Why incompetent people get hired (and promoted)

We have all felt at one time or another that someone who should have never been hired- much less promoted, has gotten ahead of us in our career. Sometimes, that person is our boss. Or that really annoying co-worker, whose messes you end up always having to clean up. But they are not the problem.

You are.

This whole issue of incompetence is a problem with perception, and may have little to do with the reality of the situation.

You see, the problem is, YOU think that they are incompetent. Because of what YOU see. They don’t think that they are incompetent. So who is right? To answer that question, we have to ask the people that matter- that person’s boss. Because really, in this situation, their opinion matters the most.

Chances are, they are probably doing a lot more right than you think they do- but for the ‘right’ people.

Here are a few reasons why ‘incompetent’ people get hired (and promoted):

They know and obey the rules. They are not mavericks. They colour between the lines. They do just enough to stay under the radar. You probably don’t. And whilst sometimes the high flying risk taker gets noticed and admired, this does not work in all organisational cultures. Let’s face facts, some organisations prefer obedient sheep.

They know how to get others to do their work. This is a good one. I know of instances where co-workers feign ignorance, because they know that the ‘know it all’ (i.e. you), will jump at the task. And take the fall if/when it fails. Its not that they can’t do the job- they would just prefer to watch you do it.

They focus on the decision makers. They work really hard when it matters- when the right people are watching. They don’t need to impress you. But they know when the VP of Marketing is in the office, and when that proposal needs to get done. And though they may not do much towards getting it done, they sure know how to make it appear like they did.

The culture supports them. This goes back to organisational sheep. Some companies are built this way. They hire this way. In fact, you are the anomaly- the misfit. Where do you get off being all efficient and effective?

But this isn’t your problem. It is an HR problem. When the HR function has a peripheral role in Recruitment and Selection and Performance Management, the incompetent among us can sail on through to the boardroom.

So the focus really has to be on building a competent HR Team- that knows the business, understands the strategic direction and can hire based on those facts. And once the employee is on board, their performance is measured against clearly defined objectives and targets. Those things make it difficult to hide.

I believe that there are really very few genuinely incompetent people in the workforce. Lazy, yes. Conniving, sure. But sitting in the lunch-room grousing about it surely won’t improve the situation; nor is deciding to become incompetent yourself by withdrawing your enthusiasm from work.

For those of you who are entrepreneurs, or contemplating starting your own business, this is of particular importance. The last person you want to hire in your growing business is someone who is accustomed to ducking work. References can play big role here.

We need to put the focus on where it belongs- on the Human Resource department, and making sure that the required competence levels reside there. That will fix everything else.

Jeremy was last seen wondering if an HR Officer writes an HR policy in the middle of the work-week and no one reads it- is it still relevant?

photo credit


Author: Jeremy Francis

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