Creative LeadershipCreativity

The Damage Caused by Entrenched Incompetence

I had a depressing encounter the other day. After working a short time with an organization, it became pretty obvious that their inside public relations person was a disaster. She’d been at the organization a long time and had strong relationships with various leaders. She seemed decent enough with one exception: She was terrible at her job. I mean really terrible. Honestly, I asked a number of people she worked with, and not a single person could tell me anything she’d actually accomplished in the past few years. No PR strategy, no press releases, no social media campaigns, no media connections, nothing. So I asked the next obvious question: “Why doesn’t she get fired?”

That’s when everybody got quiet and backed away. Essentially they each agreed she was a disaster, but nobody in the organization wanted to take on that fight. Apparently, she had too many connections and relationships inside the company.

Two words: “entrenched incompetence.” This is when an obviously incompetent person continues at their job, because no one has the guts to force him or her out.  So what, you ask? Who cares? Let them keep their job. Here’s why it’s a huge mistake:

1) They’re paralyzing the organization.  In this case, the company desperately needed some positive PR, but they weren’t getting it. It was a critical time to be telling their story, but she was dropping the ball, losing millions of dollars in potential income.

2) It creates bitterness among other employees.  Trust me – every employee at this organization realized she was a failure. They knew she was an obstacle, and they blamed leadership.

3) It devalues loyalty.  Other employees looked at her and realized being good at their job didn’t matter nearly as much as sucking up. It was a terrible example of what excellence should look like.

Any organization that’s created an environment where incompetence becomes entrenched, and perhaps worse – where no one feels empowered to make a change – is a sad testimony to poor leadership.

Have you ever been involved in an organization with entrenched incompetence?

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  1. This is a great example of how toxic culture and politics begin in an organization. The entrenchment deepens with passing time and kills everything that could have been. Helplessness overtakes the competent employees forcing them to surrender or flight. Resentment towards leadership becomes an on-going battle just to keep it in check, as is keeping your blinders in place so you can continue doing your job in excellence without the distraction …until flight is possible. This is a sad story for all involved; no one wins except the incompetent one it seems. Good post Phil!

  2. Phil, thank you for this post, as I need it right now. I recently left a job that I really enjoyed because I was so tired of having to “pick up the slack” for the incompetence and downright laziness of entrenched employees who have been with the org for many years or are relatives of management. I stayed for 3 years and grew weary of doing my job and theirs- ultimately making them look good for doing very little. They do it because they are allowed to by management. Once I realized that this woud not change, I had to step away. Its only been a month and I am still saddened by it.

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