Fairness lies in the eye of the top performer
You may have seen the TV commercial where a man won’t share his potato chips with another person. “If I share them with you,” he says, “I’ll have to share them with everybody else.” As he speaks, however, the viewer is shown a vast, empty Arctic landscape – there obviously isn’t anybody else around!
The underlying joke rests in the fairness principle, the one that assumes treating people fairly means treating them the same.
The workplace has supported this notion for a long time, entrenching it in employee relations thinking and practice.
But it’s fiction. Employees are not the same where it really matters: in the results they produce at work.
In the next year or two, there will be more jobs than job seekers to fill them. This will result in the first broadly-based sellers’ job market that anyone can remember. It will become increasingly difficult to find talented replacements for employees who leave. Retention of existing talent will be significantly more cost-effective than trying to replace departed employees.
This means organizations have to be very clear when earmarking their “talent.” They have to distinguish the good performers form the not-so-good performers, and stop treating them the same.
So, why do managers and supervisors persist in perpetuating this myth when there are tools, such as performance evaluations, that can clearly separate the top performers from the subpar? One company, for example, whose employee recognition program is reserved for outstanding individual examples of behaviour, nevertheless rewards an entire department because, “They all do such a good job.” Perhaps. But it’s highly unlikely that this accolade accurately or fairly reflects the contributions of each department member. There must be some powerful factors at work that drive those in charge to resist acknowledging the differences in employee productivity. Here are six possible reasons:
Managers realize the balance of consequences is stacked in favour of treating everybody the same; there are more negative consequences for treating people differently than there are positive ones. Prudence, therefore, suggests avoidance.
But this old-school mindset has got to go. Organizations can no longer live by the fiction that every employee’s performance is the same. They need to identify their talent and treat those employees differently. Failure to do this will result in the firm’s inability to retain their top performers, especially if they perceive they’re being treated unfairly.
Your best performers have redefined the word “fair,” and it’s time you begin treating them accordingly.
Copyright Mattanie Press 2006