Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the domain of the competent

a few days ago I referenced the Ribbon Farm blog post about workplace actors and these basic categories: sociopaths, losers, and clueless. A very brief as I understand the categories(read the Ribbon Farm for full explication) :
  • the sociopaths typically embody a drive and vision to succeed, and will manipulate others in order to achieve a set of goals
  • losers exhibit little workplace ambition beyond "keeping their head down" and retaining employment with the least amount of effort
  • the clueless are the "team players" who believe in the mission and goodwill of the company and see these things as ends in themselves; perpetual "middle managers" tend to be among the clueless.
There are many things about this framework that I appreciate and can recognize from my exposure to the professional world, but I found it difficult to derive practical applications should one wish to construct or evolve a better functioning office.  With that in mind, I've been formulating my own take on the types of workplace actors and the dynamics among them.
Basically, I see three categories of workers (regardless of their position or level within the firm): the hyper-competent; the competent; and the sub-competent.

For the time being, let's define "competent" as: being able to get the job done*

You might recognize some of these people from around your office: hyper-competents are those workers who get more done, who ask hard questions, who seem to have insights into the job functions that are tangential to their own.  HCs show up at meetings able to answer hard questions (or can at least manage expectations as to when an answer will be forthcoming).  They balance a macro-level awareness with a micro-level attention to detail.  HCs expend energy at the margins to conceptualize radical changes to the model in the quest to unlock new value (value could be profit margins, or efficiencies, or synergies, etc)

The competents around you have likely been in their positions for a while.  They are the coworkers who routinely get their work done (rarely ahead of schedule; often just-in-time for a deadline or just after).  Competents are more likely to be comfortable within their job description, but less aware (or interested) in the details of the job functions that touch their own.  Competents are process driven; a clear set of instructions (a formula) with little variability to the input side will generally result in consistent output.  The marginal effort from the competent is to get through the next day, week, month, year without "screwing up"

Sub-competents are poison to the firm.  SCs either do not understand the work, are not able to act on what understanding they do have, or don't care to do so.  The marginal effort from the SC is devoted to not being discovered.  SCs routinely punt issues to coworkers, laying off anything that gives the appearance of being difficult.  SCs are free riders.  In meetings they are not prepared.  Under duress SCs will consistently hide behind anything that offers cover, whether it be an appeal to "job description" or "being busy" or blaming their lack of understanding on the incompetency of others.

Within each category, a given actor can be further characterized as either "rising" or "falling"; a competent is either becoming more competent and trending towards an upgrade to "hyper-competent" or is in decline, progressively taking on more qualities of the sub-competent.

This rising / falling dynamic is secondary in importance to a given actor's category at a point in time, but is definitely valuable when evaluating that actor's longer term prospects.

I intend to continue this subject shortly**; for now I'll leave off with this hypothesis: the healthiest office will a ratio of these categories that strongly favors the competent, maybe something like HC:C:SC = 3:12:1
*"getting the job done" is certainly open to a number of connotations.  I hope to flesh this idea out in future posts

**I may be late in stating this, but my blog posts here are essentially beta releases; I compose, research, and write in chunks of time and am trying to get the content out there for discussion quickly.  I fully expect to make errors, both of fact and of judgement, and I thank you all in advance for your gracious allowance for such.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy this attempt to describe the office and those who make it up. Your proposed ratio of players is telling, too: HC's are great and can do a lot of good, but they can be disruptive. Best not to have too large a proportion.