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Incompetence Is Bad. . .This Is Worse

January 10, 2019

We’ve all been there right? We’ve had that coworker who was just not very good at their job. Sometimes it’s understandable. I enjoy working with interns and recent college grads. These people come into the workforce with a little bit of knowledge, very little experience, and (hopefully) a whole lot of enthusiasm.

I have a set of management rules that I use when I manage a team. The very first rule is

1. In the absence of orders: attack

Basically it’s me empowering my team to make decisions. I don’t want them to ignore directions. In other words, follow your orders. But, in those cases where there is no direction, I want my team to use their best judgement and make the decision. Don’t wait around on trying to find me if it’s a time critical issue.

Employees often don’t believe me at first. But, as long as I continue to support them in trusting their judgement, eventually they realize that I mean what I say.

You see the problem, right? What if they make the wrong decision? Surprisingly, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you might think. Sure, occasionally, I’ve had to correct someone after the fact, “You did this, but you should have done that.” It becomes a teaching moment. But, the majority of the time, they make the right decision. Or, at least a right decision. And many times, they come up with a better solution than I would have thought of.

Most importantly, it let’s them feel like they own their job. . .and their decisions. It builds their confidence and enthusiasm.

In rare cases, it turns out an employee is just a bad fit. They are enthused. They are motivated. But, the job doesn’t fit their skills. I can work with that. We can either train them, or move them. But, if their intentions are good, we can work with them.

It’s not the worst thing in the world.

What is?

I had a project manager one time on a very high profile project. In hindsight, I should have done the PM work myself, but I really felt like a professional PM would get our project on track. We hired a guy and it was immediately obvious that we were going to have some issues integrating him into our development team. He knew how to do project management. . .sort of. But, he wasn’t working well with the developers. And when he went to make those “in the absence of orders” decisions, it didn’t go well.

Our investors wanted him gone. My developers were frustrated. But, I wasn’t ready to cut bait with him. We continued to work on his skills.

And then, he went to sit at our client’s location one day and fell asleep. . .twice. . .before lunch.

I fired him. Not because he fell asleep. That was bad, and likely would have warrented firing. But, he then denied it; to me, to the client, to everyone. In other words, he insisted it wasn’t his problem.

As an experienced manager your job is to coach your team. Incompetence is not a crime. For example, I am completely incompentent when it comes to supply chain management. If I were asked to step into that role, I would be way behind the curve. But, given time and experience, and a willingness to learn, I’m confident I could figure it out.

I’m an expert in project management and team leadership. I have tons of experience and dozens of successful projects and teams. However, if I get hired by a company and I refuse to learn their system, or I just refuse to do the job, no amount of training will correct that.

I’ll take enthusiastic incompetence over lazy intransigence any day.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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