Notes on Change Management and Fair Process

Following up the last post, I wanted to add a point that with it will definitely fit well!

Fair Process vs Fair Outcome

This is based on the MBA module that we had with an excellent executive coach (Hanneke Frase). It is also extracted from this article that presents nicely the situation.

Imagine a change that an organisation wants to undertake. A change that has an impact, let’s say, on the human resources. All organisations have.
One angle is most often not taken into account on top of some steps described earlier. It is the question of fair process vs fair outcome. Is someone anyway happy if the outcome of a change is fair, and what is the needed degree of fairness in a process?

The article starts with this example:

A London policeman gave a woman a ticket for making an illegal turn. When the woman protested that there was no sign prohibiting
the turn, the policeman pointed to one that was bent out of shape and difficult to see from the road. Furious, the woman decided to appeal by going to court. Finally, the day of her hearing arrived, and she could hardly wait to speak her piece. But she had just begun to tell her side of the story when the magistrate stopped her and summarily ruled in her favour.
How did the woman feel? Vindicated? Victorious? Satisfied?
No, she was frustrated and deeply unhappy. “I came for justice,” she complained, “but the magistrate never let me explain what happened.” In other words, although she liked the outcome, she didn’t like the process that had created it.

The argument is that because of their theories, economists assume that people are maximizers (as oppose to satisfier) of utility. Meaning that only the outcome matters. And this has somewhat translated into management theories.

The reality is that having a process is a) as important as outcome! and b) the management can even imagine having help from the staff to implement a change that has a bad outcome for them; should the process be fair!

The price of unfairness can be high. The article mention that when the process goes wrong and get to a point where it is too late to re-instate trust, it seems that the employees: “…want a fair process restored, seek for punishment and vengeance upon those who have violated it”!

Make no mistake, a fair process is not to confuse with a democratic or consensual decision. “It only gives every ideas a chance”. The merit of the idea is what drives the decision making and nothing else.

Finally, to have a fair process, you need to have 3 elements (see below): “Engagement” (The easiest), “Explanation”, “Expectation Clarity”.

Fair Process Advantage

(Fair Process Advantage illustration from the article)

Outcome and process is not to be confused… Ever!
Or the change that needs to be put in place will likely be impossible or so hard on the company that it might have to be halted.

Engagement means involving individuals in the decisions that affect them by asking for their input and allowing them to refute the merits of one another’s ideas and assumptions. Engagement communicates management’s respect for individuals and their ideas. Encouraging refutation sharpens everyone’s thinking and builds collective wisdom. Engagement results in better decisions by management and
greater commitment from all involved in executing those decisions.

Explanation means that everyone involved and affected should understand why final decisions are made as they are. An explanation of the thinking that underlies decisions makes people confident that managers have considered their opinions and have made those decisions impartially in the overall interests of the company. An explanation allows employees to trust managers’ intentions even if their own ideas have been rejected. It also serves as a powerful feedback loop that enhances learning.

Expectation clarity requires that once a decision is made, managers state clearly the new rules of the game. Although the expectations may be demanding, employees should know up front by what standards they will be judged and the penalties for failure. What are the new targets and milestones? Who is responsible for what? To achieve fair process, it matters less what the new rules and policies are and more that they are clearly understood. When people clearly understand what is expected of them, political jockeying and favoritism are minimized, and they can focus on the job at hand.

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