A Question of Balance
As a manager, especially a new manager, do you sometimes feel as if you are walking a tightrope as you strive to be fair and consistent in your decision making? Even the best managers are not fair and consistent all of the time. But they do have some guidelines, conscious or not, that they follow to be seen as fair in the eyes of their employees most of the time.
Some Thoughts on How Fairness Is Perceived
The perception of fairness is in the eyes of the beholder. You may think you are being fair, but many feelings may interfere between your decisions and perceived results. When you think about fairness, it’s helpful to view it through two common management development lenses: outcomes and process.
Manager Fairness in Terms of Outcomes
The outcomes of your management decisions are perhaps the most standard measure of manager fairness. Ask yourself if your management decisions lead to an even-handed distribution of inputs and outputs for all the stakeholders.
For example, think about how you assign work, who gets to take advantage of developmental opportunities, and who gets recognition and rewards for jobs well done. Are people being left out or overlooked on a regular basis? If so, they will certainly consider your decisions as unfair or political.
Manager Fairness in Terms of Process
The other lens is process. And here is where you have real leverage on how your team judges your fairness as a manager. This lens is all about creating clear, fair, consistent, inclusive, transparent, and relevant criteria.
For the decision around who gets the opportunities for learning and development, what factors did you take into consideration? Was your decision based on who showed the most potential or perhaps who needed additional skill building? The point is that the process matters a lot.
If the process is first understood by the stakeholders, they are far more ready to accept the outcome as fair. In fact, the fairness of the process (rather than who may seem favored by the decision) is a better predictor of your team’s overall engagement.
The Lesson for Managers
It’s critical that you be clear with your team about the process you are using to make your decision. When they perceive you’re using a fair process, they are more likely to accept your choice even if it leads to an unfair allocation. Communicate what you are thinking and share the key factors that you consider before you announce your decision.
The Bottom Line
We know that teams who trust their manager to treat individuals fairly are more engaged than those who believe their managers make unfair decisions. Of course, not every decision you make will be happily received by all. But you should do your best, on balance, to be a fair and consistent manager by making decisions that are based on a clear, agreed-upon, and transparent process.
To learn more about how to be a better manager, download 5 Management Misperceptions that Slip Up Too Many New Managers