Should you promote people based on whether or not you like them?

I saw a quote on the BAE monitor down in the lobby today that said something to the effect of “Liking or disliking someone should not have an impact on assignments, performance reviews….etc.”

The idea makes sense on the surface. We want to build a meritocratic system, not one based on the personal relationships of people in different places in the company hierarchy.

If John the engineer is an outstanding engineer but is generally disliked by his team, he should still be given the most important engineering tasks. He is the best person to solve these problems, and when he does solve these problems, he should get a raise and a promotion. Right?

You’ll never be objective…ever.

The fact is you will like certain people, despise others, and feel neutral about some. Your feelings about someone will definitely impact how you interact with someone, often in subtle ways.

In most situations, it doesn’t matter. If I didn’t like some random person I met at a party, no big deal. I’ll never have to see them again.

Where it gets tricky is when you’re forced to interact with that person on a routine basis i.e. at work.

Tiziano Casciaro, a Harvard Business School professor, conducted a study that showed that people would rather work with someone who is incompetent and likable than someone who is competent and a jerk.

Link to the full article:

Most companies say they want the most competent to the rise to the top, but the fact is likable people rise to the top in far greater numbers.

The pros and cons of having a likability bias

It’s important to consider that, like anything, there are pros and cons to giving preferential treatment to people you like. These are described in the same article I mentioned earlier.


1. Working with people you like leads to a happier work environment

2. It can often  lead to more productive teamwork

3. It leads to stronger relationships.


1. You might be working with a likable, incompetent person. The likable person that was promoted may not know how to do his job correctly.

2. Lack of diverse thinking. People like people who are similar to them. This means creativity and innovation may suffer.

So….what do we do about it?

It’s ineffective to just say “be objective.” We can’t, and sometimes it makes sense to base decisions on likability.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Put unlikable people in roles where likability doesn’t matter. For example, the unlikable engineer may be best suited for a solo development project.

2. Teach people how to be likable. Developing great social skills is important for career development, we can treat it like any other professional development course (though I would hate to be the one teaching a class full of unlikable students).

Great blog post about the importance of social skills in your career:

If you have any thoughts or suggestions please leave a comment!


BAE Thoughts on Diversity, Creativity, and Target finding out a girl is pregnant before her father

Steve Brzezowki asked his group to watch a corporate video about diversity and to share our thoughts over e-mail. Normally, corporate videos are filled with meaningless buzzwords and end up saying nothing, but this one actually sparked a lively e-mail discussion. In fact, the discussion worked so well that it inspired the creation of this blog and a book club (first book is the Power of Habit)! I copied over the e-mail responses to this post. Please comment in the comments section!

Link to the Video:

Link to The Power of Habit Book:

From Kerry:

Something that comes to mind, as mentioned in the video, is that we should always acknowledge and consider new suggestions for making a process more efficient, especially from a new member of the team. Sometimes a new team member will be able to analyze and fix a problem better than a long timer because they aren’t familiar with how things are “usually” done. The usual process is not always the best process.

Another thought, is utilizing the EAC during social events to get to know other employees in the company that you don’t usually work with on a regular basis. During a social event you might have the opportunity to discuss how other groups handle their projects and processes. It’s a good opportunity to bounce ideas off of people from the outside.

From Steve:

Very thought-provoking and stimulating discussion!  In my prior company and in the early days of AIT, management was very sensitive about not assigning individual job titles based on seniority and education / experience level – everyone was a Member of the Technical staff. They also instilled a culture where everyone addressed everyone else by their first names (i.e., no use of Dr. Jones). Their reasoning was that they wanted everyone to feel on par with everyone else to encourage interaction, collaboration and information sharing. However, I’m not sure the use of titles hinders inclusion as much as “brash” superiors (as Linda notes).

There were also many opportunities to meet and interact with people from other groups in informal gatherings – e.g., during weekly “white noise hours” where one person would pick an interesting topic and lead a discussion of what they knew about the topic.  Even in today’s electronically connected world that makes it easy to regularly communicate with co-workers across the country, it is so much easier to develop a relationship with the person in the next office.  It seems like trust and respect happen more naturally in face-to-face meetings.  When we were working through AIT’s integration with BAE NSS in San Diego, we kept referring to them as “those people in San Diego” who do things so differently.  But when a few of us went out to San Diego to see how they really operated, it just seemed so much easier to accept their differences and we started referring to ourselves not as Burlington and San Diego but as BAE NSS. Theresa made this point also in her “us versus them” discussion.  I guess I am starting to understand why BAE asked us to drop the use of ALPHATECH after we were acquired and to use BAE Systems in all correspondence. It is easy to label people and then naturally treat them differently – “that finance person from Nashua” which makes it more challenging to be part of “one team”.

 From Linda:

I think that our organization as a whole is making good strides in fostering greater awareness and appreciation for the concepts of diversity and inclusion.  Prior to this corporate focus, I had thought of diversity only in the broadest sense.  I understand now that there are numerous dimensions to a diverse environment and that each of those has the potential to impact our feelings of inclusion at the workplace.  I was invited to attend a small local discussion group on these subjects a few months ago and thought it extremely interesting.  The discussion was fairly animated.  Employees spoke about times when they felt excluded because they didn’t possess the “right” educational credentials or work experience.  Some felt diminished and intimidated by “brash” superiors or team members, making the employees fearful or hesitant to voice their thoughts, opinions, and ideas.  Clearly those types of experiences conflict with the concepts of diversity and inclusion as well as BAE’s mission to develop and leverage them.  My takeaway from those discussions, the videos, etc., is that trust and respect are key components of a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.  When we trust that our colleagues will not admonish, ridicule, or pass judgment, but rather treat us with respect and professionalism, and accept and appreciation our uniqueness, then I think that we can begin to build a truly inclusive workplace that values one another’s diversity.

