The Curse of Being Competent

By Robert O'Halloran Professor & Director, Hospitality Management, East Carolina University | September 06, 2013

Competence Defined

We hear the word competence or incompetence used frequently. To be competent implies a level of knowledge and or expertise in a certain area. No one can know everything but we often confuse competence with knowledge, common sense and work ethic. We all like to believe we are competent however, we know that not everyone is and that being competent often comes with additional responsibilities. Is the employee working optimally, or can they assume more responsibility? Competence can be considered having the correct or adequate knowledge, skills or abilities to perform a task and/or a job and is about workload. We know that all jobs are not equal and therefore, workload is not equal. The question is "is the person capable and competent?" For example, one might be able to do a job but might not have the correct background and therefore need to make up for their lack of education and/or training through hard work.

Hiring Competence

How does it happen that incompetent people are hired? Why would anyone hire an incompetent person? In some instances, a trained and able workforce is difficult to identify and organizations use what has been referred to as "warm body syndrome" so they have someone, if not the right person, working. The question is, what are the standards set for those being hired and can they be measured? Focusing on competence in the work force we think of tools such as job descriptions, recruitment processes, training programs, and our own and our colleague's knowledge, skills and abilities. For example, in a system where jobs are grouped by level of competence, people can be at the same level or grade and be paid the same but not be performing at the same level of competency.

Employers love competent people. They all want to recruit them however, not everyone is equally competent. Some employees are more competent than others and often do not work at the same level of intensity. So it becomes the job of the competent people to do their jobs and in some cases some of other people's jobs. Employers expect a "team" work ethic to get the job done and meet the needs of the guests. Therefore competent people often do more than their fair share.

Characteristics of Competence

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