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.