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Incompetent People Rely On Rules

Be wary about the people who want a 3-step process, rules, policies, or a framework to solve and address problems. They are the incompetent ones.


Competent people break rules because they understand the purpose of the rule and also the consequences of the absence of the rule. They then use their expertise to evaluate possibilities and come up with solutions to those possibilities.


Middle management is the worst when it comes to black & white decision-making. They follow rules and think within the guidelines. They are likely to refer to policies, procedures etc. when it comes to people-related matters. But when it comes to their job they twist and bend rules as they like. Why? Because they are competent in their craft! It is the same person who says "We must follow the policy" when the staff misbehaves and who says "You know this is just a guideline" when it comes to completing a task in a certain way.


And this is why I say hire competent people!!! This is why I say that we don't need another framework or a 3-step process what we need is experts who can navigate the complexities within an existing framework.


Competent people know that every problem has a solution but every solution creates another set of problems that will be solved through competence and not by the endless number of models, frameworks or rules. Incompetent people think "If I find a method to solve this problem then I eliminate the problem." No, you eliminated that problem while creating another.

Only competence can beat the dynamics of; a problem solved a problem created. It is an ongoing cycle appreciated by the competent and hated by the incompetent.

The other day I was consulting an HR Director about our new Employee Experience program (which will be launched in January 2024 link below) which aims to turn HR practices on their head by training the HR team to look at processes differently along the seven pillars of:


ATTRACT - HIRE - ONBOARD - MOTIVATE - PERFORM - DEVELOP - EXIT


While the tool-kit provides very specific actions for each stage of the employees' life she wanted me to tell her exactly what to do so she can implement it. So I said to her, "Look I can tell you what to do but once I am gone you will face changes and new problems and you can use your experience, knowledge, and expertise to solve them as they occur because they will." Her response was, "So this won't fix all my problems?" I just said, "It would, if we stopped the world the moment you implemented all these."


Things change and change will be handled by competence, not by a change management expert (what a BS that is) a new framework or a 5-step rule. Those provide guidance and structure for our thinking of solutions but not for understanding the problems.

Expertise and competence understand the problem while frameworks and methods help design solutions, but you cannot use them without understanding the problems.

Incompetence relies on rules because it has no understanding of the problem therefore it cannot evaluate whether the rule it is following is suitable to solve that particular problem.

So maybe it is not that people don't like change and therefore it is the reason organisations struggle. Maybe we struggle because we have incompetent people and incompetence doesn't like change. It likes frameworks, methods, policies, and clear rules but it doesn't work in a world where everything changes so fast!


Here is a test for you. When I threw that case to the mid-management including HR they all said; fire the person it is gross misconduct and, a breach of trust and if we don't fire the person we show others that it is ok to steal...


When I show this case study to senior leaders including HR the ones that are highly competent in their roles they don't go straight to firing. They ask millions of questions. They evaluate the consequences of each decision but most importantly they think about this: What are we going to show the team if we fire the person or if we don't? And their answer is not the same as the mid-management of "We will show it is ok to steal."





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