The Biggest Sin

In my experience, the biggest issue I have seen is not fraud or evil, the biggest sin (in business) is incompetence.

That is not to say there are calamitously horrible decisions being made daily, everywhere, but there are some for sure, and small instances of incompetence add up.

Incompetence comes in many forms. Unskilled or stupid people will manifest incompetence in short order.

I think that we all face the risk of incompetence, and it is not from stupidity or lack of skill, it comes from complacency, and two kinds in particular: inattention, and failing to remember why you are there in the first place.

Inattention is a problem we all could face. Everyone is busy, and if you show even mediocre skills, you are often assigned more and more work. You eventually get so busy that you stop looking at some details…and you miss something. If it is big enough, you lose the confidence of management and you could lose your job. Is it fair to call that incompetence? Is it fair to blame you? Well, incompetence is often judged by the outcome, and blame is usually attached to those immediately involved, which could very well be you, and the underlying cause is likely never examined.

The second type of complacency, failing to remember why you are there in the first place, is a form of arrogance. People focus on their awesomeness based on past successes, and forget that they are there to do a job – whether it is to monitor quality of products or services or watch some set of numbers, sometimes people think that their presence is enough to keep the big machine working smoothly. Something gets missed and you have a “situation”.

The fix for both of these is really hard to pin down. You could say “better management” is the solution, and you would be right. Except that is where incompetence usually appears. As an underling, what can you do?

There may not be a lot you can do, but you can do your job, do it well. Maybe try to do a bit of their job too, if you can. You might spot an issue that would otherwise get missed and at the same time rise in the estimation of your superiors. It is a tough situation to be in when you are not in the driver’s seat…you may just have to keep your eyes open for “other employment opportunities”. You wouldn’t be the first!

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