You’ve probably worked with someone who was completely incompetent. It may have even been your boss. Did you ever wonder how they got where they are? It’s a complex phenomenon, but if you feel surrounded by incompetence you’re not alone. You can see the formation of incompetence being rewarded if you think back to public school. The education system churns out poorly educated and incompetent folks all the time. Were the most popular people in your high school the straight A students or the D+ jocks and cheerleaders?
If your high school was anything like mine, the jocks and cheerleaders hogged the limelight and popularity even though their academic performance may have been atrocious. And the workplace sometimes seems an extension of high school. Popularity and promotions may not always be as performance-based as they ought to be. Sometimes the cool kids are going to get what should have been yours. That can result in being surrounded by mediocre performers.
If you are in a position of thought leadership in your company, or if you run your own small business, you can avoid falling into the trap of a mediocre workforce. More importantly, you can ensure that your management team rewards competence. Innovation has become a buzzword in corporate circles. But innovation shouldn’t merely focus on your business tactics and overall strategy. Innovation should begin with rewarding and promoting innovators.
Think for a moment about what your company looks like. Do you have a decision-making team full of yes-men (and women) who all think alike about everything and never do anything original? Or do you have a group of diverse, dedicated, innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers who have a vested interest in keeping your company nimble?
The latter group won’t always agree with each other. Team meetings may even get spirited. These people are more likely to be invested in continuing education; perhaps pursuing an MBA while climbing the corporate ladder. The spirited give and take in the boardroom produces decisions which are good for the company for the long term. Instead of corporate tunnel vision, these forward thinking innovators produce clear strategic vision.
A great way to ensure that you’re promoting these kinds of thought leaders is to avoid seeking out individuals who are brilliantly competent—but only in one particular area. The advent of the Industrial Revolution resulted in the devaluing of the old ideal of the Renaissance man (and woman). Knowing a lot about everything used to be a prized virtue and having the ability to apply that knowledge in a wide range of disciplines was an expectation. The modern focus on being super competent in one particular area is great. At least it’s great until that sort of person is promoted or transferred laterally into a position outside that specialization. This situation happens more often than we think and also results in incompetence. It may be unintentional but it’s still incompetence.
A great way to avoid this kind of incompetence is to actively seek out and recruit individuals who have a broad knowledge base and who are greatly competent in areas outside of their core competencies. If you focus on that—and those people are definitely out there—your company’s ability to innovate and remain nimble will be enhanced.