At the beginning of September, we presented a scenario in which
a support tech was seeking guidance in dealing with an
apparently incompetent coworker
. Despite his technical ineptitude, the coworker
has management completely hornswoggled. As always, TechRepublic members rose to
the occasion, offering the beleaguered tech a plethora of creative advice,
sympathy, and anecdotes. Of the many practical suggestions offered, most fell
into one of two categories, depending on whether the member accepted the tech’s
evaluation of his situation or not. The members who were sympathetic with the
tech were further subdivided into those who offered constructive suggestions
for improving the situation and those who thought it was more appropriate to
sabotage, embarrass, or otherwise run the “incompetent” off. A number of members
actually suggested feeding the coworker bad information in the hopes that doing
so would force management to notice his inadequacies and take appropriate

Practical strategies

Among the more constructive suggestions, members offered
variations on the following:

  • Document,
    document, document. Encourage the whole support team to document every
    interaction with their coworker; this can then be used to either confront
    him directly or to present a substantiated case to management.
  • Don’t
    take any action that involves the tech; instead focus on improving your
    own relationship with management.
  • Reorganize
    the support team to emphasize the tech’s strengths (his ability to talk to
    people) and minimize his weaknesses (difficult technical problems). The
    whole team and the users will benefit.
  • Work
    with HR to define a strategy for resolving the problem. Clearly define
    expectations and core competencies for all team members. Establish a
    rehabilitation plan with goals to be met by a specific deadline.
  • Do
    everything you can to encourage his promotion. He displays distinct
    management potential; exploit this to expedite his removal from the
    support team.

Proceed with caution

Several members warned against taking any action that might
alienate management. Locooper said,
“Take serious note of this person because he probably has the skills that
management wants. Communication skills are first, then analysis, and finally
technical. Get on board. This is how it is evolving. The message that
management is sending is clear. This person could be your supervisor next!”
Taking the idea a step further, mohammedahmed1966
said, “This guy might be a new hire by the upper management for a change,
transformation, or for a total turnaround to drive out the bad legacy software
and processes.” If, indeed, this is the case, any steps the support team
takes to disaffect the tech could be detrimental to team’s future.

Who’s the bad guy, here?

More than a few members
suggested that the real problem might lie with the complaining support tech
rather than with the apparently incompetent coworker. Member cander expressed this view eloquently,
casting the “incompetent” tech’s failings in an entirely different light:

“What I’m reading is that this coworker:

  • Seeks
    out and listens to the concerns/needs/desires of the people who sign his
  • Is able
    to solve basic technical problems.
  • When
    faced with more challenging issues, seeks out the advice of knowledgeable
    people on the team.
  • Practices
    active listening by mirroring back the solution to the person he gets it
    from, showing he understands.

He sounds like the type of professional I try to emulate and
aspire to!”

No single answer

Other members related tales of similar situations from their
careers, some having been in the position of the support tech and others the coworker.
They all reported that achieving a satisfactory resolution of the situation
generally required a multifaceted approach applied consistently over a period
of some months.

What constituted a satisfactory resolution varied from case
to case, of course. In some instances, “incompetent” techs were promoted,
relocated, reassigned, or educated; in other situations, they resigned or were
fired. Member Blue Giant related one
such instance: “We had a similar situation here with a network admin. She
was smart, personable, had the paper certifications, but couldn’t apply
anything in the real world.…We tried to bring her along using a lot of techniques
mentioned here by others…coaching, counseling, etc.…In time her incompetence
became apparent to upper management and she was smart enough to find another
job before she got fired.”

Effecting change

So what is the support tech
actually going to do? We contacted him to ask what he thought of the various member
suggestions and whether there was anything he could apply in his particular situation.
He said, “All [the comments] provided me with the perspective to see the
issue from different angles.” And that includes the responses that laid
the blame firmly at his door. The most accurate view of the problem, he said,
was presented by member tech_republic:
“Very few companies operate as a meritocracy. They are based on politics
and manipulation of perception.” Despite this rather gloomy summation of
his situation, the tech is optimistic that the perspective gained from TechRepublic members will help him effect some positive change. If you have any insights to
pass along, please feel free to post
your suggestions to the discussion