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It’s not fair!!! 

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing.  If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Groucho Marx

It’s Not Fair

Every parent has heard the howl — “It’s not fair!”

And on the political level, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Never Trumpers, and the Tea Party all make the same claim: It’s not fair.

But what does it mean to be fair?  What is fairness, after all?

Here are three different ideas about what we mean by fairness:

  1. Sameness: There is fairness where everything is equal.  No one has more than another.  Everyone eats, or no one does, for example.  Fairness is finding the average and applying it across the board.  This is fairness as equality of outcome.
  2. Deservedness: Fairness means keeping what you deserve and deserving nothing if it isn’t earned. The hardest working, most diligent, smartest, and most talented should have more because of their attributes; the lazy, indifferent, stupid, and inept deserve to have less.  Fairness is a rational calculation.  This is fairness as individual freedom.
  3. Need: The third idea of fairness is that those who have more to give should give a greater percentage of what they have to help others who cannot contribute much, if anything at all. Fairness here takes into account the fact that humans have obligations to one another, and the more one has, the more is demanded of that person to contribute to the common good.  This is fairness as social justice.

Fairness in Business

“Who says life is fair?  Where is that written?”

William Goldman, The Princess Bride

This is a powerful quote from the movie classic The Princess Bride.  It points to a truth everyone experiences and knows to be true.

Life is not fair!

Fairness in business is a constant struggle.  Regardless of our business size, market type, business model, whatever, all businesses experience customers who feel they have received unfair service.  Yet, despite this, most companies claim as one of their corporate values – fairness.

Previously mentioned are the three types of fairness.  In business, we have a fourth type of fairness (more specifically, a combination of the first three types).

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we are concerned with how we make decisions.  The value of fairness is about the process of decision-making, not the outcome.

That’s the point of fairness.

In a business setting, the goal is to make good decisions that serve the needs of the business without harming anyone (i.e., customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and the community at large).

  • Does that mean everyone will like the decisions made?  No.
  • Does that mean some will see the decisions as unfair?  Yes.

That’s life.

Now, if you’re trying to ensure a fair work environment, consider carefully if you’re trying to please everyone – or simply make good decisions that are free from discrimination and dishonesty.

If you follow a fair process, then once you have made a decision you can move forward with confidence. You’ve made the right decision.

The Bible

In the Bible, the classic fairness story is from Matthew 20:1-16.

In this story, a farmer hires laborers first thing in the morning to work his farm.  Then, he employs more laborers at mid-morning, again at noon, also at midafternoon, and surprisingly again in the evening.  And then, at the end of the day, he pays them all the same wage.

And of course, the ones hired first were outraged because, on an hourly wage bases, they were paid the least.

The farmer responded that he was fair because he paid each man what was agreed when he hired them.

“Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?  Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’”  Matthew 20:15

This parable teaches us all about the characteristics of God.  God has never broken His promise.    God never promised that life would be easy or fair, but He does promise that He will be with us and that He’ll take care of us.

Furthermore, God does not distribute His grace by method or achievement.  His grace is the same for all of us. The same measure of grace is shown to the person saved at the last minute of life as the one who lived a lifetime in fellowship with God.
As mentioned earlier, it is the process we, as business leaders, must make sure is fair. 

If the process is fair, we do not have to worry if the outcome is seen as fair.  God’s process is fair, even though many don’t see what He has given them in this life as fair. 

But it is undoubtedly fair.