Won’t people complain when I deliberately treat some people better than others? Won’t I be accused of favoritism?
Yes, they will complain. Yes, you will be accused of favoritism. That’s okay.
Consider where the complaints are coming from—the poorer performers. If you treat everyone exactly alike, regardless of performance, you will also get complaints. But this time those complaints will originate with your best workers, the ones you least want to provoke complaints from. The manager who strives to make everyone happy and satisfied is pursuing a foolish course.
The manager’s job is to make sure that some people—the better performers—are very happy and very satisfied. And if the poorer performers feel that that’s unfair, all the manager needs to do is explain to them what they need to do to move up into the realm of the higher performers.
The primary requirement for successful performance management is courage. Being a good manager requires some skills, but most people have the capability to learn those skills and apply them reasonably well. What ordinary managers lack is courage: the courage to accept that some people do perform better than others do, and to use discretion in handing out formal and informal rewards.