I’ve recently noticed that the topic of fairness has popped up a bit in my life. Some incidents have been closer to home than others and there seems to have been a little more dialogue recently about what it means to be fair.
I live in Waltham Forest which has become a battleground over the development of an initiative called mini-holland. The council has won a grant for a not inconsiderable amount of money and is using it to develop more cycling and pedestrian friendly streets. It might be better described as a warzone. As each area of the borough is reviewed under the mini-holland banner, troops are mobilised under the pro- or anti- banners to fight for their rights. People are invited to comment online via a range of perception surveys. My road doesn’t fall within any of the zones that the mini-holland project is working on. The council have just created a Copenhagen style crossing at the end of my road, are building a cycle path and creating two raised zebra crossings. Residents haven’t been consulted – is this fair?
I don’t know the full circumstances of the VW emissions scandal but it feels unfair for VW to have doctored their engines to beat NO2 tests. They created a competitive edge and exploited it to the limit of their ability. I assume there’s a whistleblowing policy within VW; if someone came to your HR function claiming that an illegal/immoral/unethical practice was being undertaken on a regular basis as at VW, what would you do? HR often sits at the point where individual, functional and organisational motives and values intersect. Managing the conflict that is created when these motives collide should be what HR does. Do your decisions stand up to a test of their integrity?
The cynic in me thought that VW are unlikely to be the only manufacturer to have managed their engine testing to pass emissions tests. Would it be fair for other car manufacturers to manipulate systems in the same as VW? VW’s actions have moved the goalposts – is it now about seeing what you can get away with without being caught? More importantly, was it ever anything other than that?
I had a conversation with someone recently about management development. Part of the conversation turned to pricing and the belief (and in some cases, expectation) that management development activity should cost more than more basic and core skills learning. How have we got to the point, as content is available at almost nil cost, where we still expect a certain spend for a certain group? Is it fair to invest more on those who are paid more anyway? We also discussed investment based on merit; should more successful and capable people cede their entitlement to development? If they have worked out how to develop themselves without the organisation’s help, why should the organisation help them? Is it fair to invest more in people with differing potential? Is that equality?
If you want to consider fairness in terms of ethics within HR, I strongly recommend reading the latest CIPD research on ethical decision making and workplace dilemmas. It looks at ethics through 8 lenses, of which fairness is the first one.
Is your practice fair? What stops you from being fair? I’d love to hear in the comments.