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Welcome to the March 2009 issue of Alignment Solutions!

We are pleased to announce that a new Special Report on Appreciative Inquiry is now available. Titled "The Transformative Power of Appreciative Inquiry," this report describes how taking a positive approach to problems and issues can effect transformative change. It also provides examples of how this approach can be applied in the workplace. If you are intrigued by this concept or curious about how it can help you optimize your organization's results, I invite you to take a look! Simply go to, click on the "Special Resources" link on the left side of the page, and follow the instructions.

Our new article series called Research News You Can Use selects findings of academic research that are applicable in the workplace, and suggests how you might implement them in your organization.

March Topic: How to Mitigate the Effects of Economic Hardship

Premise: Ensuring that employees perceive decision-making processes as fair increases the likelihood that they will accept negative outcomes of management decisions.

This month's theme is "the ROI (return on investment) of procedural fairness." One way to optimize business results is to make sure your employees support management decisions. While such alignment is important in general, gaining this support becomes critical during challenging times, as the decisions become harder and involve individual and organizational economic survival. Application of a concept called procedural fairness enables employers to increase the likelihood that workers will accept workplace decisions, even those that affect them negatively. The investment? Your time and commitment to ensuring fair decision-making processes.

The Feature Article, "How to Increase Employees' Acceptance of Workplace Decisions," explains how applying the concept of procedural fairness pays huge dividends in the form of employees' acceptance of management decisions, even when those decisions have negative outcomes. This information is particularly useful during times of economic hardship, when so many management decisions seem to involve reactive choices between the lesser of two evils rather than proactive choices between viable, positive alternatives.

In "Ensuring Procedurally Fair Decision-making Processes," the Business Solutions section suggests seven steps to increase the likelihood that your organization's decision-making processes are viewed as fair by employees and stakeholders.

In the Personal Solutions section, "Personal Applications of Procedural Fairness" uses a family-related example to demonstrate how the concept of procedural fairness can be used in non-workplace settings to achieve similar benefits. If you have kids who don't always agree with the decisions you make, this article may be especially meaningful!

I invite you to visit my web site at to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!


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How to Increase Employees' Acceptance of Workplace Decisions

Do you ever make decisions whose outcomes are viewed as unfair by employees? Do you hear employees ask questions like: "Why does John get to work a flexible schedule and I don't?" or "How come Lisa got that promotion when everyone knows I'm more qualified?" Do you struggle with decisions between equally undesirable outcomes? Would you like to significantly reduce the number of complaints about the unfairness of workplace decisions? If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, a simple concept called procedural fairness may be of interest to you.

There are two aspects of fairness that are particularly relevant to decision-making. Distributive fairness addresses the outcome of a decision; procedural fairness speaks to the process or rules by which the decision was made. To illustrate the distinction between these concepts, think of a homemade apple pie and twelve hungry pie lovers. Suppose that everyone agrees that the fair way to distribute the pie is to split it evenly among those present. Though some of the pie lovers may be unhappy at the miniscule size of their share, they accept it because they believe the process by which the group made the decision was fair.

Managers constantly have to make decisions about how to allocate scarce resources. Often the decisions result in outcomes that neither the managers nor the employees like. The good news is that while managers may not be able to control the outcomes of many decisions, they can control the process by which they make decisions. More importantly, research shows that people will accept even undesirable outcomes if they believe the processes used to arrive at those results are fair. For example, suppose three very qualified individuals have applied for one position. Management cannot justify creating two more positions to accommodate the excellent employees, so two people are likely to be unhappy that they were not selected. However, if the employees knew the criteria and the rules in advance, and if they believe the selection process was transparent, reasonable, and free of bias, they will accept the decision, even though two of them would have preferred a different outcome.

Perceptions of procedural fairness have implications for important workplace attitudes and behaviors. For example, employees who see decision-making processes as fair tend to go above and beyond what their jobs require, perform at a high level, and trust decision makers. The organization benefits in other ways: employees who perceive decision-making processes are fair tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, forgiving of perceived violations of organizational commitments, and likely to contribute to organizational change than their counterparts who believe the processes are unfair.

Procedural fairness has many applications to decision-making in the workplace. Examples include decisions related to pay, making and following rules, standardizing professional work, organizational change, discrimination complaints, managerial control, and teamwork. In short, there are many opportunities for you to realize the myriad of benefits listed above.

For suggestions of how to ensure that your organization's decision-making processes are perceived as fair, please see the Business Solutions section of this newsletter.

In short, fairness of decision-making processes is critical to employees' acceptance of their outcomes. Ensuring that employees perceive decisions as procedurally fair literally can transform your workplace from one where complaints, mistrust, and dissatisfaction are common to one in which employees take disappointments in stride and continue to contribute positively to the organization. You have the power to shape your employees' behaviors in a positive way or a negative way. Which outcome do you choose for your organization?

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Ensuring Procedurally Fair Decision-making Processes

In order for employees to accept management decisions, particularly when the outcomes of those decisions are negative, they must perceive organizational decision-making processes as fair. Here are seven steps that will dramatically increase the likelihood that your organization's decision-making processes are perceived as fair.

  1. To the extent possible, allow employees and relevant stakeholders (i.e., those who will be affected by the decisions) meaningful opportunities to provide input into the decision-making process.
  2. State the decision criteria clearly in advance of the decision.

  3. a. Use objective standards whenever possible.

    b. Ensure the criteria are logical, relevant, and used consistently.

    c. Explain why these criteria were chosen.

  4. Communicate the criteria to all employees and stakeholders.
  5. Make the process as transparent as possible. Continue to communicate throughout the process, not just when identifying the criteria and rules.
  6. Follow the stated criteria consistently. If there must be an exception, justify it clearly and forthrightly.
  7. Ensure that the results are consistent with the stated criteria.
  8. Provide appeal procedures for decisions wherever possible.


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Personal Applications of Procedural Fairness

The concept of procedural fairness works in arenas outside the workplace. For example, parents constantly make decisions with which their kids must comply, even when they disagree. No doubt we could compile quite a list of stories about how smoothly the implementation process went for such unpopular or unwelcome decisions! As explained in the Feature Article, people who are dissatisfied with the results of a decision (distributive fairness) are more likely to accept them if they perceive that the decision-making process was fair (procedural fairness). By taking the same steps listed in the Business Solutions section, we can increase the likelihood that decision-making processes outside the workplace are perceived as fair.

To illustrate a non-workplace application, let's see how a family whose three teenagers share one computer can develop a decision-making process for computer access that everyone is likely to accept.

  1. The parents hold a family discussion that covers all aspects of computer usage, including distinguishing between individual wants (e.g., spend time on Facebook) and genuine needs (e.g., conduct research for a school project).
  2. Together, the family identifies decision criteria that will enable them to prioritize competing needs and wants and to consider each individual's schedule.
  3. Once the parents finalize the criteria, they communicate the rules to the kids and post them next to the computer.
  4. When questions or conflicts arise, the parents resolve them by referring to the designated rules.
  5. When exceptions to the rules occur, the parents provide clear justifications for their resolution.
  6. Periodically, the family assesses the extent to which the results are consistent with the stated criteria, and adjust the latter as necessary.
  7. Each child is entitled to appeal a decision that he or she believes to be unfair.

While the above process will not necessarily result in every child's being happy with the amount of computer time he or she is allocated, it is more likely to ensure that they all will accept the outcomes simply because the rule-making process is fair. And isn't peace at home a valuable outcome?


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Date of Publication: February, 2009 | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2009 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch