Over coffee, a friend shared with me that since the arrival of their new chief executive from South Africa, his organisation has hired 15 senior managers from this same country. This made me wonder, isn't it risky to only hire people who are like "me" or "us"?
The idea of "cronyism" - showing partiality to long-standing friends by giving them jobs regardless of their qualifications - is not a new practice, unique to the GCC or limited to the private sector. Here it is a bit different than classic cronyism but the elements remain true - giving partiality to likeness rather than deciding purely on capability.
In this region it is obvious managers give partiality to people who they think are like them. And, I am not referring to nationalisation. The hiring and promoting of people based upon "I like you because you are like us" is much more widespread. I am sure nearly every one of us has a story to share.
OK, let's be honest, we do like being with people who are most like us. So, if this is such a common practice, why is it risky?
The obvious reason is that the modern day GCC is the dictionary definition of multiculturalism, having more nationalities in its workforce than the United Nations has member countries. In monoculture workforces, "cronyism" or "favouritism" is a risky practice but here the risks are much more. The core risk is in not having a holistic insight into the market. A diverse customer base begs for diversity in the workforce.
While it may be easier to work with people who are most like "us" as it is believed that they have quicker understanding of how the manager thinks, acceptance of his or her behaviour and get the "inside" jokes. But this separation alienates the rest of the workforce, which in the GCC is well more than the majority. How much fun is it being an outsider?
Employees want to work in an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can and do succeed. But, there are views in the region that if you do not belong to a particular group (the favoured one) your promotions opportunities are gravely limited. Since the workforce is very young, this favouritism (or perceived favouritism) plays against building loyalty in the workforce. Employees want to be treated fairly regardless of their background with promotions based upon merit and performance. Finally, it is very demotivating to watch someone hold a position for which she or he is inadequate. I hold to the view that employees want to be a part of a winning team and to work with high-calibre colleagues.
When they question the ability of their peers and make derogatory judgements related to cronyism it lowers the productivity of the whole team.
The practice of favouritism is understandable but going back to the opening reference, the norm of hiring people who are most like "us" is reality in practice.
Leaders who perceive this practice to be advantageous are in actuality creating friction on a daily basis.
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, an advisor and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder and managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Centre