In this blog, fair is defined as free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice.

It’s a word we often say when we’re young, and not as often when we’re old.  “But that’s not fair” – the younger brother whines about the older sister’s self served bigger bowl of ice cream.  And the parents often respond with the old adage “well life’s not fair.”

To say it when we’re adults is considered silly, childish, even näive.

Since fair is seen as foolish and idealistic we use euphemisms in the business world such as “reasonable” or “appropriate.”  But these are not the same.  They’re not laden with a sense of mores or ethics like the word fair is.  Unreasonable can also mean stubborn whereas unfair carries with it injustice – that someone on the side of the equation is being selfish.  Ouch.

Fair is hard.  So we discount it.  Deeming it impossible.  Waving a hand of dismissal that “fairness is based on each person’s perspective” and hence irreconcilable.  (Think of conversations with both sides of a couple going through a divorce.)

However the reality is we don’t trust, like or want to work for people or companies we think are unfair.  And for that matter, we don’t want to purchase from them either.  We want a “fair” price.

A friend of mine had the pleasure of working with Gore (known to many for their product Gore-Tex®, and to others for being on Fortune’s “Top 100 Companies to Work For” 14 years in a row.)  And there he said, they looked fair straight in the eye.  They talked about what was fair all the time.

He said one of the backbones of their culture was the concept of being Fair to All – to the Individual, the Work Group, and the Company.  And when tough issues arose they ran the issue through this matrix which provided tremendous clarity.  Not to mention it was everyone’s responsibility to practice and implement fairness – as a team member you worked hard because if you didn’t it wasn’t fair to your co-workers to carry your burden and it wasn’t fair for the company to lose money because you didn’t do your job.  Of course this buy-in is successful because this backbone is consistently reflected throughout the organization.

Taking on fairness requires courage.  And contrary to what we’ve been taught, to dismiss and ignore fairness is foolish.

Where to go from here.

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