To develop more star performers, avoid playing favorites

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I've long compared the makeup of an in-store banker team to a basketball team.

Not only does the staff size of a bank’s in-store location usually mirror a five-person basketball team, the model requires individuals to have several skills and responsibilities.

A basketball team won’t win a game if only one person can shoot or only one person rebounds. Similarly, universal bankers must be proficient in multiple job duties in order for their leaner location to successfully operate as a full-service branch. Basketball players and bankers alike will not have identical proficiencies in each task, but they all must know how to do a variety of things to succeed as a team. In recent years, technology has transformed the staffing size and makeup of traditional branch teams so that many now mirror this small, universal banker model team as well.

Recent reports of strife in the NBA have me using the basketball analogy to point out something bank managers of all levels should avoid: favoritism. Indeed, players, coaches and referees in the NBA are showing increasingly antagonistic and disrespectful behaviors toward each other. Theories about less experienced referees and spoiled, entitled players have been floated. And sure, those are factors. But referees seem to inconsistently enforce the rules of the game: Some players get certain calls and considerations that others do not. In other words, all-stars and well-known players seem to frequently get to play by a different set of rules than their less famous peers.

You could argue that this favoritism is based on economics. As a business, the league wants their most famous and popular players on the court. Yet, I believe that point of view contributes to an increasingly toxic environment. As stars have gotten more famous and wealthier, the star treatment problem has only worsened. It is one thing to believe that people in positions of power (in this case, referees) are incompetent. It is another altogether to sense that they are biased. The latter situation leads to star players expecting preferred treatment and becoming disgruntled whenever they don’t receive it. Those with non-star status grow resentful at a seemingly unfair competition.

This phenomenon is not limited to sports. For years, I have urged managers at all levels to motivate and support their teams. Yet, possibly the most important of all other traits that I suggest is one that an employee shared with me many years ago when he said: “I like working for Jim more than any other manager because he’s fair.”

I was not expecting that answer, so I asked him to expound on it. He said, “He doesn’t play favorites. You don’t get ahead by being a kiss-up or trying to make someone else look bad. He’s just fair to all of us.”

Other employees acknowledged that they also greatly appreciated that management style; it made them feel not just appreciated, but respected as well. Ever since that moment, it has become one of my go-to coaching suggestions to managers.

There is no denying that we humans have a tendency to develop favorites over time. However, striving to be fair does not mean the goal is that all employees are guaranteed the same levels of success. That goal, in fact, would tend to demotivate people.

Rather, focusing on being fair means striving to ensure that all employees are given the same considerations, the same opportunities and the same levels of support.

When teams sense their managers and work environments are, first and foremost, fair, individuals take greater responsibility for their own efforts and actions — and more star performers ascend.

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