There’s a misguided thought that leaders and managers should treat all employees the same. It’s actually better, however, to treat people differently. EEO regulations and increased attention to racism are, of course, good objectives but can lead some to erroneous conclusions. Both seek to increase fairness, opportunity, and diversity but neither advocate treating everyone exactly alike.
Each person who works in your company is a beautifully unique individual. When you treat every one of them the same, you deny their uniqueness which can make them feel unappreciated, even invisible. Being treated the same as everyone else despite their unique contributions stifles an individual’s desire to perform at a higher level.
If you reward everybody the same, you’ll get everyone performing at the same level. Over time the high performers will say ‘why should I work so hard?’ Everyone is not a high performer and that’s OK. You want to have solid, steady citizens and you want to keep them engaged just as much as you want to keep your high performers engaged.
People are in different places in their lives or they simply have different skills and experience levels. For any number of reasons people have different capacity, time and energy. They need and want different things at work. Sue may be a higher performer after the kids leave home or Ted may be a higher performer after he gets a contentious divorce behind him. Bob may never be a superstar but he contributes in his own steady way. When you treat people differently, you validate them and at the same time, you foster the diversity on your team.
Equal opportunity, not equal outcomes
Your goal is equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. If everyone has the same opportunity, some people will leverage that opportunity to produce higher value. Recognize and reward them with higher pay, special projects, increased freedom in the work schedule, and more flexibility in how the work gets done. Ask for their advice and input and use it. Give your high-potentials more challenging projects. They know who they are and they’ll see the additional challenge as a compliment.
If you don’t recognize and reward your high performers, they’ll go where they will be rewarded. You want to make sure you do everything you can to retain them in recognition of the value they bring to the business. This doesn’t preclude anyone from being a high performer. If high-potential people get special rewards and others see that, the hope is that others will aspire to it. In this way, you’re always moving the performance bell curve higher over time.
Treating people equally leads to equal outcomes. In other words, treating people the same leads to mediocrity. Your goal should be to get to know each employee as the unique human being they are. Treat people differently and your company will be know as the preferred employer.