Trial and Error

Written by Richard Binner, Chief Client Officer

Recently my daughter came home from school upset that the selection process for her school’s netball teams was, in her eyes, unfair. It seemed that a couple of players who did not participate in the trials were still selected for the top team. When thinking about this I knew it was going to be an interesting conversation.  Upon discussion with her it quickly became apparent that her issue was not about whether the girls should be in the top team or not – she acknowledged they are the best people for the team, she was however upset that the ‘rules’ around the trialling process were not followed.

When asked to write a piece on fairness this example immediately came to mind because it is a great example of how your view of fairness can change depending on your perspective. In the situation above while the fairness of the outcome was not in question, there was a concern about procedural fairness. My daughter’s observation was that the defined selection process was not being followed, therefore she felt the process was unfair.  So, what is most important, outcome or procedural fairness?

I am not going to spend time commenting on that, however I will make some general observations about fairness from over 25 year’s in the corporate world.

First, what is fairness?  The definition is - impartial and just treatment or behaviour without favouritism or discrimination.

To be honest I don’t think that definition would help many people in practice.  In my experience in dealing with people there is a more abstract view of fairness and this is largely influenced by their perception at the time together with their many biases, both conscious and sub conscious, not to mention societies ever changing views.  I have found that the ideal or perception of fairness often comes from a position of self-interest – What can I get? 

So, can I ask . . . 

Is it fair that I was born in NZ and have a comfortable life versus someone born in other less fortunate parts of the world?

Is it fair that a building company goes under because another party doesn’t want to share or pay for the risk of the project?

Is it fair that many of the world’s population don’t have enough food to sustain life?

The interesting question we all need to reflect on is: How often do we truly want (or think about) fairness? Is fairness something that is embedded in our consciousness or an ideal that only raises its head when we feel unfairly treated?

There is an irony in my mind that despite the increased profile fairness is seeing in society there is a lot less willingness from people to give anything up to achieve it.

Growing up I was lucky to have awesome parents and mum was particularly of the view that life will at times not appear to be fair, but if you always think about the other person and put their needs ahead of yours you will be doing well. 

Yet, we spend a lot of time, energy and money creating complex systems to try and establish a sense of fairness when employing some age-old principles of considering the needs of others would make a significance difference.

How do we do this? One great way is to think before you engage, what is your position, interests and needs, and what about those of the other party? (these are great mediation techniques that many practitioners use today).

A boss I had early in my career use to remind me when doing business to ensure there is always something of value left on the table, in this way you will be able to maintain long-term relationships and help the other party see value and fairness – wise words.

So back to my daughter’s dilemma, after a bit of conversation and trying to draw out the rationale for her thinking I enquired what she was going to do about it. She resolved to speak to the teacher in charge and explain how she felt fairness was not completely achieved and her (and others) felt misled by the process.  In essence she was saying the way you go about making decisions and communicating them is as important as the decision itself. 

So, fairness isn’t something that is easy to define, but it is a lot easier to achieve if we are truly mindful of the position, interests and needs of the other party.

About the author

Richard Binner is Chief Client Officer at FairWay. Richard has held a number of senior/executive management roles throughout his 20 + years in the Financial Services industry.

If you are interested in meeting Richard or learning more about FairWay, get in touch with Richard on 04 381 5093 or by emailing