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Managing the Dunning-Kruger effect in your startup

How to manage difficult employees who cannot admit their faults?

 

 

Have you ever dealt with someone who simply doesn’t admit to their flaws? Actually, they are just too arrogant to recognize that they are not as skilled as they think? Apparently, you just bumped into the Dunning-Kruger effect.

 

Although it seems just an annoying flaw, it can have serious consequences to businesses, ranging from poor performance to disturbing team cooperation. See how you can spot it and avoid it in this article!

 

What is the Dunning-Kruger effect?

 

In a nutshell, the Dunning-Kruger effect is someone’s cognitive bias to overestimate their own skills and inability to assume the gaps. Usually arrogant and unable to recognize their colleagues’ talents and feeling superior to everyone else.

 

Imagine the following situation.

 

John is a backend developer in your startup. It came to your knowledge that he committed a few mistakes and his colleagues stated that he’s been hard to work with. As a manager, you decided to call John for a talk about what you’ve heard.

 

By the time you interviewed John and evaluated his skills, you knew that he didn’t have all the qualifications required, but had other great ones. So, it would not be a problem, just some training needed.

 

To your surprise, he reacted very badly to your feedback stating that he is the best developer in the team and the others are jealous of his competence. There it is! The Dunning-Kruger effect.

 

Another thing to be pointed out is that someone with this sort of cognitive issue might be completely blinded by their lack of knowledge, making it even harder for them to see their errors. Need a few more examples? Check this HubSpot article.

 

What consequences are there for startups?

 

Besides being too annoying to handle, what are other consequences of Dunning-Kruger's effect on businesses? Well, we’ve already talked about the 5 main reasons startups fail, and not having the right team is the third of them, responsible for 23% of failures.

 

Hiring the most skilled people to help you build your startup is important to achieve success. Someone with a cognitive bias that disturbs their capacity to evaluate self-performance might not be exactly helpful on this.

 

The impact of low-performers who don't accept rational criticism of their work can be very harmful to smaller teams. They might bring too much negativity, discredit their colleagues' work, don’t believe in the company and undermine all collaboration at work.

 

When it comes to decision-makers, it can lead to disastrous management, once they are not really connected to reality or refuse to listen to subordinates specialists in their fields.

 

How can you manage the Dunning-Kruger effect?

 

Appropriate feedback is important to evaluate employees' performance.

 

Managing a difficult employee can be hard, but there are some tips we can share so you’ll handle this situation the best way – and maybe helping this person to improve!

 

How would you tell people, who are unable to recognize they don’t know something, that their performance is below average/expected?

 

You don’t want to undermine this person's self-confidence, but to help him or her sees the knowledge gap and show that it’s perfectly fine to learn and improve. Even though it can be difficult, still you must keep the most professional conditions.

 

People with Dunning-Kruger effect symptoms don’t react well to negative feedback, as they entitle themselves as experts, so don’t try to argue on this. Instead, propose a task that is obviously above their abilities and qualifications, making their lack of skill standout.

 

Making the situation clear is the best way to start. After, provide them with appropriate training on the subject they need to improve. It will help remove the knowledge gap and show them how things must be done.

 

Emphasize what great performance is. Don’t just point out when they are doing it wrong, but when another colleague does it well.

 

Help them track progress with constant feedback, even employees in higher positions should receive from their subordinates. There’s always room for improvement, no matter how experienced and skilled you are!

 

Choosing a feedback system

 

A great way to collect feedback from subordinates is running an anonymous poll, asking questions ranging from soft skills, like communication and hard skills, such as technical knowledge. MyCTOfriend has two special videos about hard and soft skills to build a successful startup, have a look for some ideas to what you must look for! 

 

As the Dunning-Kruger effect makes it harder for someone to listen to criticism, it will be easier for subordinates to express themselves and give an honest opinion, avoiding a stressful situation.

 

Another method is the 360-degree feedback, which includes the employee’s self-evaluation, as well as supervisor, manager, peers, and subordinates’. If appropriate, external sources too. The goal of this method is to collect feedback from every point of view and from different sources, excluding a hypothesis of personal opinion.

 

And to create more employee engagement, it could be great having an Individual development plan (IDP), with clear goals, aligned expectations and better standards for evaluation. It must be made in common agreement between supervisors/managers and employees.

 

Keep in mind you are not a therapist, so if the situation is too complicated to handle in the workplace, maybe he or she needs professional help. Employee termination could also be a solution if a refusal to cooperate.

 

The culture is your best ally

 

A strong company culture will help you evaluate employees behavior and determine whether someone is a good fit or not.

 

Being able to spot the Dunning-Kruger effect or any other harmful behavior in the workplace is about taking care of your employees.

 

Any of the solutions require an empowering and open company culture, which should also guide your hiring process, as well as team cooperation, communication, workflow, feedback and performance evaluation. It can be helpful to spot the Dunning-Kruger effect right away.

 

Have you ever stopped to think which behaviors are the most important and valued within your startup? Do you believe that your company culture creates a safe space for employees to express themselves? If you are not sure, have a look at this article on how to build a company culture.

 

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