Sunday, 11 January 2015

Equal ≠ Fair

There is an old sports cliché that says that for a team to win on a consistent basis '...the best players must be the best players...'  The clear implication is that all people are not created equal with respect to skills and abilities and that some will, naturally, be superior to the majority.  Success depends on these best players exhibiting their skills on a regular basis, perhaps not every time, but most frequently.  This recurring performance affords the highest probability for the success of the team.

The same is true in business.  We are all created equal in the eyes of the law.  But no one is going to suggest that we are equal in terms of our native intelligence, personal ambition/drive, commitment etc.  In these areas we must concede that some are superior to the majority and therefore they are in a position to contribute disproportionally to the overall corporate success. 

Once you get over this reality, it now falls to the leader to create and maintain an environment which recognizes - and even supports - the duality while simultaneously dampening both entitlement and jealousy.  Talk about walking a tightrope!

Here are a few suggestions to help manage a difficult and potentially awkward situation.

  1. Routinely acknowledge everyone's successful contribution.  While the levels of contribution will be different, it remains true that the total is still greater than the sum of the parts.  So celebrate individual successes equally.
  2. Equal does not mean fair, and fair does not mean equal.  Who said that everyone must be treated equally?  The issue really is about fairness and as long as you can justify the difference, within the corporate environment, then opt for fairness not equality.
  3. Be on guard at all times for issues of entitlement or jealousy.  These are natural human responses that can poison a work environment quickly.  For the person who starts to develop an 'entitlement disposition', seek to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.  To the jealous response, remind the individual that the opportunity for personal success typically lies more in the person than the company and that a better effort and commensurate results will lead to better and commensurate recognition.  Put the challenge where is belongs!
  4. Remember that, at the end of the day, your responsibility is to the company and not the individual.  Always to the right thing for the company...and the right thing by the individual. 
  5. Finally, always be ready to give an account for your decisions.  They must be rooted in reality, not favouritism.  Furthermore, your decisions must always be done with a view to motivate, not punish.  If your position can be confidently defended then you must do what you see to be fair.

If you have any other suggestions to add to the above, I will try to share your input in a future blog.

Have a great 2015.  Feel free to contact me if you need any assistance regarding these issues.  And if you have a topic that you would like me to write on, please send your request to me directly at


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