But- That’s not Fair!

Fair. In the management world it’s one of the key concepts you have to adhere to, to keep yourself out of trouble. Every employee needs to be treated fairly.

Now, this often brings up the opinion in employees’ minds that this standard of “fair” means that everyone must be treated equally. But for a good manager, we can quickly see the issue with that line of thinking. What they don’t understand is that in the world of employees, equal is actually often not fair at all!

For example, a salaried person may be required to work 10 hours on a given day and an hourly person may be requested to work 10 hours that same day. The hourly person gets overtime and the salaried person doesn’t. The hourly person effectively can increase their income and average hourly rate by working more hours, while the salaried person in fact has a decrease in their average hourly rate by working more hours. Without getting into details such as the salaried person is probably paid more in general so they still made more overall money, this is an easy example of where equal is not necessarily fair.

Should you treat your employees equally? In my mind, no. I believe that treating them equally is actually a disservice to them, and can actually be harmful to their success and job satisfaction.

I do have the same expectations of all of my employees, which I see as my execution of the concept of “fair”. I expect that they will do their best to get as much as of their job accurately and timely done each day as possible, according to generally accepted deadlines. I expect them to communicate issues, roadblocks, and problems when they arise. I expect them to prioritize according to the communicated goals or priorities of the department, or escalate to me if they are not able to or are getting conflicting or confusing messages as to priority. And I expect them to be pleasant and cooperative with others, providing excellent service.

Does having the same expectations of everyone mean I treat them equally? Not at all! To achieve these expectations perhaps they may wish to work different schedules to fit their personal lives. Perhaps some will need coaching or training. Some may need more hand holding or guidance than others. Some may need imposed check ins to get them out of their head and communicating, while others may need to be held at arm’s length and have scheduled times to communicate as they are fond of communicating non stop.

If I treated them all equally, perhaps expecting communication to be coming to me in the same manner no matter who the employee is, the non-communicator would never speak and the over communicator would never stop talking. The ones needing more guidance would either get none if I treated them the same as the one who needs no guidance, or vice versa the one who needs no guidance would feel micro managed if I treated them the same as the one who needs extra guidance. So this is an important thing to recognize in the people in your life that you manage. They all need something different to keep them happy and functioning at a high level. They need you to support them in the ways that THEY need support, not treat them the same across the board.

The same goes with praise- as one of my employees told me, some people don’t like public praise, it makes them uncomfortable. Then there are others that drink it up, it makes their world go round to get the loud pat on the back when others can see. So understanding what makes your employees feel valued is of utmost importance as well- and they might not be equal in that regard either.

So next time you have the difficult conversation with an employee about fairness meaning “equal-ness”, give them an example or two of why this is actually a bad thing for them, and maybe you will get to the real root of the issue and actually treat them as un-equally as they truly need.




I had a funny self-conscious comment that came across my path the other day, and it had to do with the concept of power. The comment was in the line of “now that XYZ happened, you have all of the power”.

It made me laugh because I thought, “I don’t have any power, what in the world are they talking about?” And it dawned on me that their concept of power and mine are two worlds apart.

Power, in their definition, appears to be the Webster dictionary definition of “legal or official authority, capacity, or right”. Basically due to position, authority, or rights the power is mine. Title or proximity suddenly “gave” me power!

I completely reject that concept in the workplace.  It is offensive to me to think that just because I have a title or someone else has a title, or a majority of direct reports, or whatever authoritarian seeming set of circumstances, that this gives me inherent power. In fact, I don’t like to think of myself having power of any sort with that definition at all! Power is a loaded term, bringing images of force and fear. This other party, this self-conscious person, they truly don’t understand how you get things done in a powerful way, because that definition of power that they have is not actually truly powerful.

This definition of power is the kind that breeds resentment, and actually makes people not take you seriously. I laugh to myself when anyone introduces themselves with their full title or listing a bunch of credentials in a spoken conversation when the basic “I’m in accounting” or “purchasing” or whatever basic general function will do. There are rare moments where the full title or credentials are necessary, however those times are few and far between.