So, perhaps we might want to look at ways that we can build trust and respect at the workplace.  While team building exercises might be old and tired now, there might be a few worth recycling.  Perhaps also small, diverse working groups where particular discussion prompts encourage talk among employees, allowing them to not only hear and appreciate one another’s unique perspectives in a non-threatening environment but to also develop a rapport among fellow employees.  Or groups that need to solve a “problem” together and which requires the active participation of each employee.

From Theresa:

As I watched the first scene, one of the characters commented, “I just don’t want to get mixed up how they do it versus how we do it.”  This reminds me of frequent comments I hear in reference to an “us versus them” scenario between BAE-AIT in Burlington and BAE in Nashua.  I think there can often be a general bias to think that if an individual doesn’t work in Burlington, their ideas will not be applicable to us at AIT or the ideas will be inherently flawed in some way.

While it may be the case that not all practices from Nashua will apply at AIT, I did actually just hear feedback from someone who attended a training seminar given by BAE-corporate individuals where the attendees were very surprised at how relevant the information was and how much they got out of the session.  They noted that the material actually seemed to be tailored for our office. 

So I suppose what I took away from this was: to watch signals (“microinequities”) that we send out – particularly comments we make – so as to not bias individuals towards automatically discounting information from sources outside of Burlington and to purposefully keep an open mind when receiving information coming from outside AIT.  While all suggestions may not work for a particular situation, some ideas might be very applicable.

From Dale:

This video is not really about diversity, it’s about creativity.

Definition of creativity according to Steve Jobs: “Creativity is just  connecting things.” If creativity is just connecting the dots, then diversity gives you lots of different dots to connect.

The primary question we’re trying to answer is “How do we create a culture of creativity?”

Changing a culture is tough as a culture by definition consists of many acknowledged and ingrained practices and beliefs, both good and bad. When you have people saying “Well that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you have an established practice and probably a culture, for better or worse.

Here are a few problems that make it difficult for both individuals and companies to change ingrained habits

a)      The combination of ego and experience. In the video, the new guy who was trying to suggest a good idea was shot down immediately. It’s clear the more senior guy felt insulted. Conversely, had the new guy been able to implement his plan, in a few years he might becomes just like the more senior guy.

b)      Routines are very comfortable and new ideas are risky. No one in a large company or a bureaucracy has ever gotten in trouble for following established guidelines and procedures. New ideas with great potential are risky. If you’re responsible for a new idea that goes bad, you could lose your job. Humans have a very strong loss aversion instinct.

c)       The perception that new ideas are always risky and require everything to go right. I just mentioned that new ideas have a high failure rate. This is true, but there are definitely ways to implement ideas while eliminating unnecessary risk. I know BAE is doing this at the company level with “Empower,” but I think there are ways to implement that even at a smaller scale. For an excellent book on how to deliberately plan and test new ideas, check out The Lean Start-Up. The author borrows heavily from Toyota’s concept of Kaizen, or continuous improvement.

Potential Solution: Establishing the Keystone Habit

I read this excellent book called the Power of Habit. The author talks about the nature of habits and how to change them both on the individual and organizational level.

At the organizational level, he talks about the importance of keystone habits. A keystone habit says that “success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.” In the book he talks about Alcoa, a manufacturing company. Their profits were pummeling and in response, they installed a new CEO.

What was the new CEO’s priority?


It seemed silly from a financial perspective, but this focus on establishing good safety habits spilled over into other areas of the company and dramatically improved their business.

I’d like to suggest a few keystone habits, but if the group does decide they want to make creativity a priority, I suggest just choosing one.

a)      Making one introduction for someone once a week. The traditional concept of networking focused on collecting many impersonal relationships for yourself. The more effective way to network in my experience is to develop one relationship at a time. I also make an effort to make introductions for people that I think would be helpful. I wrote a blog post about networking that you can check out here.

  1. This doesn’t have to be introductions for two BAE people. Introducing a co-worker to someone outside of BAE and vice versa would also be helpful.
  2. The reason for the introduction doesn’t have to be work related. For example, Steve knows a lot about growing asparagus. Maybe Kerry knows someone in building 8 who is trying to grow asparagus. While the relationship may not go anywhere, it builds the links between the two buildings.

b)      Establishing a weekly book/chapter club. I mention chapter because a week might not be a lot of time to finish a book. If creativity is about connecting dots, then books will act as “new dots” to connect to each other. It’s also another way to start developing relationships with people you might not have otherwise.

c)       Creating more “kitchens.” I bet thousands of new ideas have been generated because of the kitchen. People are talking in there all the time because they’re constantly bumping into people who also want coffee/water/food. I know we have a new collaboration room, but I have a sneaking suspicion that won’t work because 1) people don’t have a habit of going in there, 2) it’s hard to justify playing guitar hero as “work” and 3) most events take place there after work and have to be scheduled. I suggest installing more coffee makers and water coolers throughout the building.

  1. Note, this is an environmental change and not necessarily a “keystone habit.”

If you’re looking for more examples of companies that changed their culture, check out the ROWE Case Studies page. ROWE stands for “Results Only Work Environment.” It was started by some HR people from Best Buy who were sick of “butt in seat” work cultures. They implemented ROWE at Best Buy with great success and they now have their own consulting company to help other companies transition to a ROWE culture. Even some parts of the Federal Government are trying to implement it.