Incompetence on the rise

by 01 Nov 2006

THERE HAS been a rise in incompetence within the workforce of late, largely due to the placement of managers and workers in the wrong positions, according to The Conference Board.

The 36 year old Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence,”remains true today. That is, workers continue to be promoted until their new job demands more than they can provide, which is where they remain until the end of their career.

“An incompetent is someone who is defined by his mistakes. Everyone makes the occasional error or bad decision or lapse in judgment. Most of them go unnoticed. But at some point, failure becomes the norm and even that person’s defining characteristic,” said Matthew Budman, managing editor of The Conference Board Review.

According to Budman, the situation has been worsened by today’s increasingly complex working world and the advancement of technology.

However, Budman said there is no reason to think that people today are fundamentally less capable than their parents or grandparents.

“More is demanded of white-collar workers every day – less in terms of the sheer amount of work than of different types of work. The working world is increasingly complex, and many of us regularly take on more responsibility for more things,” he said.

In addition to this, the seemingly extensive to-do lists of employees is said to be creating an impact on levels of competency. “The issue of multitasking … can turn almost anyone into a forgetful blunderer.”

To solve the problem, Budman suggested that companies need to do a better job in ensuring that people end up in the positions best suited to them. Despite efforts of workplace personality testing, companies are continually placing the wrong people in charge.

“Managers with poor judgment hand out assignments to the wrong people, delegate tasks to those who can’t handle them, and force others out of their zones of responsibility,” Budman wrote in a Conference Board Review article, titled ‘Can We Turn Back The Rising Tide of Incompetence?’

A larger problem with the way organisations promote people is also identified, as Budman recommended companies reconsider their tradition, hierarchical, promotion-based culture.


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