An HR Lesson From Psychology

by Michael Haberman on December 30, 2007 · 0 comments


Rob May over at The BusinessPundit blog wrote about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I think this blog is required reading for all HR people. He writes “The essence of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge.” Studies have shown that the most incompetent individuals are the ones that are most convinced of their competence. At work this translates into lots of incompetent people who think they are superstars.” He then adds “…that if you have a manager that doesn’t closely supervise work, he or she may judge performance based on outward appearances using information like the confidence with which these incompetent blockheads speak.” That unfortunately is a situation most of us in human resources are familiar with, generally because we do not have an effective performance management system in place. We allow appraisals based on subjective measures to hold sway.

Now a corollary to the D-K Effect , as Rob writes, “…is that the most competent people often underestimate their competence.” As a result, the very effective people in organizations may not get the recognition deserved. Rob suggests that organizations can handle this by doing the following:

  1. Use as many measurable standards of performance as possible. Even idiots have a difficult time refuting concrete performance goals.
  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.
  3. Show confidence in your best employees, even when they don’t have confidence in themselves.

Human resources can fight the D-K Effect by instituting effective performance management and by conducting managerial training to incorporate these three suggestions.

By the way, Rob is asking for feedback from readers on their observations of the Dunning-Kruger Effect and how you may have dealt with it. So if you have some feedback for him follow the link above to his blog and leave your feedback, or leave it here.

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