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  • For me, it was not being invited to a friend's wedding.

  • At first, I didn't really mind.

  • I thought he was having a small reception.

  • But then I kept meeting people who were going to the same wedding,

  • and they weren't as close to the groom as I was ...

  • and I felt left out.

  • That really sucked.

  • It felt really unfair.

  • For my daughters, Lipsi and Greta, it was last week.

  • They were taking turns massaging their mom's back

  • with a toy for back rubs,

  • and then one of the girls felt that the other girl had a longer go.

  • That's when I walk into the room

  • to find Greta in a rage, shouting, "That's not fair!"

  • and Lipsi in tears,

  • and my wife holding a stopwatch

  • to make sure that each girl had precisely one minute on the toy.

  • So if you're anything like me or my girls,

  • the last thing that upset you

  • probably also had to do with unfairness.

  • That's because unfairness triggers us so strongly

  • that we can't think straight.

  • We become afraid and suspicious.

  • Our unfairness antennae stick up.

  • We feel pain, and we walk away.

  • Unfairness is one of the defining issues of our society,

  • it's one of the root causes of polarization,

  • and it's bad news for business.

  • At work, unfairness makes people defensive and disengaged.

  • A study shows that 70 percent of workers in the US are disengaged,

  • and this is costing the companies

  • 550 billion dollars a year every year.

  • This is, like, half the total spent on education in the US.

  • This is the size of the GDP of a country like Austria.

  • So removing unfairness and promoting fairness

  • should be our priority.

  • But what does it mean in practice?

  • Is it about more rules? Is it about systems?

  • Is it about equality?

  • Well, partly, but fairness is more interesting than rules and equality.

  • Fairness works in surprising ways.

  • 15 years ago, I left a US investment bank

  • to join a large Italian state-owned oil company.

  • It was a different world.

  • I thought the key to getting the best performance

  • was a risk-reward system

  • where you could give the high performers bonuses and promotions

  • and give the underperformers something to worry about.

  • But in this company, we had fixed salaries

  • and lifelong jobs.

  • Careers were set,

  • so my toolkit wasn't very effective,

  • and I was frustrated.

  • But then I saw that this company was producing some pockets of excellence,

  • areas in which they beat the competition

  • in very tough, competitive sectors.

  • This was true in trading,

  • in project management --

  • it was very true in exploration.

  • Our exploration team was finding more oil and gas

  • than any other company in the world.

  • It was a phenomenon.

  • Everyone was trying to figure out how this was possible.

  • I thought it was luck,

  • but after each new discovery, that became less and less likely.

  • So did we have a special tool? No.

  • Did we have a killer application that no one else had? No.

  • Was it one genius who was finding oil for the whole team?

  • No, we hadn't hired a senior guy in years.

  • So what was our secret sauce?

  • I started looking at them really carefully.

  • I looked at my friend,

  • who drilled seven dry wells,

  • writing off more than a billion dollars for the company,

  • and found oil on the eighth.

  • I was nervous for him ...

  • but he was so relaxed.

  • I mean, these guys knew what they were doing.

  • And then it hit me: it was about fairness.

  • These guys were working in a company

  • where they didn't need to worry about short-term results.

  • They weren't going to be penalized for bad luck or for an honest mistake.

  • They knew they were valued for what they were trying to do,

  • not the outcome.

  • They were valued as human beings. They were part of a community.

  • Whatever happened, the company would stand by them.

  • And for me, this is the definition of fairness.

  • It's when you can lower those unfairness antennae, put them at rest.

  • Then great things follow.

  • These guys could be true to their purpose, which was finding oil and gas.

  • They didn't have to worry about company politics or greed or fear.

  • They could be good risk-takers,

  • because they weren't too defensive

  • and they weren't gambling to take huge rewards.

  • And they were excellent team workers.

  • They could trust their colleagues.

  • They didn't need to look behind their backs.

  • And they were basically having fun.

  • They were having so much fun,

  • one guy even confessed

  • that he was having more fun at the company Christmas dinner

  • than at his own Christmas dinner.

  • (Laughter)

  • But these guys, essentially, were working in a fair system

  • where they could do what they felt was right

  • instead of what's selfish, what's quick, what's convenient,

  • and to be able to do what we feel is right

  • is a key ingredient for fairness, but it is also a great motivator.

  • And it wasn't just explorers who were doing the right thing.

  • There was an HR director who proposed that I hire someone internally

  • and give him a managerial job.

  • This guy was very good, but he didn't finish high school,

  • so formally, he had no qualifications.

  • But he was so good, it made sense, and so we gave him the job.

  • Or the other guy, who asked me for a budget to build a cheese factory

  • next to our plant in Ecuador, in the village.

  • It didn't make any sense: no one ever built a cheese factory.

  • But this is what the village wanted, because the milk they had would spoil

  • before they could sell it, so that's what they needed.

  • And so we built it.

  • So in these examples and many others,

  • I learned that to be fair,

  • my colleagues and I, we needed to take a risk and stick our head out,

  • but in a fair system, you can do that.

  • You can dare to be fair.

  • So I realized that these guys and other colleagues

  • were achieving great results, doing great things,

  • in a way that no bonus could buy.

  • So I was fascinated.

