For Goodness’ Sake, Don’t Be Fair!

justice-1296381_1280“Fair” is an innocuous sounding four-letter word, but it can cause severe problems in an organization if it means that everyone is treated the same.

Imagine that you’re the king or queen of a small island nation, The United Kingdom of [Your Name Here]. You’re a benevolent leader and want the best for your people. You know that growth is required so that you can employ the offspring of your people and so that they can lead better lives with a higher standard of living over time. Everyone wants a flushing toilet and a George Foreman® Grill now that you have electricity and running water.

As with any group of people, some individuals add more value to society than others. By “value,” I mean output from work, positive relations with others and abiding by the laws of The United Kingdom of [Your Name Here]. The previous king of your nation — at that point, it was called The United Kingdom of [His Name Here] — believed in treating everyone the same regardless of how much value an individual brought to the nation, so everyone received the same “rewards” as everyone else. He later moved to Venezuela.

When you ascended the throne, you realized that this produced terrible frustration in your best workers. Eventually, everyone’s output regressed toward the lowest producer in the kingdom, which stymied growth and left everyone in a worse state.

With meritocracy as your new mantra, you experienced a rough transition period (some had grown fond of less work), but eventually your empire grew, with the “value-adding” citizens leading the charge and being rewarded for it. Others saw this and also started to think about and act on what they thought would benefit their tribe and families. Some, of course, didn’t want to work harder, and they didn’t enjoy the same rewards as their value-adding tribesmen. Some were dealt unfortunate lots, and you established programs to help them acquire skills so that they could also have access to the joy of adding value and being rewarded for it.

You knew, however, that not everyone would reap the same rewards and that trying to give everyone the same rewards regardless of the value they added would harm your entire kingdom. It’s an unfortunate fact that you can do your best to give everyone the same starting line, but if you guarantee them all the same finishing line and a trophy at the end of the race, you damage society as a whole.

Why in the world, in your role as a CEO or business owner, would you not “rule” the same way in your business? Reward your great people with more responsibility, autonomy and compensation, and let the others move on. Perhaps they’ll find a “fair” workplace somewhere else.

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