While low engagement is flogged as a leading cause of poor business performance, incompetence is an obvious, but often, down-played factor. Leaders don’t like to talk about it. Even “experts” like to gloss over it.

When relating my observation about the cause of an organization’s awful results as “gross negligence of key employees,” another consultant told me that “gross negligence” is not a real reason. I beg to differ—it is a great reason. If gross negligence exists, what other reasons does one need?

In sports, player statistics paint a stark picture. It is clear who is good and who is not. In business, performance is often not immediately clear, but over time it can become as clear as a pea on a plate. If so, why hesitate?

In an obituary of the former CEO of FMC, Mr. Robert Malott was quoted as saying “The frustration of dealing with loyal, hardworking and incompetent people was very hard for me,” adding “I tolerated incompetence longer than I should have.”

Let’s get real. There are many situations that are caused by incompetence that can only be alleviated by having people in place that can do a competent job.

We do a disservice to our organizations when we down-play incompetence and hope against hope that more training, coaching, or higher engagement will have any effect.

Some suggestions:

  • Own your decision. If you hired the wrong person, then yes that says something about your hiring acumen. But not doing anything about it in order to look consistent says a lot about other leadership capabilities (and none of it good).
  • Never surprise anyone. Nobody should be surprised about their performance issues. (This is different from discoveries of unethical, dangerous, or illegal behavior. People should be fired for these immediately.) If you are not happy with performance, be clear in advance about what specifically those areas are and what the time scale looks like.
  • Do a root cause analysis. Why did the person not work out? Was it lack of support on the front end? Misunderstanding of skills? Other factors? Be clear on why things went south to make sure those issues do not crop up again.

Are you tolerating incompetence? If so, do everyone a favor and don’t defer the inevitable.