Preface: This is a reprint of a posting done for TalkingStory.org back in February of 2011. I have found that the title of this post can be quite a controversial statement when I happen to say it in one of my workshops, and sure enough, it played out that way again recently, stirring up an emotional discussion about policy and procedure (abiding by “the rules”) versus exercising managerial discretion. This time, I chose to let it play out among the workshop participants themselves, for they all worked for the same company, and it was clearly a discussion they needed to have.
How would the conversation happen where you work? Talking story through this statement – You can’t “Be fair.” Be consistent. – can be fabulous practice at sorting out definitions in your own Language of Intention (MWA Key Concept #5).
Striving for fairness when you’re managing can really be a losing battle.
You can’t accurately define fairness unless the people in a squabble are operating with exactly the same set of values —and the same hierarchy of value driving relevance.
Chances are, your team is a jumble of competing personal values: Diversity makes a workplace rich and interesting. However it also means that whatever will be fair to one person, will not be perceived as fair by the other.
Don’t settle for being a referee.
You don’t want to be a King Solomon either.
There’s a much better strategy
Opt for consistency in your value mapping by standing up for your own beliefs, and not theirs. In a word, LEAD. Lead with courage and the conviction of your values.
Let’s talk this through…
What you need to strive for, as someone managing people with separate motivations, must be in alignment with your own values as an Alaka‘i Manager: Walk your talk, and have your talk align with your beliefs. Create a workplace culture representative of your expectations, whether you’ve adopted Managing with Aloha as your operational philosophy or something different.
As a giver of workplace decisions, you’re the one who needs to be consistent, unafraid to say, “This is how it will be, and this is why.” Speak your own truth and stick to it, no matter who your receivers are in the conversation at hand. They don’t need to be consistent. If you’re the manager, you do.
And think about this for a second:
Let’s say you’re my manager, and I want your direction in a disagreement I’m having with a co-worker. I don’t want you to be fair. I want you to take my side, and tell me I’m right!
So be able to tell those who are value-aligned with your workplace expectations that they are on the right track. Be able to tell those who aren’t value-aligned, that you feel they need more clarity, and then be able to give it to them tactfully and respectfully.
Great managers are predictable managers
Let’s say you don’t do so, and you direct me in a way that goes counter to the value expectations the workplace culture sets for me. Said another way, you change your mind, or you get wishy-washy and wimp out, falling in the dangerous trap of tacit approval. (See more about tacit approval in the footnote.)
As an employee who has sought your guidance and direction, I’m going to feel confused and lost. I won’t know when to believe you, and when not to, so I begin to tune you out. I may even start to avoid you altogether, because you represent this walking time bomb to me, and I’m not quite sure when you’ll go off.
We all choose workplaces without those kind of landmines. I much rather have you be clear and consistent, even when I don’t agree with you, for as my Boss of Crystal Clear Expectations you are now completely predictable for me. I can depend on you. I can count on you.
We never depend on managers who have a reputation of being volatile and unpredictable. On the other hand…
The mentors we choose are unwavering in their beliefs
Most mentors are assertive and dogmatic, and we admire that they are. We feel more comfortable with their strength, and in the atmosphere of value assurance they set. We can guess what they would say to us about most issues if we asked their opinion, and they become a guardian angel sitting on our shoulder. We say, “they have integrity” because they never shy from speaking the truth of their personal values and demonstrating them.
And you know what? In our bigger picture, grander scheme of life, we’ll always defend them by saying, “Well, I didn’t always like it when the decision didn’t go my way, but there were no surprises, and they were fair.”
How about that! I guess you can be fair. You’ve just got to arrive there with the confidence and consistency of your convictions.
Tacit Approval: Don’t you dare give it!
What is it?
Let’s say you are the manager. Tacit approval happens when:
a) a direct-report of yours does something wrong
b) you become aware of it
c) that direct-report and/or others within your workplace are aware of both a) and b)
d) you do nothing about it and let it slide
As a result, you have given tacit approval for that wrong which was committed.
Your silent message to everyone else can be interpreted in several different ways, and none of them are good.
Managers must have the courage to address every wrong in the workplace, for wrongs are culture-breakers that chip away integrity. Every discipline can be turned into a teachable moment.
Corrective action is as simple as a conversation which unemotionally states, “I know what happened. Let’s talk about it.” Then listen, and let the other person lead where the conversation has to go. End the conversation with an agreement where they fix their own problem and you are not taking on any clean-up they can handle within their own sphere of influence, ability and capacity.
Look for that teachable moment and never, ever shy away from disciplinary discussions which need to happen. Alaka‘i managers enjoy the teaching and the coaching, and even the problem-solving. They enjoy creating a workplace environment where people can achieve their very best, and grow to BE their best, and there is absolutely no place in healthy workplace cultures for tacit approval.