Demonstrating Fairness in Managing Direct Reports
It's your job to ensure an efficient and effective work environment – and that starts with you treating your employees fairly. Your direct reports' ideas of what is fair involves their beliefs, values, ethics, experiences, ambitions, and senses of self-worth. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being fair.
Being fair is a delicate balance. On one hand, you have to ensure fair reward to direct reports that excel, providing the impetus for superior performance. On the other hand, you may need to provide extra support to disadvantaged employees, so that they can compete with others on fair ground.
There are three effective strategies that can help you achieve a fair and balanced approach to managing all your direct reports. You should practice open communication, treat people with respect, and follow a neutral decision-making process.
The first effective strategy for managing direct reports fairly is to practice open communication. Being open with your direct reports means including them in decisions, and being transparent about your own actions and motivations.
No one likes to be left out of what's happening. This is particularly true when people work closely together, as a team or other work unit. If you close direct reports out of the information loop, it could make them feel disconnected and isolated. As a result, they lose their commitment to their work unit and to you as a manager.
An open communication style encourages acceptance of decisions and actions, even when managers are giving bad news. Open communication means sharing information, being clear and specific, and acknowledging and responding to employees.
Sharing information is the key to communication. In the absence of information, your direct reports may fill the gap with negative or erroneous interpretations of what's happening. Rumors, exaggerations, and suppositions may be perceived as truth, and worse, may spread throughout the entire workplace. Explaining and discussing the reasons for your decisions and the factors that motivate your actions gives your direct reports a sense of ownership in the process.
When you do share information, it's important to be clear and specific about you want to impart to your direct reports. Ambiguity can distort your message, allowing room for multiple interpretations of the real meaning.
Open communication also means you need to acknowledge and respond to your employees' questions and concerns. Employees who feel they aren't being heard and their concerns aren't being taken seriously are more likely to perceive procedures and decisions as unfair. Cooperation suffers in work environments perceived as having low levels of fairness, such as when employees believe their ideas or concerns will be ignored or dismissed.
The second effective strategy for managing direct reports fairly is to treat employees with respect. When employees believe their employer has failed to respect them, they'll perceive the situation as unfair.
Creativity, innovation, and motivation are low in work environments characterized by managerial unfairness and disrespect. Employees who feel disrespected may disconnect from cooperative work activities. Or they may be rejected or bullied by work peers who emulate the disrespectful attitude of management. This is particularly problematic when the disrespected employees are experts in their fields or have skills or training that are necessary to reach team objectives.
As a manager, you have a responsibility to show your direct reports the same level of respect that you expect to be shown by them. You can do this by openly demonstrating respect, using active listening, and being empathetic to feelings and concerns.
If you want to be respected by your direct reports, you need to openly demonstrate respect for them. This means respecting them as persons, and as members of your team. Because members of a team are potentially subject to exclusion and rejection by their peers, they're especially sensitive to signs that their status in the group is changing. It's important to make an effort not to marginalize direct reports or exclude them from group events, activities, or opportunities.
You can also show respect by using active listening. Active listening is a way of communicating cooperatively with your direct reports, making sure they feel you understand and respect their opinions. One active listening technique is to paraphrase what the speaker has said and then seek confirmation that your understanding is correct. By doing this, you demonstrate that you've paid attention to what they've said, and that you welcome their participation. Active listening is particularly useful for establishing trusting relationships with direct reports and resolving conflict between coworkers.
Active listening can help you develop empathy with your direct reports. This is one of the key skills by which employees judge their manager's sense of fairness. Being empathetic means understanding the emotional undercurrents of both individuals and of your team as a whole. Through active listening you'll be better able to build and maintain effective relationships with direct reports.
To be empathetic, you need to suspend judgment of the actions or reactions of your direct reports, while you try to understand them. You'll also need to ask questions to clarify what is going on. This all results in a better understanding of what your direct reports need. It means, for example, that you'll be able to set appropriate goals for them. And in the end, you'll have emotionally committed workers who are less stressed out and willing to go the extra mile.
The third effective strategy for managing direct reports fairly involves a neutral decision-making process. Your direct reports' reactions to your management style are influenced not only by the results of your decisions, but by how fair they perceive the decision process to be. Employees are more supportive of decisions, and of decision-makers, if the process is neutral – meaning unbiased, honest, and based on evidence.
In neutral decision-making, assessing and implementing decisions is not influenced by personal motives or intentions. It uses facts, not opinions. If you want your decision-making process to be perceived as neutral, you need to be consistent, give employees input into the process, and share your rationale for decisions.
There are three effective strategies that can help you manage your direct reports fairly. The first is to practice open communication. The second is to treat people with respect, and the third is to follow a neutral decision-making process.