industry thoughts from Clarteza

03 November
Mag Retelewski

Fairness Matters. Especially if it Defines Your Business.

Oxford Dictionary definition of fairness is: “An impartial and just treatment or behavior without favoritism or discrimination.” To me, it means everyone has the same opportunity to succeed and be treated equally.

This doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they want, it merely suggests that everyone has the same chance of reaching their goal. The individual performance will dictate whether they would succeed or not, if treated fairly.

In the last few years Clarteza has been involved in evaluating the role of dance in people’s lives. More extensively, the impact of ballroom dancing on health and wellness, personal growth as well as customer satisfaction with different dance companies and studios.

Personally, I also got involved in competitive ballroom dancing. The hobby I started at the age where most professional dancers retire. This has been quite a life changing experience. Consequently, the work in the ballroom dance industry allowed me to combine my professional experience of understanding human behavior, with my love for performing arts, music and dance.

One of the elements of the ballroom dancing world are competitions. These are events where participants showcase their learned craft and compete against other dancing couples. Over the years, I have observed, participated in and learned a lot myself. It can certainly be a rollercoaster of emotions: elations and frustrations. It’s not easy, because for some competitors, their identity is on the line.

Earlier this year, my Clarteza team wanted to learn about what really matters for competitors. For example: why ballroom dancers choose one event over the other, how many they typically do, what is their best vs. worst experience, will they return or recommend one? We’ve been collecting the data for several months across over 74 competitions and while some had very few participants in the surveys, others many. We had over 300 dancers in the study. Here are some insights:

When we asked: how important different elements are when choosing a competition, out of the list of twenty attributes, five elements emerged to the top as most important, by far.

–      Fairness of judging – 9 out of 10 think it’s very important *

–      Level of organization – 8 out of 10 consider it very important*

–      Adequate number of judges (at least 5) – 8 out of 10 consider it very important*

–      Communication from organizers – 7 out of 10 consider it very important*

–      Competition pricing – 7 out of 10 consider it very important*

When we asked what are the 3 most important elements when considering which competitions to participate in, the learnings are similar but shine a slightly different light:

–      Fairness of judging

–      Quality of competitors

–      Competition pricing

The weight of the above three attributes is significantly greater than anything else on the list of 20 options combined. People deeply care about how they are evaluated; they want to compete against good dancers and value matters.

I’ve also learned from professional and amateur competitors how passionate they are about competing. Why would they NOT be? They want to know: How good the are. If they are improving. How far they have to go to be better? Where are their weakness and strengths? How they perform under pressure.

To get ready for a ballroom dance competition, participants spend countless hours learning and practicing their routines. It means sweat and tears perfecting the movements, expression, musicality and having outside coaches who provide additional training. This is a significant commitment and so everyone cares a lot!

In reality, the forces in competitive ballroom competitions are complex, as they are in any other industry: political forces, cognitive biases, preferences, sponsorships and of course unconscious biases.

Importantly, fairness of judging is the number one attribute on both lists. In fact, when we look at top two box importance for Fairness of Judging (important/somewhat important) we see that effectively everyone who competes cares: 99%. This suggests, that fairness should be a price of entry for all organizations, something that is required by participants and honored by organizers.

Granted, judging during a dance competition is not easy either. A judge needs to make their choices and placements within a very short period of time and there can be 12 competing couples at a time. It can be a high pressure job with very little time.

Now, how do you ensure fairness where there are so many forces at play?

I acknowledge that this is no easy feat…and generally requires a process, guardrails and ethical underpinnings. 

Essentially, by creating an environment and the processes where fairness is expected, followed and valued. Specific strategies and tactics can be benchmarked and applied from other competitive sports or industries. If people see a well-run, fairly judged events, loyalty typically follows. It’s the same principal in any industry. If you create a service or a product that meets customers needs you create a winning situation for everyone.

Being treated fairly is the most important attribute here, a value that is deeply human so it matters even more. What’s interesting, not just humans wish to be treated fairly, but other mammals too. See an interesting experiment with Capuchin monkeys.

The insights from our study thus far, highlight what matters most to ballroom dance customers. When events support fairness of judging, quality of participants, strong organization and delivery on value, the participants tend to pay wholesome loyalty dividends.

On the other hand, if the most important elements are perceived to be lacking, loyalty to that event and more importantly, the relevance and validity of the competitive ballroom dancing industry may be questioned.

Fairness matters in general, but especially if it defines your business.

If you wish to learn more about this study, or if you wish to take the survey please reach out

Mag Retelewski is a founder of Clarteza, insights and strategy company to Fortune 500 companies. Clarteza focuses on innovation. Mag is an entrepreneur, strategist and a speaker. Her study of business, the violin and dance has influenced her approach to problem solving . She looks for insights that can influence the trajectory of the business.

*Scale 1-5 with 1 being unimportant to 5 being very important.