What is the Cost of a Nincompoop?
Updated: Nov 15, 2017
How much could we save if we just got rid of the nincompoops?
A nincompoop is someone who is grossly inept. They can be categorized as five-figures, six-figures … up to ten-figures or more depending upon how much they cost the organization in a year, or over their career.
Ironically, Nincompoops have an uncanny way of surviving by flying below the radar, shifting blame or somehow gaining tenure. Their negative contribution can be measured in mistakes, customer dissatisfaction, lost management time, lowering the bar for others, defects, rework, good people who leave in frustration, etc. Everyone knows who they are but somehow, year after year, they go on.
You may find them at all levels. Their damage only compounds the higher they are in the organization. (Nincompoops in management tend to hire "Nincompods" in their own image, creating a "Nincompile.")
Is Getting Rid of Nincompoops the Next Management Breakthrough?
Management theory has no lack of quality initiatives and approaches for efficiency and effectiveness. These are great for squeezing out the extra five percent. But, how much would be gained if we simply got rid of the nincompoops?
Let me illustrate. For the sake of discussion we will categorize employees at four levels of performance:
Leaders: Leaders are those who not only perform with excellence, but inspire others to perform well. They are not necessarily in management.
Competent Core: The Competent Core are those good soldiers who put in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. They do what is expected with minimal errors.
Laggards: Laggards are going to do the minimum at the last minute. They get it done, usually, but require follow up, reminders and greater accountability. It may be they lack talent, but more likely, they really just haven’t bought into the vision. “It’s a job.” It's possible they are "Resistors," which are good people who have become skeptics under the leadership of Nincompoops. In this case, they may be salvageable if things have not progressed too far.
Nincompoops: Nincompoops may be obstructionists or simply incompetent. Nincompoops ARE leaders, however. They are taking the organization and other associates in a negative direction. As much as they play innocent, they usually know exactly what they are doing, and are masters at remaining invisible.
This can all be reduced to a formula. Total output is simply a function of the combined output of the four categories.
Total Output = Output of Leaders + Competent Core + Laggards + Nincompoops
Let’s make some assumptions and assign a productivity multiplier to each of the groups. How you measure productivity is unique to your situation, but for illustration, the table below assumes that if you give a Leader $1 (inputs), they will add value and you will receive back $1.50. With the Competent Core you will receive $1.25. Laggards require additional supervision or resources, so you only receive $.60 back. With Nincompoops, you’ve lost your dollar.
Performance WITH Nincompoops
While the Units of Resources Managed and the Value Added Effectiveness Multipliers are hypothetical, they do illustrate a valuable point. Anything we can do to increase the number of leaders and raise the Value Added Effectiveness Multipliers will increase total productivity.
Since, in the table above, the Nincompoops screw up 100% of what they touch, anything we can do to reduce the number of Nincompoops and what they control will also increase output. In the example, if you did nothing but eliminate the Nincompoops and replace them with Laggards, you could increase output by 16.9% as demonstrated in the table below. (While not shown, you would probably also see a spike in the Value Added Effectiveness Multipliers of the other groups, because they would spend less time re-working the Nincompoops' defects.)
Performance WITHOUT Nincompoops
(110.5 units – 94.5 units) / 94.5 units = 16.9% Improvement!
Can you name anything else that can offer such a return for so little effort in such a short period of time?
Implications for Management
When an organization introduces performance measurement and management it brings visibility and accountability. The new information helps the company to target and prioritize key initiatives. A natural outcome is change, and change management.
In the face of change, Nincompoops sink to a new low, because they can be expected to obstruct or mismanage anything they touch. Passive/aggressive people by nature, they effectively sabotage the new direction while hiding behind a veil of innocence or ignorance.
In the face of change, senior executives have three key responsibilities:
Provide the shared vision that overrides individual interests
Provide the “burning platform” that makes the “nest” no longer safe
Provide the executive mandate that says, “Get on the bus, or get under it.”
Of course, the mandate is only as strong as how well it is enforced. It is not enough for executive sponsors to say the words. They must be prepared to lop off some heads if necessary. Why not the Nincompoops?
It may seem harsh, but if we borrow an example from sports, the coach is responsible for the performance of the team. An underperforming player might be tolerated for a time, but if not dealt with, at some point the coach is deemed to be the Nincompoop.
Executives: Only You Can Get Rid of Nincompoops!
Much of quality and productivity improvement can be delegated to project champions and project managers. What these people cannot do, and what will destroy their best efforts, are Nincompoops. The extent to which senior management tolerates maladaptive behavior is the extent to which change initiatives will fail.
Shooting Nincompoops remains the sole domain of the executive and in this they must not fail. The productivity arguments are compelling, as well as the cultural rewards.
Executives, the garden of human capital must be appropriately nurtured and part of this is pulling the weeds. Recognize the Nincompoops for what they are and what they do. They seldom change. Take the appropriate actions and earn the respect of everyone else in the organization.
George Henderson is Founder and Principal of the Top-Quartile Performance Institute (TQPI), a global community of transformational experts who partner with mid-sized to Fortune 500 companies on strategy, organizational development and continuous improvement. TQPI has a track record of delivering 10:1 returns and a >90% strategy execution success rate based on developing people rather than outsourcing the problem(s). Most recently George facilitated USA Rugby’s Strategy 2020 and founded the Rugby Business Executives Association (RBEA) as an industry council of TQPI.
Contact George if you have a business requirement.