Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mis-Pegged: Don’t call it incompetence

Voids demand to be filled. It’s common, especially in small organizations, for people to step up and fill a void, even if they aren’t necessarily the right or best person for the job. They see a need that’s not being addressed; they take the risk and the initiative to do the best they can with what they have to offer.

At the time this happens, others in the organization see and understand what’s happening. The expectations are adjusted to meet the skill level of the person taking on the task. What they are doing is appreciated and valued.

Time passes. They struggle valiantly, faithfully, thanklessly. Managers come and go. Executives come and go. The “corporate memory” fades. New leaders come into the organization and look at this one-time-hero, shake their heads, and mutter, “Incompetent! Dead wood! Gotta go!”

Jack Welch believes that it’s important for companies to hire the best people. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins agrees, emphasizing how important it is to get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off.

But Welch also states, “Each one of us is good at something, and I just believe we are happiest and the most fulfilled when we’re doing that.”

And Jim Collins asserts, “Instead of firing honest and able people who are not performing well, it is important to try to move them once or even two or three times to other positions where they might blossom.” He clarifies that you need the right people in the right positions to become a great company. That doesn't mean pushing them out the door!

A round peg in a square hole doesn’t make the peg incompetent. The incompetence lies with the hand holding the mallet trying to “motivate” the peg to fit and perform.

You can have the best-of-the-best, universe class, six sigma-tized, roundest-of-roundest pegs, but if you try to slam them into square hole -- or any other non-round shaped hole -- the fault is not in the peg's.

The next time you hear yourself mentally passing judgment on someone you view as incompetent, take the time to get the full story. Gather the facts, uncover he history, seek to learn what they love and are really good at.

So much great and valuable talent has been shamefully tossed aside only because the peg was one perfect shape and the hole was the wrong fit. That’s the result of arrogant and lazy leadership which is true incompetence.


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