How do you manage talent incompetence?

We’ve all had to work around them, to the detriment of the organization or clients. These troublemakers refuse to work well with certain people and blame others for their own inadequate skills. They make it impossible to resolve issues since they believe they have the authority to say “no” and use it too often. They can wreak havoc on any business if left alone to do what they want, if they want.

Why not simply fire them? It may be due to longevity, specialized job knowledge, or they simply know where the company skeletons lie. They fail to take responsibility and know how to manage their boss. Their false sense of bravado may have started with overly positive performance appraisals, an over-inflation of their abilities reinforced by a boss with poor managerial skills. They refuse to develop their skill-sets to keep up with industry or profession changes.  Or they may rely upon manipulating the system and/or their boss for their own interests. This type of chronic behavior makes it difficult for employers to take corrective action. Some companies actually give promotions – not-earned commissions or extra bonuses – hoping these tokens will give incentives to improve. But it only exacerbates the problems.

Come Down to Reality. If you inherit one of these people, don’t automatically fire them. They may have insights and job knowledge crucial to keeping current customers, building systems for the future and handling nuances not readily apparent in a system or product. This type of employee may simply require the right boss!

Take time to talk and work with them. Review the job description and job perception. Then, let them know exactly what your expectations are, including the scope of their authority and the quality you need in their work and people interactions. Since these employees often keep procedures in their heads to ensure their employment, be a step ahead and require them to cross-train others on their job. Some may be afraid of technology or have poor reading and writing capabilities. Do not allow them to continue to believe they are an exception to the rules. Insist they come up to speed. It will take time to break old habits. Be consistent. Be clear. Follow-up!

Qualified Assessments. Have the person take a qualified assessment. Use a tool that meets or exceeds the Department of Labor Guidelines for pre-employment tools; these tools have the highest validity and reliability on the market.  It’s very hard to effect change if you rely upon the results of a tool that has face validity (how a person wants to be seen) but no predictive value (actual correlation between the results and job requirements). Adjust job responsibilities accordingly. Provide skill development training.

Hire Bosses who can manage. Hire and promote people into management positions who are great motivators, unafraid of managing actions to produce actual results. Train them on how to conduct performance reviews. Remember, most employees want a coveted manager’s job since it’s the only way to earn more money and/or take on additional job responsibilities. The reality is many may not have the ability or interest to effectively manage or lead others. Some may simply need additional training. Create career ladders that allow non-managerial talent to be promoted and receive pay increases.

©Jeannette Seibly, 2011

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