, more commonly known as nepotism, is commonly practiced.
Favoritism also rears its ugly head many-a-times and its manifestations are highly conspicuous. Quality of work gets frequently compromised as being the bosses’ blue eyed boy/girl is accorded huge significance as precedence clearly shows that being the good books of your superiors pays higher dividends than being known for your competence.
For long the workplaces have been infested by nepotism and favoritism but now we are witnessing the emergence of their newer and more sophisticated derivatives - Diversity & Fast-track programs for trainees; both very well intentioned programs but extremely difficult to practice without compromising on meritocracy.
Nowadays, we routinely hear of XYZ getting promoted because he/she is a management trainee from Ivy league institute. Another emerging issue is of promotion of gender diversity such that companies can attain the highly sought after title of being Best Employers. But isn’t the insistence on quotas for women the very antithesis of hiring on merit.
The fallacies of the so-called meritocracy based systems not just affect individuals but also erode shareholder value as companies are unable to attain their best. Unleashing the true potential of employees lies in treating them fairly and having a clearly defined strategy for growth of meritorious ones.
Dealing with the issues:
Step 1- Defining meritocracy - The idea that people advance in work and life based on ability is complicated. It is not simply a matter of good intentions. Merit can mean many things, it is not a fixed concept, it can vary according to circumstances and is subject to people’s judgment of what constitutes merit. Hence, it is paramount to have a clear definition of what constitutes merit in an organization.
Step 2 - Understanding and acknowledging bias - It’s counter-intuitive that if we don’t think we are biased, we probably are! But when one realizes that bias is natural and that we all have it, then it makes sense that being aware of bias is the best way to counteract it.
Step 3 – Sensitization - Sensitizing senior management and people managers is paramount for bringing meritocracy to the forefront. So is the institutionalization of strict measures to generate accountability.
In this information age employees need to able to clearly see the manifestation of meritocracy in the workplace to continue their loyalties with their employers. And employers need to provide protection against discrimination with a zero-tolerance policy.
Few global organizations have started to understand the importance of meritocracy in the real sense and are working towards removing the obstacles in its path. The ones who master this art early will clearly have the first mover advantage in being touted as the preferred employers.
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