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Wanted: Competent Nice People

Finding the right people to work for your organization is a daunting task. Before you start your next talent search, first take the time to understand the type of person you should be looking for.

If you don’t have a set of values defined that exemplify the type of person who drives your organization to success, you can use Dr. Cameron Seraph’s Competent Nice Person to Incompetent Asshole matrix, from his article, “Your Company’s Culture is Who You Fire and Promote”, to identify the right (and wrong) people who are already in your organization.

Basically, people come in four flavors:

Incompetent Assholes

These people are the worst. Not only are they incompetent, they blame everyone else for their problems. They never take responsibility for anything. The only things they learn are how to manipulate your system to fly under the radar. They’re toxic, negative people who can take a team from dizzying productivity heights and send them straight to hell.

Do two things with Incompetent Assholes:

Competent Assholes

These are your prima-donnas. The people who are good at their job and know it, and make sure you know you know it, too. A competent asshole is a taker (read Adam Grant’s Give and Take). They don’t help out anybody unless it helps them first. The kind of individual who will demand you scratch your back before they’ll scratch yours, and then conveniently forget to help you out — leaving you there with an increasingly itchy back.

If you had a great team, and then suddenly its productivity is declining or the tone of the group is increasingly negative, you might have a Competent Asshole in the mix causing trouble.

Do two things with Competent Assholes:

Incompetent Nice People

An Incompetent Nice person can’t do anything right, but boy, are they cheerful about it. They don’t take responsibility for much. People like being around them — both because a nice person brightens the day, and it’s easy to look good compared to an incompetent. An Incompetent Nice person isn’t so great for a high-performing team, though, and is often the source of drag and grumbling from the high performers. Clever Competent Assholes often try to keep Incompetent Nice people around, to provide a buffer in case of layoffs.

Do two things with Incompetent Nice people:

Competent Nice People

Whenever you look at someone in your organization and you think “I wish we had more people like them” — you’re likely looking at a Competent Nice person. If you haven’t codified your organizational value system yet, a great place to start is by gathering all of your Competent Nice people together and identifying their common characteristics.

Competent Nice people drive an organization. They’re givers. They help out. They teach. They want other people to be successful, enjoy seeing it, and will wave pom-poms for their colleagues’ growth. Taking responsibility for their commitments, Competent Nice people will own their successes and, more importantly, their failures. If you build teams, build them out of Competent Nice people and then protect them from the Assholes.

Do two things with Competent Nice people:

Everyone thinks they’re a Competent Nice person

The funniest thing about this matrix is that no matter who I show it to, everyone thinks that they’re a Competent Nice person. The human ego has a hard time admitting anything but victory.

In reality, people are a mix of the four quadrants. Nobody’s competent in everything, and we all have our challenging days and turn into assholes. We want to find the folks who are consistently Competent Nice people, and then build companies and high-performing teams around them.

I write books and software. Opinions held loosely.

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