Welcome back to the third and final post in our series, “The Internet Boom and Office Politics: Not a Match Made in Heaven.” In Part One, we discussed a curious phenomenon called “The Dunning-Kruger Effect,” whereby less-competent individuals see themselves as more skilled than they are – a distorted perception that can make relating to others difficult, and working in an office environment problematic (for everyone). While challenges related to Dunning-Kruger can be seen in all sorts of business environments, problems are often compounded at the online sector, mainly due to the dynamic nature of the Internet itself.
As discussed in Part Two, and as anyone in the industry can tell you, things move fast on the web. Being successful requires tenacity, continuing education, and a keen interest in the moves of major players, like Google, for example – whose mere flick of its proverbial wrist can send an affiliate marketer or advertiser scrambling to stay in the game. With ground rules always shifting, it’s hard enough to manage a team, let alone compensate for a lack of insight on behalf of one or more players.
The goal of our closing post? To identify steps employers can solve the knotty problem.
Why it’s Smart to Treat Dunning-Kruger like an Infectious Disease
To mitigate the effects of Dunning-Kruger in the workplace, employers must diagnose the problem before it has a chance to spread. In the end, overconfidence is like a virus – it starts innocently enough but once it spreads the damage is likely done. Let’s look at a few targeted solutions as posed by Business Pundit:
1. Use as many measurable standards of performance as possible. Even idiots have a difficult time refuting concrete performance goals.
While by no means is this a quick-fix, once you establish continual metrics to measure team performance, it will be easier to see where the ball is getting dropped – and from there you can investigate how and why it happened. If discrepancies in performance are a product of communication problems, a failure to follow protocol, poor individual performance, or a general sense of malaise within a group, it will be easier to suss out once you have the facts – and only then can you start asking targeted questions. Numbers may not lie, but how the numbers got there is often up for discussion, which brings me to suggestion #2…
2. Encourage dissension and debate. This is tough, because if this is not handled properly, it can build a culture of negativity and risk aversion. Your goal shouldn’t be to avoid risk, just to expose and understand it.
‘Tough’ is an understatement – but it is my belief dissension and debate are necessary for growth. ‘Tis true, encouraging debate among coworkers can lead to an open-forum where people feel comfortable tossing out whatever is on their mind, and if a group is already on shaky ground, more negativity could destroy any remaining motivation. Still, people need and want to be heard, and they want to find a solution. Listen to what is going on and set the tone. Praise decisions, actions, and ideas you find commendable, and offer constructive criticism regarding areas that need improvement. An unbiased voice of reason is often the smartest way to mitigate a hostile situation, especially one where leadership is undermined by frequent and complicated misunderstandings. Which leads me to suggestion #3…
3. Show confidence in your best employees, even when they don’t have confidence in themselves.
This should be a given – often it is not. But when a group can barely function due to confusion regarding strategy, purpose, and overall goals, showing confidence in your best workers can set a long-lasting example regarding what is valued. While it can’t be expected that overconfident individuals will take the hint, it does reassure others they are on the right track…which can be just the little push a team needs to finish a project in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, aka, someone who just doesn’t “get it.”
Ongoing education, team-building, and metaknowledge
The suggestions outlined above are great ways to address Dunning-Kruger in your workplace, but it doesn’t stop here. Ongoing education across departments can also be helpful in educating team members. Someone who simply does not understand the scope of the industry in which he or she works can complicate a team’s progress, and when they think they have the understanding (overconfidence), it’s hard for anyone to convince them otherwise.
Similarly, team-building exercises, while sometimes cheesy, can work wonders on your bottom line. Is there real camaraderie among coworkers? Are people friendly by default or because time (and money) has been invested into creating a culture of co-appreciation? Find out. Anything that happens by default is not going to stand up over time – it must be nurtured.
Finally, and most importantly, get involved. Sit in on meetings, ask for notes, and continually ask “Why?” Metaknowledge is essential to understanding the depth and root of problems in the workplace. If there is someone on a team who consistently blocks progress (as is the case with Dunning-Kruger) and no one is saying so (for fear of retribution, being seen as a trouble-maker, or simply being accustomed to getting by without moving forward), ascertaining why things were handled in a certain way will bring you closer to identifying the issue at hand.
In the end, Dunning-Kruger, overconfidence, and related syndromes are a fact of life. They cannot be avoided, but they can be dealt with in ways that make our lives easier. If you’re lucky (and persistent), addressing these problems in your place of business may have positive side-effects – like happier workers, more productive teams, and bigger profits.
Until next time…