This is Why Incompetent Managers Are the Most Over-confident

Monday 12 March 2018
The Dunning-kruger Effect Can Lead Even the Most Ineffectual Manager or Employee to Feel They’re Top of the Class. Fortunately, It’s Reversible, Experts Suggest
Man in suit sat with crossed arms

Ever had a cocky, thick-skinned boss who talked the talk, but was a poor-to-average performer bringing the rest of the team down? It’s common.

In 1999, psychologists David Dunning of Cornell University and Justin Kruger, now at New York University’s Stern School of Business, conducted research on the issue, finding that ignorance really is bliss.

The pair found people who are inept at something are typically unable to recognise how bad they are. Furthermore, the Dunning-Kruger Effect proposes they are even likely to feel confident that they are competent at that task.

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study titled Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments found that “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognise that one is not good at that task.”

Cornell undergrads who ranked in the lowest ten per cent of their class on a grammar test, set during the study, believed their skills were higher than 67% of their peers. Another survey of high-tech firms discovered that 32-42% of software engineers rated their skills as being in the top five per cent of their companies, whilst more than 90% of medical technicians described their lab knowledge as ‘above average’.

Engaged Feedback

Good news: There’s a workplace cure. In a recent article by Mark Murphy, the author of Truth At Work: The Science Of Delivering Tough Messages, in Forbes, Professor Dunning says the ignorance individuals had about their own incompetence diminished when they were told the difference between their poor behaviour, and the expected level. He said that in many organisations people are underperforming because they don’t know that they could be doing better or what great performance looks like.

This highlights that the problems may not actually lie with individual employees but a lack of engaging management. In one study of more than 30,000 employees answering dozens of workplace questions, including “I know whether my performance is where it should be,” only 29% of employees say they “always” know whether their performance is where it should be. Meanwhile, more than a third (36%) say they “Never” or “Rarely” know.

Management Tips to Engage Personnel

Measure Performance

Employees can thrive from having a measuring stick on how well they are doing. Focusing on both the processes and results of daily tasks, employers can train management on how to use technology to track important performance metrics. Sales staff can be measured on conversion rate, operational staff by time-taken-per-order and help desk support by rate of resolution, for example.

Performance metrics tell managers how employees are meeting up to expectations, where they are not and how they can adapt their behaviour to be more successful. Also, top managers typically set regular schedules with each employee so ongoing assessments are available, to keep talent on track.

Show Visuals

An onslaught of specific numbers, percentages and decimals can be difficult to recognise, understand and remember for individuals receiving feedback on their performances. Therefore, the use of bright, clear, high-impact visuals, like charts and graphs, can be excellent tools for managers to demonstrate employees' progress toward their goals and to illustrate their impact on the organisation. With a host of reporting software available allowing for automatic visual reports, they are a brilliant tool to help build engagement and understanding between managers and their teams.