Treating Everyone the Same is Unfair

It’s okay to care about the people you work with. Spending more time with them will save you time, so it probably works better if you like them. Just make sure you treat everybody the same, because otherwise would be unfair. Right?

My two daughters came to me one day to complain of a perceived unequal treatment. They’d obviously discussed it at length, because it’s not often that they work together towards the same ends. I don’t remember what the specific complaint was, but I do remember the looks on their faces when I bluntly admitted that they were right.

They were shocked. They were appalled. They were expecting an argument, and when they didn’t get it they weren’t sure what to do. So I asked them if they wanted to know why I didn’t treat them the same. At least one of them is naturally curious and said “Yes.”

“Nichole,” I said, “You love talking on the phone, chatting on your computer, spending time with your friends. If had to ground you, the worst thing I could do is take away all your electronics and make you stay in your room. Then you couldn’t talk to your friends, and you’d go crazy with nothing to do in your room. Right?”

She allowed that I might have made a statement of fact that resembled reproducible reality in some fashion.

“Victoria,” I continued, “You like reading. A good day for your is hanging out in your room with a new book you just picked up at Chapters. If I grounded you by making you stay in your room and taking away your electronics, would that really punish you?”

Victoria admitted that no, being forced to stay in her room and read a book wouldn’t really bother her that much.

I turned back to Nichole. “If I took all your books away, Nichole, but left you your phone or laptop, that probably wouldn’t bother you that much, right?” She performed the ritual of the nod of the sullen teenager, which I took to mean some form of consent. “But if I did that to Victoria, how do you think she would feel?” It was a rhetorical question, not requiring an answer, and she had been down this road with me often enough to know this.

The gears duly turned, and wisp of smoke appeared at their ears and slowly drifted upwards, and they made the “Huh” sound in unison.

I concluded with “Treating you the same is not fair. You’re two different people, and to be fair I have to treat you differently.”

“That makes sense, Daddy. Thanks”

Okay, I made up that last part about them saying thank-you. I think I still got my point across to them.

Your employees are the same. No, they’re not sullen teenage girls. The are the same as your children in that they’re all different. Some love being recognized publicly in front of their peers for a job well done. Some are embarrassed by the attention. They would do anything to avoid it including going out of their way not to do a good job. Some are motivated by money, some by their family, some love the work for it’s own sake, some do the job to support their hobbies, some need to work with the public, some hate it.

Staff need three basic things to do a good job. These are the necessary prerequisites on the way to building an outstanding team that delivers and is motivated to work together. Think of it as the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, except for employees. The three things they need are 1)  the skills and tools to the job, 2) clear expectations about who does what by when, and 3) somebody at work that takes an interest in them and their career. If you treat your employees all the same the signal you’re sending is “I don’t care about you, because you’re all the same to me.” Think about how you would feel, if your boss said that to you?

It’s up to you as their manager to figure out what each of their unique talents, abilities, and motivators are. It’s your job to match the person to the job (or the job to the person). And it’s your job to make sure everybody gets treated fairly, which doesn’t always mean treating them equally.

 

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

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