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A good number of years back, I had a boss – very intelligent, fast, with a drive to reach the top.

As we saw, he was highly respected by senior management; led prestigious projects from time to time.

But as subordinates working under him, it was difficult for us.

It wasn’t that he was unfair – no, honestly no.

It was just that the way he addressed issues – fast, 2D kind of way (as compared to 3D) – it left us with concerns on transparency, etc.

I invite you to read a chapter from my book 21 Office Situations & How to Deal with Them where I share a situation as my boss dealt with it, and what therein caused us concern:

Chapter 15: Managing a Big Team?

Situation: To help a manager facing heavy volume, boss asked other managers to pitch in. In the absence of accountability in the plan, managers felt concerns on transparency, etc.

In the chapter, I also share how I acted, when, a couple of years later, as boss, I came across the same situation.

The Big Picture

The above would have been the end of the story; a difference in working styles between my boss and me.

But as I was reading up for this blog article, I came across a couple of management articles which have shed light on the difference in our working styles.

For start, both my boss and I were fair-minded – and acted accordingly.

It now seems, my boss (in hurry) focused on ‘Outcome’ fairness. I started off by ensuring ‘Process’ fairness.

Two Harvard Business Review articles explain these concepts in depth:

Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy (January 2003)

Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair (March 2006)

As per the authors, ‘Process’ fairness – slowing down to explain the issue, what options are there, giving time, actively soliciting team’s opinion – is more important than ‘Outcome’ fairness.

Non-adherence to it will manifest in a myriad ways.

The authors (March 2006 article) cite the following examples:

1. Expats who leave overseas posting to return to their home country – citing reasons such as family not being able to adjust to the new country – in reality could be leaving because they perceive the new boss to be unfair.

2. A big determinant of whether employees sue their company for wrongful termination – is their perception of how fairly the termination process was carried out.

3. Doctors who take the time to explain the treatment plan and answer the patient’s questions with consideration – are less likely to be sued for maltreatment (for the same outcome).

Some points made by HBR authors:

1. Unlike the traditional factors of production—land, labor, and capital — ‘knowledge’ is a resource locked in the human mind. Creating and sharing knowledge are intangible activities that can neither be supervised nor forced out of people. They happen only when people cooperate voluntarily.

2. Ultimately, each employee decides for him or herself whether a decision has been made fairly. It depends on questions such as – Is ample advance notice given? Do managers explain why a decision was made? Is the decision process transparent?

So how do we inculcate this ‘Process’ fairness in our hectic workday – where time is short and the only thing that matters is the result?

1. The 30-minute example of Chapter 15 – explaining the background, giving data, what you suggest, giving time to think over, etc. – will suit most big-ticket corporate situations.

2. At other times, the simplest approach will be to slow down, clarify, and give an outlet to your team.

An Example

In one of the companies I worked, we managers had the freedom to give ‘Star of the Month’ awards to deserving members in our 50+ team.

At each such function, I made it a point to say –

“This award is based on nomination from your team leaders. While every effort is made to ensure deserving team members are nominated, we do realize that at times we might overlook a deserving case.

As such, in case any of you feel that you should have also received the award, I request you to put up your case in an email to your team leader with a cc to me. And we will get back to you.”

I still recall the atmosphere – everyone cheering the winners. And in the following year, only one team member came forward to express a concern.

Happy Managing,


Anil Karamchandani a Mumbai-based former manager.

He is author of 21 Office Situations & How to Deal with Them available on Amazon.in