  • I wanted to learn how this thing really worked,

  • and I wanted to learn it also for myself, to become a better leader.

  • So I started talking to colleagues, to coaches,

  • to headhunters and neuroscientists,

  • and what I discovered

  • is that what these guys were up to and the way they worked

  • is really supported by recent brain science.

  • And I've also discovered that this can work at all levels

  • in any type of company.

  • You don't need the fixed salaries or the stable careers.

  • This is because science shows

  • that humans have an innate sense of fairness.

  • We know what is right and what is wrong

  • before we can talk or think about it.

  • My favorite experiment

  • has six-month old babies

  • watching a ball trying to struggle up a hill.

  • And there's a helpful, friendly square that pushes the ball up the hill,

  • and then a mean triangle pushes the ball back down.

  • After watching this several times,

  • they ask the babies to pick,

  • to choose what to play with.

  • They can pick a ball, a square or a triangle.

  • They never pick up the triangle.

  • All the babies want to be the square.

  • And science also shows

  • that when we see or perceive fairness,

  • our brain releases a substance that gives us pleasure,

  • proper joy.

  • But when we perceive unfairness, we feel pain ...

  • even greater pain

  • than the same type of pain as if I really hurt myself.

  • That's because unfairness triggers the primitive, reptile part of our brain,

  • the part that deals with threats and survival,

  • and when unfairness triggers a threat, that's all we can think about.

  • Motivation, creativity, teamwork,

  • they all go way back.

  • And it makes sense that we're wired this way,

  • because we're social animals.

  • We need to be part of a community to survive.

  • We're born so helpless

  • that someone needs to look after us until we're maybe 10 years old,

  • so our brain evolves towards food.

  • We need to be in that community.

  • So whether I like it or not,

  • not being invited to the friend's wedding,

  • my lizard brain is generating the same response

  • as if I'm about to be pushed out from my community.

  • So science explains quite nicely why fairness is good

  • and why unfairness makes us really defensive,

  • but science also shows that in a fair environment,

  • not only do we all want to be the square,

  • but we tend to be the square,

  • and this allows other people to be fair in turn.

  • This creates a beautiful fairness circle.

  • But while we start off fair ...

  • one drop of unfairness contaminates the whole pool,

  • and unfortunately, there's plenty of drops in that pool.

  • So our effort should be to filter out

  • as much unfairness as we can from everywhere,

  • starting from our communities, starting from our companies.

  • I worry about this a lot because I lead a team of 3,000 excellent people,

  • and the difference between 3,000 happy, motivated team workers

  • and 3,000 clock-watchers is everything.

  • So the first thing I try to do in my fairness crusade

  • is to try to take myself out of the equation.

  • That means being aware of my own biases.

  • For example, I really like people who say yes

  • to whatever I suggest.

  • (Laughter)

  • But that's not very good for the company

  • and not very good for anyone who has different ideas.

  • So we try to actively promote a culture of diversity of opinions

  • and diversity of character.

  • The second thing we do is a little more procedural.

  • We look at all the rules, the processes, the systems in the company,

  • the ones we use to take decisions and allocate resources,

  • and we try to get rid of anything that's not very clear,

  • not very rational, doesn't make sense,

  • and we also try to fix anything that's limiting

  • the transfer of information within the company.

  • We then look at the culture and the motivation for the same reasons.

  • But my point is that however hard you look at the rules,

  • the processes, the systems -- and we have to do that --

  • but however hard we look,

  • we're never going to do enough to get to the real essence of fairness.

  • That's because the last mile of fairness requires something else.

  • It's about what people's emotions are,

  • what their needs are,

  • what's going on in their private lives,

  • what society needs.

  • These are all questions and elements

  • that are very hard to put into a spreadsheet, into an algorithm.

  • It's very hard to make them part of our rational decision.

  • But if we miss these, we're missing key important points,

  • and the outcome is likely to feel unfair.

  • So we should cross-check our decisions with our fairness center switched on.

  • Is it right that this guy should get the job he's really hoping to get?

  • Is it right that this guy should be fired?

  • Is it right that we should be charging so much for this product?

  • These are tough questions.

  • But if we take the time to ask ourselves

  • whether the rational answer is the right one ...

  • we all know deep inside what the answer is.

  • We've known since we were babies.

  • And to know what the right answer is

  • is pretty cool for decision-making.

  • And if we turn on our hearts,

  • that's the key to getting the real best out of people,

  • because they can smell it if you care,

  • and only when you really care will they leave their fears behind

  • and bring their true selves to work.

  • So if fairness is a keystone of life,

  • why isn't every leader making it their priority?

  • Wouldn't it be cool to work in a company that was more fair?

  • Wouldn't it be great to have colleagues and bosses

  • that were selected and trained for fairness and for character

  • and not based on 60-year-old GMATs?

  • Wouldn't it be nice to be able to knock on the door

  • of a Chief Fairness Officer?

  • We'll get there, but why is it not happening now?

  • Well, partly, it's because of inertia,

  • partly, it's because fairness isn't always easy.

  • It requires judgment and risk.

  • Drilling that eighth well was a risk.

  • Promoting the guy who didn't finish high school was a risk.

  • Building a cheese factory in Ecuador was a risk.