Your new head of social media has just been introduced. She seems pretty smart but it turns out she's the IT director's niece, and only graduated three months ago. Tongues are wagging and there've been a couple of pointed comments on Glassdoor. Should you be doing something about nepotism?
Know what it is. 'Nepotism is where the power to make a decision is combined with bias,' says Ksenia Zheltoukhova, research adviser at the CIPD. The beneficiary could be family, a friend or even someone from your old school, but the crucial point is that preference is based on relationship rather than talent.
What about networking? Word of mouth can play a part in finding good people, and your staff will quite likely know some of the best candidates around. 'There's no problem with introducing your contacts to an opportunity,' says Zheltoukhova, 'so long as the final decision is based on merit.' Otherwise it's cronyism.
Office romance counts. If two employees are having a fling that can lead to the perception of preferential treatment. Find a way for people to register these interests confidentially.
Why does it matter? 'Perceived favouritism can erode employee trust and destroy morale,' says Simon Hayward, CEO of leadership and engagement consultancy Cirrus. It can damage your company's reputation and hinder results if you don't choose the best person. 'It is also unfair on the individual if they are assigned a leadership role but are not ready for it,' says Hayward.
Put it in a policy. 'Your recruitment policy should state that all decisions about appointments and promotions follow a fair and objective process,' says Gloria Moss, professor of management and marketing at Bucks New University. 'That should include a clear job specification against which every candidate will be measured.' Anyone with a perceived bias towards a candidate should step aside from the process, adds Zheltoukhova.
Look beyond recruitment. 'Nepotism could be a question of who gets the best projects or the foreign trips,' says Moss. 'One way to prevent favouritism is to build fairness and transparency into all criteria, including those relating to recruitment, promotion and appraisal and day-to-day decisions affecting project work.'
Be open to all. Advertising opportunities as widely as possible will boost diversity and ensure you get the best person for the job.
Transparency matters. Disarming any perception of nepotism is just as important as dealing with the reality. 'Some companies devolve the recruitment process to the other members of the team, or ask the candidate to make a presentation to colleagues,' says Moss.
Establish your values. Company cultures can be oriented towards achievement or ascription: what you've accomplished or your status and connections. 'The important thing is to make it clear that talent is the currency of the organisation,' says Moss.
Family firms are an exception. Filial succession may be required, to keep a company in family ownership and preserve its closely held values. That's fine so long as the son or daughter is up to the task - but make sure everyone you employ knows that this is the score.
'All of our recruitment and awarding of contracts is carried out on the basis of objective criteria and not of personal relationships.'
'Tell HR I advertised the job extensively over breakfast this morning, and the successful candidate will be starting on Monday.'