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Is it Really Incompetence?

When our employees are not performing, that is, they are not doing what we ask them to do in the way we ask them to do it, we usually blame the employee.

In a less guarded moment we might call them a bunch of incompetent idiots and oh how we wish we could find better people to employ. If only they would learn, if only they had the knowledge and skills, if only they were motivated, if only...

Here is a question for you. How many times in the last month have you been unable to do the task you set out to do? Of those times you couldn’t ‘perform’, how many were because you didn’t know what to do, or didn’t have the skill to do it, or didn’t want to do it? And how many times were because something outside of you stopped you from doing it? How many times was the barrier to accomplishing the task outside of you as opposed to inside of you?

If you are like most people, then more often than not the reason you cannot accomplish a task you set out to do is because something in your environment stops you from doing it. Maybe you do not have all the right information, maybe you don’t have the correct spare part or tool, maybe a colleague hasn’t done their bit in time, maybe what you have to do has not been specified well enough, or any one of many other things could stop you.

In order for someone to do the task in front of them they must be competent. That is, they must have the knowledge, skill, and attitude required, and they must also be physically capable of doing the task. In addition to the competence of the person performing the task, the environment that surrounds them while they are performing the task must also be ‘competent’.

Too often we blame the employee and fail to realise that the reason they are not accomplishing what we asked them to do is because they are rendered incapable in the moment of doing the task because of something in their environment.

Now here is the interesting thing about their working environment. It is created and managed by you, the manager. So when the working environment is causing a lack of performance, then the root cause of the problem is management rather than employee incompetence.

What can you as a manager do about making the working environment ‘competent’?

One way to find out the barriers in the environment that get in the way of performance, is to ask people what frustrates them. By and large, people would like to do a good job and they are frustrated by things that stop them doing a good job. Another good question is to ask them what they are tolerating that used to frustrate them. We often get used to how things are and it’s surprising how much we can come to tolerate like bad practices and inefficient processes.

So the next time you have to tackle a performance issue in the workplace, don’t just think about the competence of the employee, also think about the ‘competence’ of the working environment.

Paul Matthews
Managing Director at People Alchemy Ltd.
01908 325167

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