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You may not like it, but at least it’s fair

August 8, 2008

Applying the principles of fair process to decisions

What if your manager walked into your office one morning and arbitrarily announced that you would no longer be doing your job? Instead, you would take on the responsibilities of your colleague, who also found out this morning that he was being shuffled off to another location. No rhyme or reason.

I bet you’d be pretty confused and upset. (So angry, in fact, that you may even sabotage the effort!)

Well, that’s exactly what W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne are suggesting happens on a regular basis. In one of their award-winning articles entitled “Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy“, Kim and Mauborgne write that many companies suffer morale and motivational problems – particularly when it comes to introducing change – because managers did not follow a process when making decisions. They write: “People care about the decisions you make, but they care more about the process you used along the way.” That’s a powerful statement, because it means that even if people don’t agree with the decision you’ve made, they will buy into it if the process you used to get to that solution was fair.”

This is even more crucial when it comes to implementing change. One of the most difficult aspects of changing the way people operate their business is trying to convince them that change is the right thing to do. The Tatham Group offers its clients a simple yet elegant decision-making process that ensures not only a fair outcome, but also that organizations get to the right decision. But fair process requires an objective, systematic, logical and disciplined approach. This can be overwhelming, but Tatham distills this learning experience into a a two-day simulation called Boot Camp.

During Boot Camp, participants learn a new way problem-solving that is both easy to apply, yet rigorous and disciplined enough to achieve the necessary solutions. At the same time, they share an experience that allows them to solve their problems using a common language. This achieves two goals: the first, is that it wins people’s trust and confidence because they understand the fundamental principles driving the decision. The second, is that it levels the playing field. When everyone uses the same method to solve their problems, it removes hierarchy and it gives them the confidence to make the tough decisions.

In fact, when it comes to applying a systematic process to making decisions, one senior manager at Wachovia said, “Often when we’re faced with a problem, but we’ve no idea how long it’s going to take to find a solution. With the Tatham Method you can say, ‘ok, give me four people for six weeks and we’ll have the solution’. That’s very powerful. And I think the most important thing is knowing that every time you follow the method, you will find a quality solution that people will accept because it’s not guessing, it’s not patchwork. It’s based on data and facts and it’s prototyped so we know it will work.”

Perhaps the most attractive feature of Tatham’s Method is that decisions are always made by the people doing the job themselves. In other words, it flips Kim and Mauborgne’s approach on its head: rather than hoping the staff will trust management when it comes to making changes, instead management must support the staff in implementing the decision. The result is far greater acceptance.

Kim and Mauborgne do come to this same conclusion. They write: “For companies seeking to harness the energy and creativity of committed managers and employees, the central idea that emerges from our fair-process research is this: Individuals are most likely to trust and cooperate freely with systems – whether they themselves win or lose by those systems when fair process is observed.”

Kim and Mauborgne suggest three principles to ensure fair process: engagement, explanation and expectation clarity. For Tatham this translates into the following: engagement through Boot Camp, explanation through coaching and expectation clarity by aligning goals and tying measurement and accountability to rewards. These, combined together, these compel people to focus on streamlining their processes so that the customer is happier. And when the customer is happier, decisions are much easier to make.

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