Think about yourself. How are you going to react to someone who comes over to you with an urgent request and says “Hey there, uh, John is it? I am the director of legal and I need you to do this for me, by this deadline” and then walks away? Or maybe even gives a threat of “and if that’s a problem I’ll take it up with (boss above your boss/CEO/Scary person du jour)”? You’re maybe going to do it, maybe you’re not. And the whole time you’re going to be upset that they just came over and lorded their position over your head to force you to do something. Even worse, from that point forward you’re going to be MORE resistant to helping that person, forever! There is no respect in this type of “power”.

No, I prefer to think of myself as having gentle influence and infectious passion. I prefer people to “follow” my ideas or instructions because they want to. Because I approach them as a peer (no matter their status or level), they hear what I have to say and agree, or at least understand and commit even if they disagree. I prefer my passion for doing the right thing for whatever my cause is infectious, that after repetition of the concept the bug gets the other person and they too become passionate and jump on board to help because they sincerely WANT to. This is managing by influence.

Does this give me power? Maybe from the outside looking in it seems so, but from the inside looking out there is no “power” in this. The other party can change their minds. They can negotiate, heck they can even take over and infect me with the bug of their passion and then we’re all on another better path altogether. This is mutual respect, this is leadership. Not power.

Imagine the same situation as above with this approach: “Hey John, how’s it’ going? I’m Jane from the legal department, (brief small talk), cool, well the reason I’m bothering you is that I have this thing I need help with (why it’s important, important details), and I hear you’re the one who can help me. I am so sorry for the fire drill (this is what happened) and I hope you have the ability to help me out. Is that possible? How can I help make it easy for you to help me? Great, I owe you one, you’re the best”.

So maybe this is a bit over the top in the flattery department but see how much better that feels? You’ve gotten them on board to your cause by helping them feel why it’s important and then allowing them to feel like it’s their choice to join you. You’ve shown interest in their own priorities and workload by showing you’re concerned about making your task easy for them if possible. You’re doing everything you can to make it easy for them to say yes. And time and again they’re going to want to help you in the future when you need it, because in their mind they weren’t only helping you, they were helping themselves. They bought in and so the task is as much theirs as it was yours. And because you approached them as a peer, even if you weren’t a peer, they are going to be endeared to your cause because they can put themselves in your shoes.

This interaction can be as quick or as long as you want, the words don’t have to be specific, but the energetic impression of the intention inside of you to respect them will be transferred, and this is how you get what you need. And apparently to this poor self-conscious person, this looks like wielding power.

As you go about your days, think of these concepts, and maybe put this second method to use, and see how powerful you really can be, without any power at all.

Take my advice… or don’t.

No one takes my advice until it comes from someone else later.

It’s a perplexing thing I’ve observed time and again in my life. I don’t know what to make of it but it has happened consistently time and again, with many different people and many different subjects.  I will give the advice that fits the complaint of the other party- you should try this, I think it will really solve your issue. They smile and nod, sometimes asking questions, sometimes taking notes. They happily go on their way and then…. do nothing. They promptly go about their life and their problem continues, suffering goes on.

Then one day, usually a few months or even years later we meander into the topic of their issue again and miracle of miracles someone else told them about something and this groundbreaking advice completely solved their problem! Everything is great, the issue is solved and they are living the life of their dreams! If only they’d known sooner! Or even the hilarious “didn’t you mention that to me some time back? Wow I guess you really knew what you were talking about!”


It’s sometimes hard to sit there knowing that I had told them the very thing that made their life so much better months or years ago and that coming from me it was not compelling enough for them to take action… until the other magical person uttered those words to them. It’s perplexing. Maybe it’s in my delivery, maybe it’s something about me not seeming credible, maybe I look too young to know these things. I don’t know what it is.

So why do I keep giving advice? Because I know it’s good. It comes from a place of love and passion for helping others to have their best life. And maybe one day someone will take action on it and have the magical result that they should have. Maybe that person will be you.

Managing from the middle is kind of like that. You give advice to the people above, the people below, and the people on all sides. You gently try to influence and move things forward with a consistent message. The message perpetuates from all sides. And somehow, eventually, magically, it begins to work. Often the “idea” gets credited to someone else, and sometimes even to a mysterious unknown “someone”. People don’t know you are that someone that started the concept, but that is ok. You’re making a difference and that’s all that’s important.