academy-logoAuthor of prize-winning practical theory on leading (unpopular) changes with fair process, Academy of Management 2012
harvard-logoAuthor of “Managing an Unpopular Change Effort”, Harvard Business Review

What is fair process?

What is Fair Process? Simply put, fair process is honest communication about 1) What is already decided and 2) What your employees can influence (or decide for themselves) and 3) By what criteria their input to your decisions will be judged.

Effects of fair process: The most common effects of fair process is building employees’ trust in you as a manager and a rise in employee engagement and inner motivation to develop solutions and implement decisions. The tangiable results are quicker and better implementation.

Fair process when de-selecting ideas: This positive dynamic is still at play although you might sometimes have to de-select some of your employees’ ideas. Why? Because you have been honestly communicating 1. What is already decided, 2. What your employees can influence and 3. By what criteria their input to your decisions will be judged. This is judged as a fair process by most.

Unfair process: However, you must apply all three principles. Forgetting just one will create an experience of an unfair process and will often elicit a dynamic with distrust in you as a manager (accusing you of “false involvement” and bad quality of decisions) and a drop in employee engagement and reluctance to implement decisions.

Why fair process? In order to craft good solutions to the organization´s challenges you need the people in the frontline to be engaged in crafting, testing and implementing solutions.

Fair process leadership in 5-steps

If you are a project- middle-, or frontline manager leading some sort of change effort, the experience of fair process is best achieved through a 5-step process:

  • Set direction and boundaries of the change ( Direction: What should become possible that is not possible now? Boundaries: What is already decided/cannot be changed?) and point out the space of influence/autonomy for the employees: What can and will they be involved in?
  • Involve employees in crafting solutions (could be ideas for improving a work process)
  • Decide and explain your rationale for selecting and de-selecting ideas/solutions for testing in practice. Explanation makes it clear whether you have given their input serious thought in relation to the direction and boundaries of the change.
  • Involve employees in testing the solutions in practice. Employees do their best to make the solution work in practice. Some adjustments are often made in this phase.
  • Implement. If the solution creates the desired results (see phase 1: What should become possible that is not possible now?) the manager decides to keep the solution.

About fair process leadership in 5-steps

Please note that selecting and deselecting in step 3 is based on a real space of influence or autonomy in step 2: the manager honestly asks for employees’ ideas of how to do things better/differently and selects some ideas for testing. This is always justified according to the direction and boundaries of the change (could be “improve patient flow and quality of care by improving coordination between units and personal in the patient flow”). The employees then suggest specific solutions. As long as the solutions adheres to the direction and boundaries then the solutions are good enough to be tested/implemented. However, the manager still decides which solutions/ideas to test and when.

5-step process: “Fair Process – from unpopular changes to employees crafting solutions” addresses how you – as a frontline or middle manager – can apply the principles of fair process in a structured 5-step process. The book also features a model for degrees of influence and autonomy in decision-making. People care about changes in their work processes. Therefore you get better results when you apply fair process to how you lead a change (by change I mean “getting from the present situation A to what should be the new and better performance situation B”)

The situationImprove quality! Make it better! Service more people! Produce more! Spend less! If you are a middle or front-line manager, these demands may sound familiar. You probably will not succeed in achieving them. Two-thirds of change efforts do not lead to better results (McKinsey, 2008, 2015; Smith, 2002).

Predict success: However, it is possible for you to succeed most of the time (see studies by IBM, 2008; Economist, 2013). In fact, eight times out of ten times it is possible to predict whether a change initiative will produce better results. You do not have to be a fortuneteller! Your prediction can be based on research. You look and listen for just two things in the frontline:

1) Are the employees engaged in crafting, testing and implementing solutions? 2) Do they express a sense of ownership about the purpose of the change effort?

If this is the case the success rate raises to an astonishing eight out of ten (McKinsey, 2010)! How do we make that happen? Well, it is almost all about the power of fair proces in the change process…not the change initiatives themselves!

In the book and online course on Fair Process you will learn all about it. Better yet: I will show you how to design and lead a 5-step change process based on the pratical, but research-based principles of fair proces.

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The past 30 years of research have shown that two out of three change processes do not generate added value for an organization. However, when employees own the objective of the change and are involved in developing and testing solutions, the organization succeeds eight out of ten times. But how do you involve staff without losing control? And how do you control the process without strangling that very ownership? Fair process is a research-based and practical approach to process management of  “involving” change processes. An early version of this book won a prize at the North American Academy of Management researcher practitioner conference in Boston in 2012.  Bo has published a short article about fair process in the Harvard Business Review: “Managing An Unpopular Change Effort.”

Fair Process presents a researched-based but practical approach
with easy to-use-tools for all middle-, front-line and project managers.

Core research on the practical principles and dynamics of fair and unfair process was done by Kim and Mauborgne, Insead University during the eighties and nineties.

The Fair Process book adds more important research and translates it into practical tools. Tools for project, middle- and front-line managers who want to increase the success rate by involving employees in crafting solutions to important challenges for the organisation.

How do you engage your employees and succeed with the change effort most of the time?

How do you involve your employees without losing control?

How do you stay in control without killing engagement and ownership?

How do you involve your employees in ways that improve the group´s collective intelligence = make it easy for them to craft better – not worse – solutions together?


Bo Vestergaard is an author, inspirational speaker and consultant. Based in Denmark.

Award winning for a researched based but practical fair process approach to leading change. His special focus is on fair process tools for middle, front-line and project managers.


How you lead the change – not what your are changing – is the key to raising the success rate of change projects to 8 out of 10 …rather than 3 out of 10 that 30 years of research indicates is the average success rate.

Author of (2015)”Fair process – From Unpopular Changes to Employees Crafting Solutions” and the award-winning paper “Leading unpopular Changes With Fair Process”. In 2012 it was named “Best paper” in the Management Consulting category and among the top ten percent best papers at the prestigious North American Academy of Management Conference.  He is also the author of the short Harvard Business Review article “Managing an Unpopular Change Effort”  .

Professional Partner in Relational Coordination Research Collaborative, Brandeis University, Boston.