Do you have a colleague or employee whose behaviour constantly makes you wonder: “Does this person actually think he or she is doing a good job?” The answer, according to one theory, is yes.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias—put more simply, a thinking error—that stops some people who perform poorly on a task from accurately evaluating their performance. Because they’re incapable of recognizing when they’ve done poorly, these underachievers never learn from their mistakes. According to this post on psychologist Jeremy Dean’s U.K.-based website PsyBlog, the Dunning-Kruger effect means that the poorest performers are the least aware of their own incompetence.
The talent-management issues this creates—not to mention overall performance problems—can be significant. And you can’t fix the situation by simply giving your oblivious staffers the feedback they can’t seem to give themselves, according to Dean. “The problem is that incompetent people have probably been getting this type of feedback for years and failed to take much notice,” he argues. “Despite failing exams, messing up at work and irritating other people, the incompetent still don’t believe they’re incompetent.”
The Dunning-Kruger effect manifests in other ways, too—and one of them may be even worse for your business. That’s when people with real talent tend to underestimate just how good they are. Dean writes: “The root of this bias is that clever people tend to assume other people find things as easy as they do, when actually this is their talent shining through.”
So, if Dean’s theory holds true, there’s a good chance your organization has laggards who don’t know they’re lagging and stars who don’t know they’re shining. Our advice? Help the underachievers with brain training or, if it’s really not working, cut them loose (here’s how). As for your star employees? They need positive feedback, and more often than you think. It doesn’t have to mean regular, formal performance reviews. A simple “Good job” goes a lot further than you would expect.