I recently read an excellent post over at Psyblog that detailed some compelling research into people who are incompetent. The Dunning-Kruger Effect (named after the researchers), basically found that poor performers are the least aware of their own poor performance because they fail to learn from their mistakes.
One suggested solution is better feedback: timely and relevant probably being a good place to start. But as the author points out your poor performer has probably been hearing bad feedback their entire career and just blocks it out now.
On the flip side people with real abilities tend to underestimate their own abilities.
So this presents a couple issues for HR doesn’t it? Based on the above it sounds as if feedback really doesn’t improve performance. Do we put our feedback training out to pasture?
No and here’s why:
1. What kind of feedback are you giving a poor performer? Truly good feedback is a rarity in the world…I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but we all know it’s a rare creature. Why? Because it’s hard to sit across from another adult and tell them in a professional way that they have screwed up. By the time the message is actually spoken it can be completely watered down and without the weight it needed to be.
2. What about the truly competent people? In this case we have the opposite effect. Instead of giving watered down feedback, the competent people just don’t get any feedback. After all, if you aren’t complaining, or jumping down their throat your employees “know” they are doing a good job. Right….
3. Here’s a different idea: How about fit? Maybe the person you think is incompetent just isn’t cut out to be a sales person? Maybe their excellent interpersonal and creative skills would be a better fit for the marketing or PR department? I’m not suggesting you try to transfer all your poor performers to another department but before you fire them, think past the performance issues to determine what they are good at and if there is a fit elsewhere in the company.
What do you think? Should we give up hope and fire all the incompetent people in the world? Give up on feedback? Tell me what you think in the notes.