Very late start to the day today,
And on the basis of some challenges I’ve had within my own team – it feels like this is a totally appropriate topic to focus upon –
When you’re dealing with incompetent people, employees, colleagues, partners, co-workers – knowing how to manage that process is vitally important to your success as a leader and team player.
I’ve had some frustrations with what I feel are obvious errors with a couple of people within my team – and the truth is, is that this will come up no matter what team you’re in or what level of business you’re at.
So – here’s goes at least some advice on how to manage these types of situations:
Don’t Lose Your Cool With Incompetent People
This is something I’ve spent probably the first few years in business getting wrong.
I continually, for the first two years of running my agency, would lose my cool with Semil (my head of SEO) about all manner of things.
The problem with every conversation I had (regardless of the reason) was that I’d go in like a charging bull and it would make any attempt at constructive conversation worse.
When you see something ‘simple’ done badly, it’s easy (for me at least) to go nuclear almost immediately and then start coming at the person in question.
This would cause raised voices, threats (in my head at least), shouting, and generally nothing more constructive than berating the other person – causing him to go on the defensive…
And us both walking away having not made much progress until someone conceded.
That’s just an absolutely terrible way to lead.
I’ve done it – it doesn’t help – it creates a toxic environment and I speak from experience when I say that you’ll do better and get more from your team if you can simply NOT lose your cool.
Don’t Get Them Fired
Defaulting to telling of someone’s incompetence to management with a view to getting them fired is definitely very far away from the first item on a list of possible actions.
This is definitely something to be avoided. Keep things neutral when dealing with incompetence.
As part of a team,
Avoid Conflict And Stay Calm
So as much as incompetency is something that can anger us all, and we’ve spoken about the importance of NOT losing your cool…in practice how do you actually do it?
This is a question that needs some focus because not getting angry – if you’re quick to anger like myself is much much easier said than done.
So here’s a couple of strategies you can use when something comes up that angers you –
Yes, it sounds silly – but when you spot something being done badly and you feel the anger rise up inside you – it’s important to wait for the anger to pass.
If this doesn’t seem like it’s happening then you need to wait a little bit more.
If every time you think of it – you just start getting angry then you need to find a way to calm yourself down.
Looking at the situation objectively, and devoid of emotion – or in the end being able to ‘box away’ your emotions when discussing it in person is going to be critical to having a constructive conversation about it.
So do all you can to keep calm.
Put Yourself In The Other Person’s Shoes
Remember, (and I’m also telling myself this lol) – no one sets out to be incompetent. No-one walks into a conversation with someone else intending to rip them off, do badly by them, or generally leave them in such a place that they think ‘man I got totally ripped off’.
So where you can, be empathetic. For the most part, when someone says they’ll do something they DO have every intention of doing it. They DO have every intention of doing it well – and when something doesn’t work out they probably need some guidance is all.
Don’t FORGET all of these things when you go into a conversation with them – keep this all in mind 🙂
Communicate clearly and explicitly
So some of the time – people’s actual ‘incompetence’ can come from being given poor communication.
I know that some of the time – what I perceive as being ‘incompetence’ ultimately comes from not giving someone clear enough instructions.
When giving someone something to do – make sure that it’s very clear in his/her mind exactly what needs to be done.
The classic mistake that leads to employee or partner incompetence in this instance is not asking properly about their understanding of what’s needed.
Something such as ‘can you repeat back to me in your own words your understanding of it’ is one such thing you can get in the habit of saying.
Another way to ask is ‘spot check’ someone’s knowledge of what’s going on – by saying ‘give me a couple of takeaways you have from listening to this’.
There are probably other ways of doing this you’re already thinking of that are much better than above – but thinking in this vein will definitely help drill out incompetence.
Again this is something that I’ve had to learn the hard way.
Make sure when you make agreements and plans and all – that you document everything in clear emails.
It’s the worst when you add another deliverable to an email trail that’s totally unrelated and is subject to confusion later down the line.
Everyone can easily say yes in the beginning and it’s only as time passes and the memory of what specifically was said versus what was written on email versus what was actually understood can be 3-different things.
So writing down almost a ‘statement of work’ as to what is expected or what’s going to be done is a useful practice.
Furthermore, having an audit trail you can follow as any type of work progresses is also critical.
Make sure you have all of these in check as you embark on projects with people that there might be challenges with down the road.
Make Alternative Suggestions
It’s sometimes turned out to be the case that people’s incompetence has come really from not playing to someone’s strengths – or rather asking someone to do something they don’t actually enjoy doing.
I have this right now with our plant-based food company ‘Plant Sumo’. Our head of marketing as it turns out doesn’t enjoy responding to prospect emails (of which there are tons).
As a consequence things are being missed and not deal with properly – and upon investigation some of this comes from her really not enjoying dealing with sales emails.
So we’re now looking at her making a much bigger focus on social media. And the early signs for this are promising.
