Using Fair Process to Make Better Decisions

Imagine you worked for months to craft a new remote work policy and when you finally announce it, your staff applauds. Why are they so thrilled? Because they not only knew it was coming, but also had a chance to shape its direction. Even those who grumbled about it nod with approval. They get why you made the decision.

If this sounds too good to be true, it doesn’t have to be! That is the power of fair process, a decision-making approach where you give those who will be most impacted by the decision a chance to help shape it.[1] You access perspectives you might not otherwise have and your stakeholders go from “decision-takers” to “decision-shapers” while you, the manager, remain the decision-maker.

We’ve come up with an (aptly named, if we do say so ourselves) acronym to help you remember the steps in fair process: Frame, Ask, Inform, and Revisit (FAIR).

Frame your decision.Start by identifying what stage your decision is in and which of your stakeholders would offer the most useful input.
Ask for and engage with input.Once you know whom to ask and what you want to know, you can involve your stakeholders in focused feedback-gathering. Listen deeply and engage with the input.
Inform and explain your decision. After you make your decision, announce it in a way that generates buy-in and paves the way for implementation.
Revisit the decision-making process.Who doesn’t love a good debrief? Evaluate the outcome of your decision and the process you used to get there to gain valuable lessons learned to carry into the next decision-making cycle. Be sure to check for negative unintended consequences (of the process or the decision itself) on the marginalized people on your team.

When should I use fair process?

Fair process is simple, but we know it’s not easy or fast. We wouldn’t advise you to use fair process for any and every decision (it’d probably be overkill to use fair process to craft an agenda for your next staff meeting or to decide where to go for lunch). Use it for decisions that:

  • Affect a lot of people or several different groups of people
  • Have equity and inclusion implications
  • Lack a clear answer or have multiple possible solutions
  • Have constraints that require creative problem-solving

Fair process builds stakeholder relationships and trust in management. As the manager, the quality of your decisions improves because you see pitfalls in time to avoid them. More perspectives can lead to more creative solutions.

Why it works

People value the fairness of the decision-making process as much as they appreciate a favorable outcome. Most (reasonable!) people understand that compromises are sometimes necessary. When a tough decision draws complaints, it’s often because people feel blindsided, out of the loop, or stressed about its impact on them. Letting your stakeholders be heard and making the process feel fair shortens the distance they’ll have to travel to embrace the decision.

Getting started

To get started making fair process decisions now, see our quick-start guide with details on each step, and review some examples showing how fair process can be used for a wide range of decisions.

[1] Credit to W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne for their pioneering work on this topic.