Should Everyone be Treated Equally or Fairly?

 

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If a store has a policy of ‘no returns,’ treating everyone equally will suggest that they will be unwavering on that rule.  But what if you regularly shop at this store and have shown continued support over the years?  You’d probably think that it’s not fair.  In Banking, customers with larger balances deserve to enjoy lower fees.  Few might argue that everyone should pay equal fees – the wealthy paying lower fees does not seem fair.  If a senior employee gets the corner office it is fair, but if his queries gets priority over those who were first in line, is it still fair?  Here, you might vote for ‘equal treatment.’  To be equal or fair is one of the decisions in business that leaves you perplexed as to which side of the fence you find yourself.

In a free economy, fairness, ceteris paribus, motivates the behavior of  consumers and employees.  In Sales, you might win a holiday if you produce the highest figures.  That is pretty fair: the employee has pulled his weight and deserves an accolade.  As long as all players were given equal opportunities to prosper.  It is not fair and certainly not equal for any individual to benefit from an unfair advantage.

When business policies, new rules and decisions are not well received by employees, it is almost always due to one of these 2 principles.  Well…that and the sensitivity to change but that’s another blog post!

So it seems simple enough – make sure everyone gets a fair deal, right?

Not quite so easy….because the concept of fairness is subjective and everyone’s idea of fair differs significantly.  Try having a conversation about it – I’d say it falls in the same category as religion and politics.  Paradoxically we are all bias in our perception of what is fair; bias is to be unfair in its definition.  Perhaps we can deduce that fairness is what people feel they deserve – and everyone feels differently about what they deserve.  If you feel something is unfair, you are actually saying ‘I deserved better’.  This is why people with an undeserving personality are more complacent whereas arrogant types would readily put up a fight.  They feel they deserve a lot more than others.  Nobody ever agrees with an egotistical person’s notion of fair.

As a leader and a decision maker, it is undeniably a curve ball when dealing with people who believe they deserve more than others.  And it takes careful consideration because if you are perceived to be unfair or unequal, you will lose credibility and it will be an agonizing recovery, if ever.  It is your responsibility to have a full understanding of a situation before a decision is made and a moral obligation to consider all stakeholders.

I recently observed a dispute that was so poorly mediated, not equality nor was fairness taken into consideration.  The decision simply swayed towards the one who made the most noise.  Now both parties have lost respect for their superior – even the one who was rewarded.  His behavior was simply reinforced that manipulation techniques gets the desired outcome and consequently continues to exert control while the other feels unheard and betrayed.

Instead of defending a decision after you have offended half the office (this has become too prevalent), why not take a preemptive approach and explain the measurements you are considering before a decision is made?  Communicate that all stakeholders were considered and actually consider everyone involved.  Make sure that the decision is progressive from all viewpoints.  Predict a difficult person’s opinion and actions and plan your move ahead.

Among other things, it takes a high level of emotional intelligence to make the right decision that satisfies the triple bottom line.  And until you consider yourself a leader who possesses these soft skills, the most basic and safest benchmark to use is equality and fairness.

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Stakeonomics: The Power of Stakeholders on your business

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Who has the most power over your business?  In a quick exercise, place the following people/groups in order of revenue influence: Board of directors, largest client, production team, media, sales team, competitors.

Not an easy task, I suspect.   These groups are referred to as stakeholders:  people and organisations who directly or indirectly affect a company’s performance and who are in turn affected by a company’s activities.  As the business world moves from a shareholder-centric towards a stakeholder-centric style, we see the definition broaden.  The natural environment has, in recent years, been classified as a stakeholder as more and more organisations adopt environmentally friendly choices and increase social responsibility.

Are all stakeholders equally important or do they act as links in the economic chain?  It is a natural inclination to spend most of your resources on your largest client.  Imagine for a moment losing that client to a competitor, leaving behind a considerable loss and a string of likely unsatisfied smaller clients (who rapidly become more significant than they used to be).  Conversely, can you really afford to draw your attention away from such a large client?  Consider the power that human resources have during a labour strike, the impact of the media after a bad report on your company, or the sway of a supplier who has reached a monopolising status in the market.

As these examples reveal, stakeholders can be volatile, their power is ever-changing, and managing them is more challenging in practice.  We can also deduce that the behaviour of stakeholders at a given time is paramount to your success.

I introduce to you the concept of Stakeonomics: ‘The factors and effects of stakeholders’ behaviour on the performance of a business’.  Adopt these proactive practices to forecast stakeholder behavior so you don’t get caught off-guard:

Identify your Stakeholders

Create a list.  Include their needs (past & present) as well as previous incidents that resulted in a behaviour change.  Make a concerted effort to research their needs.  Are you in a position to meet those needs? Take into account that needs do not remain constant.  Review what events or movements triggered certain reactions in the past to mitigate future risks.  At what times are they most influential?  Are your interests sincerely aligned with theirs?

In the age of perfect knowledge, external stakeholders know what they want and from whom they want it.  Corny advertisements, crafty salesmen and the likes will no longer cut it.  The bottom line is this:  if a need is met, everyone wins.

Be Ahead of your Game.

  • Embrace technology.
  • Foster virtual relationships. Social media is a powerful tool today, people are quick to take to social sites to voice their opinions.  It can work in your favour or against you.  Positive comments about your business are always welcome but do not ignore comments and posts that are negative.  Responding to complaints shows transparency and consideration.
  • Invest in research and development.
  • Keep a close eye on competitors. What are their recent developments? Do you have a defense plan to win the market share?   It should be noted that while a defense plan is good, innovation is the best brand publicity.

Be Consistent in your Efforts:

Stakeholder mapping is a popular analysis conducted during startups or a project launch.  However, this is not adequate.  You can disengage stakeholders through your daily operations and not just during a significant event.  It should be a regular activity.

Ethics at All Costs:

Consumers are more loyal to ethics than to price or convenience.  Recent research from Mintel has shown that 56% of American consumers will not support a business that they believe to be unethical.  Furthermore, 35% of them will not buy these products or services even if no substitute exists! (www.mintel.com).  Trust is one of the main motivations for employee retention, content clients, strong supplier relationships and credibility with industry related professional bodies.  Plus ethical companies are environmentally and socially responsible and this attracts all stakeholders.

From small businesses to large enterprises, Stakeonomics is relevant.  Determining future needs and behaviour of your stakeholders is critical to shaping a sustainable operation or advancing to the next level.

 

When & How to Say ‘No’ in The Workplace

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(Pic Courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com)

Over pleasing is as much an unfruitful attribute as idleness. Wherever you lie on the scale between these two extremes, you would have found yourself in the dreaded situation where you would need to cough up the word ‘no’.  In an office situation, the dilemma becomes a lot more complicated.

Are you committing a corporate crime by turning down a supervisor?  And what is the most non-offensive way to do it?  Why would someone rather work themselves to the bone than declining more work?  Some are afraid of disappointing colleagues or becoming unpopular.  Many say ‘yes’ to avoid potential conflict.  The key is not to perceive it as conflict.  It’s not necessary to send yourself on a guilt-trip either.  It is perfectly fine to turn someone down as long as it is gracious.  Take time, consider the request and how it would affect your current workload, and if you cannot commit to anything additional, inform the requestor that the proposed project would negatively impact the quality of your current work.

An accommodating way to say ‘no’ is to follow it with an alternative.  In the end, you have been asked because there is a problem that requires solving.  It does not revolve around your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  All that matters is a solution.  If you provide that, the ‘no’ will be long forgotten.

‘I am overloaded currently, however I can assist you with a system that will cut your resolution time by half’

‘I do not have time to assist but I can help you find someone who does.’

To a client:  ‘Unfortunately, I have prior commitments today however I can clear my diary tomorrow to suit you.’

So when is it wise to say yes? 

When you do have the time and the means to assist a colleague.  We do not exist in a vacuum – we need each other’s help and the favour will be returned when you need it someday….and that someday is always sooner than you expected.

When your manager asks you to complete an assignment that would inevitably be a huge notch in your belt.  Work additional hours to complete it if it will assist you to be recognised in your field or create growth opportunities.

When the job entails you learning something new or becoming proficient in another area/department.  Knowledge is always a good idea!

Never turn down a junior employee who asks you to be their mentor.  It is a huge compliment and the time you invest in developing an individual is invaluable.

Eradicate these reactions that people replace ‘no’ with:

The Over-justification: Don’t say no, then follow with a long account of why you cannot do it.  Unconsciously, you are inviting the person to find a loophole in your argument and if successful, you would have no option but to accept anyway.  Give a brief explanation that the time is not right or your present duties do not allow for it and spend more time finding a solution rather than relating excuses.

Beater-about-the-bush:  Say ‘no’ firmly and assertively.  ‘Naaah, I doubt it, I don’t think it’s possible, maybe, that is going to be difficult’ are phrases that give hope.  This type will eventually lead to the push-over status.

The Push-Over:  Recognise those who use flattery, over persistency, excessive smiley faces etc. to attempt to convert you. If you are currently saying ‘yes’ to everything, prepare to be over-worked, abused and irreplaceable.  Sadly, irreplaceable means never progressing in your career.  The ‘yes’ employee is easily spotted from a mile away and these people, as obliging as they are, will be mistreated.

The Cold Shoulder:  It will not go away if you ignore it.  A persistent person will just keep returning and others will be offended that you did not afford them the respect of giving them an answer.  Send an email if you are uncomfortable with the art of declining however do learn how to face a conflicting situation head on for future.  Depending on the request, it is advisable to decline in person.

The Offensive Colleague:  Always be polite about it.  ‘Unfortunately I cannot assist at this time,’ is a lot less offensive than ‘Forget it! NO!  Absolutely Not!’ Don’t transform aggression into sarcasm either.  Sarcasm only sounds witty to the sender, never the receiver.  Non-verbal communication is as significant as your words.  Be careful of eye-rolling, shaking your head and other gestures that suggest arrogance.

How to handle Money Loaners:

In and out of the office, this is arguably the worst request of all.  The lending and borrowing of money amongst colleagues should be avoided at all costs.  Your work (and other) relationships should be treated like fine china.  It can easily be permanently damaged due to a conflict over money.  This is an easy ‘no’.  ‘I value our relationship too much to lend you money.’ Or ‘As a rule, I do not lend or borrow money’.  If someone is in dire straits, assist them to loan money from a financial credit provider or an advance on salary.  As a manager or supervisor, recommend extra overtime to enable your employee to earn more or offer advice if the person has a history of poor money management.  If a salary advance is granted, it should be stated that this will not be commonplace in future to discourage comebacks.

Setting boundaries is a reflection of strength and self-respect and the first step is saying ‘no’ and prioritising.  Ensuring you do not have too much on your plate starts with assessing the size of your plate. After that, ‘no’ will sound a lot sweeter!

“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Steve Jobs