So looking at alternative things an employee or coworker can do to avoid these ‘incompetency issues’ is something to definitely consider
Be Clear About Where Something Stopped Being ‘Great Work’
It’ll always be the case that something does come up that demonstrates sloppy and incompetent work (I know I have the same issues myself).
And if you document everything, maintain an audit trail, explain things explicitly and clearly – then you’ll be able to minimise the number of foul-ups.
However, ultimately they’ll still happen – and a way to fix this is by honing in on where the breakdown happened and some work went off-piste or off the mark.
Being able to calmly and clearly communicate this will really narrow down the opportunity for confusion the next time around.
Test Someone’s Understanding Often And Don’t Rely Upon Solely Your Own Judgement
It may be the case that you spot someone making a mistake and form a judgment about them.
A way to check how their improvements are going is to check in regularly.
Asking someone to do something for you and then waiting until the very end is a sure-fire way to see it all go wrong.
So instead check in more regularly to see how they’re getting on.
Realise also that your judgment is just that. It’s your judgment alone – ask others who work around your team and partners to see how they think things are going.
You may well see that the ‘incompetency’ you see – is limited to just your point of view.
I’ve seen my opinions of people turn around when I’ve asked the wider team for opinions and everyone has been happy and I’ve had to eat my words :p
Offer Continual Learning Within Your Team
Learning and the continual element of it need to be a heartbeat of your business as otherwise, you present limited opportunities for someone to get better.
To take someone from a place of ‘incompetence’ to ‘competence’ to ‘excellence’ – well – you need to be able to offer them learning opportunities.
In the case of Pearl Lemon – we record tons of videos, we do team-wide weekly training and we ask people to watch the videos and then comment as to their understanding of those videos.
Furthermore, we ask people what it is they wish to learn and then provide regular opportunities for this.
Making this a norm within your company will raise people’s competency levels across the board very quickly. This is a great preventative when figuring out how to deal with incompetence.
Focus On The Goal Not Just The Problem
When you are in a place where you’re discussing someone’s work and what needs to change – then focussing upon what you’re trying to achieve is critical.
So whilst you can walk through what was wrong with the work produced, it’s critical ultimately to focus upon the goal of the project or the engagement and discuss what can be tweaked to get you all closer to the shared goal.
The focus upon how can we mutually get to a place where we’re all happy is vital and you’re much more likely to get the best from someone if you take this approach above anything else.
Why Is This Goal A Positive One
When someone continually makes mistakes and all they seem to know is incompetence – it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
I know that my head of growth for Plant Sumo doesn’t see the value in responding to all of the email responses that come in.
So reminding her that all it takes is one big lead to come in who can tip the scale with the sales it will bring – and what that actually means for the survival of the business is critical.
Is The Outcome In Alignment With Your Team’s Personal Goals
This can in many respects actually be the underlying issue with how to deal with incompetent people.
Having a handle upon someone’s personal and professional goals as well as their circumstances can directly inform how you allocate them work and manage them.
So the more keyed into these areas you are the better.
If you can align their goals with your goals as much as possible – that can become an excellent driver for excellence.
The Importance Of Using Objective Language
When you’re going to talk to someone about their incompetent performance – it’s important to ensure that you keep things objective.
Using language that could constitute anything that could be considered a personal insult is not going to help you at all.
Neither are inflammatory words such as ‘terrible’, ‘horrible’ or otherwise.
So for 100% of the conversation keep the language clean and objective and don’t let it slide into anything emotional – no matter how emotional you might be feeling about the incompetent results you’ve seen.
Appreciate their contribution as well
It’s important within showing someone what is wrong with what they did when dealing with incompetence that you don’t completely crush someone.
It’s not productive to leave someone feeling completely deflated (which can happen even in the best of circumstances) after walking through everything that’s wrong about their work.
So, try to look at the things they’re doing well also – and there always will be things to shine the spotlight on here. This can be their effort, the attempt and just being around to do this in general.
This is to ensure you don’t leave someone feeling completely crushed by the end of your discussion with them.
Be Prepared For A Tough Choice
This is the part where it gets really challenging. After everything is said and done, it may be the case that the incompetency repeats so much or is such a problem – that there’s no way back from this.
If this is the case, then all of the above considerations come even more keenly into the spotlight.
If you’re going to move them off the project, or off the team, or even remove them from the company – you need to ensure you look at this objectively.
Even after all of your best efforts – it may be the case that the incompetency is significant enough that you need to take firm action.
And shying away from it serves neither of you.
Just make sure you have a plan in place and you’re able to commit and follow through with that plan!
I’d recommend some quick role play with somebody here or even running visualizations through in your mind so you can manage your own emotions as you have a really difficult conversation with this person.
Dealing with employee incompetence or just dealing with incompetent people, in general, is always a challenge.
Hopefully, this blog offers some insights into how to deal with incompetent people the next time a situation occurs in your workplace!