Cronyism – Bad Word?

Cronyism as a bad word for many people.

Cronyism is the partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to
positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications.

Say you have been tasked to swop in and rescue a project that another group had messed up. This is a group of really intelligent, experienced and qualified people who may have made some mistakes. You’ve saved projects before, and you definitely have got the ideas to save this particular one. Heck, you even know exactly how you need to implement your ideas. You just need someone to do it.

The problem with this group of really intelligent, experienced and qualified people is that they are really intelligent, experienced and qualified. Since they are, they want to be the ones to make decisions. They don’t want to follow instructions. They also don’t think your ideas will work. Actually they don’t want your ideas to work so they don’t have to admit they messed up. They are more interested in messing things up further trying to prove to you and your bosses that they didn’t really mess up.

But you don’t have time to bring them round to your way of thinking. A single day’s delay on the project costs the company $50,000 in damages. So, you bring in your good friends in the company, people who are not as intelligent, experienced and qualified. Heck, some of your friends are just drones who can’t form an independent thought to save their lives. But you have chemistry with these people. They know what you want before you want it. You know they will do what you say without question, even if they don’t agree with you at that moment. They trust you to know what you are doing, and you trust them to get your back. You don’t need more ideas, you just need someone willing to do the work without making you jump through hoops to convince them. So you put them in the key positions, and get the work done. And that is enough to save the day.

The project is rescued and your team of good friends gets rewarded with bonuses and some promotions. “It’s just cronyism,” the really intelligent, experienced and qualified people say.

See, I was that “crony” for many, many years. And I’ve always asked, “How do you define qualifications?”

I’ve since learnt:

1)      Team work works, but not just any team.

2)      Good people-to-people chemistry can trump individual intelligence, experience and qualifications, or what some people term collectively as “merit”.

3)      Because of 2), you don’t form an A-team just by putting all the most intelligent or most hardworking people in the same team.

4)      Because of 2) and 3), A-teams can look like “cronies” nest to people who don’t understand the process.

I can understand people who practice cronyism, even politicians. Who wouldn’t want someone they trust at their backs?  And if you ask most people, they would admit to preferring to work with friends who might not be the best workers, but who are loyal to them, rather than really clever frenemies who would back-stab them given the first opportunity. But when someone else actually does it, it’s a morally bad thing?

Also, sometimes, those in really critical positions don’t get second chances if they messed up. Why take a chance on the unknown if you already have a team that you know will definitely work out, even if they aren’t the most qualified people in the vicinity?

Sure cronyism can lead to bad endings. But that isn’t because cronyism is bad. Blame the people, not the process. Ultimately, cronyism is just a neutral process. It depends on the people who practice it.

And if you are ever faced with cronyism in your workplace, maybe you need to first ask yourself if you are one of the “really intelligent, experienced and qualified” people, before you judge.


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