3.11.11 Issue #470 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Nancy Haller, P.h. D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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Are You Leading Your Team Fairly?
Nancy Haller, Ph.D., Leadership Coach McKenzie Management

The instincts about fairness that emerged on the playground when you were a child also apply to how you lead your team today. On one level, fairness is just common sense. You need to be guided by objective standards, not because you like the employee or conversely because you feel sorry for him or her. At the same time, when you try to make things fair for everyone you run into another danger because employees often interpret “fair” as what is best for them and only them.

Several years ago, a scientist at Emory University introduced female capuchin monkeys to money. She gave them granite pebbles and taught them that if they surrendered a rock back to her she would trade it for a piece of cucumber. Capuchins like cucumbers and if that were the only deal available, they would trade rocks for cucumber slices almost every time.

The researcher then placed two monkeys in cages next to each other so they could see the bargain made by the capuchin next door. The primatologist approached one monkey and made the standard trade: a pebble for a piece of cucumber. Next, the scientist approached the second monkey and exchanged the pebble not for a cucumber slice, but for a grape. Capuchins like grapes more than they like cucumber slices.

As logical as the need for fairness may be, feelings of being used are often at the heart of what destroys working relationships. Seeing another monkey get a better reward for the same action, the first capuchin often got upset. She might "go on strike," refusing to make the exchange in future rounds. She might refuse to eat the cucumber piece even though she paid a pebble to acquire it, and if she hadn't seen the grape trade, she would certainly have eaten it. In extreme cases, she might throw a small fit, such as tossing the token or reward out of the test chamber.

Behaving this way is certainly irrational - we might even conclude that it is emotional. The aggrieved monkey didn't hurt anyone but herself by refusing to trade rocks for food or by throwing away cucumbers she otherwise would have eaten. So why did she do it?
The authors of the study wrote that "Capuchin monkeys seem to measure reward in relative terms, comparing their own rewards with those available, and their own efforts with those of others.”They respond negatively if a partner “gets a better deal." Academics call this phenomenon "inequality aversion" or "distributive justice." You might call it evenhandedness, doing right by the other person, or just plain fairness. If fairness is essential for a capuchin monkey, fairness is even more important and more basic to humans than we realize.

Gallup research didn’t involve cucumbers, grapes, or side-by-side enclosures. Nonetheless, similar discoveries emerged in interviews with people comparing their best and worst work situations. Several statements about fairness proved crucial for successful collaboration. They asked respondents how strongly they agreed or disagreed with each of these statements:

  • We share the workload fairly between us.
  • We do not have to keep track of who does what and who gets credit for what.
  • We see each other as equals - one is not better than the other.

Collaboration has little chance of succeeding unless all parties believe it is fair. On a scale from 1 ("strongly disagree") to 5 ("strongly agree"), it takes an average above 3.6 on these statements to reach the range considered "good." Only respondents who strongly agree to all three statements have excellent alliances.

Don’t focus on keeping things “even” between employees, but strive on being fair. Keep in mind that employees need some help understanding how any decisions that you make for them also affects their coworkers. If they get to leave early, it leaves more work for someone else. If everyone always gets the same raise, the people who work harder, are never late to work, go the extra mile, etc. feel that their initiative is not appreciated. More and more it’s essential to explain to employees the impact of their behavior, on you and the practice.

It’s also crucial to have an Employee Handbook that clearly states the policies and procedures of your practice. This information helps employees to know what is expected. Follow those basic guidelines consistently as you deal with common situations such as family illness, personal “emergencies”, etc.

Explain why you are willing to do certain things for some employees, but are hesitant to do them for another one. Encourage employees to talk with you so they have an outlet for their emotions. Provide appropriate but professional support to employees but don’t be swayed by high drama. The ultimate goal is to maintain a positive work environment where you are seen as a fair leader.

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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