In a recent management class the topic of fairness came up as an attribute of leaders. The debate that ensued challenged whether fairness was practical rather than appropriate? Procedural fairness i.e. decisions relating to recruitment, promotion, workplace respect and dignity are essential (see why here) and are usually formally documented in contracts, codes of conduct etc. We would all like to think that we treat people and are treated fairly in the workplace. In reality; do we spend the same time coaching individuals in our team? Do we listen in the same way? Do we delegate and challenge fairly?
It’s hard to tell, whilst we like to think so most would agree that it’s highly unlikely that we could answer the previous questions with a firm yes. Firstly, our team may be a cohesive, high achieving group but it is made up of individuals who differ in how they work, motivation, experience, ability, education and so on. John Beeson described a delegating manager as having to “assess each subordinate’s ability to operate independently”. Roy Spence Jr. suggested “Purpose based leaders treat people like they want to be treated.” So now fairness becomes much more complex as we try to manage equitably and remain cognisant of individual needs.
Leaders need to be consistent in their purpose; they need an over-arching style backed with substance. For example; if a leader develops their people through the delegating challenging projects they must follow-up with supporting guidance, recognition and appraisal. That’s how leaders are effective How unsatisfying would it be to know that despite your extra effort and progress your manager failed to market your contribution to their colleagues and superiors?
We can aim to be perceived as fair, we’re not splitting hairs here, we want people to feel that the same considerations are evaluated rather then simply receiving the same outcomes as their colleagues, here’s how we do it;
- Be consistent – in how you approach your management duties be they coaching, delegating, problem-solving etc.
- Base you actions on your insight – if you spend a lot of time guiding and helping a member of staff it should be because you have recognised the need for it.
- Give your people a voice – research suggest performance appraisal is perceived as being fairer when staff can have an input, you can do the same.
It may be unrealistic to be scientifically fair to everyone but if you are consistent and assess needs fairly then a perception of fairness will grow, and research shows the perception of fairness in work positively affects performance.