Keeping People in Frustrated Incompetence

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

As change leaders – and most of us are change leaders at some time or another – we can have quite a high appetite for change. When we lead a change, we look to persuade others around us to come along. Yet, what is the effect on our customers and our colleagues of a perceived endless series of changes?

In my previous article on the Matrix Body Farm, I considered how the valuable margin in our work to serve others can be eroded or removed altogether by the growing trend towards micro-control through targets. 

There is another unintentional effect that keeps people incompetent, and it is driven by those of us who are change leaders!

Now, we like to think of ourselves as the good guys, the people who change the world for the better. Sure, there may be pain in the journey, but ultimately we tell ourselves that are there to make our organisations better, that this pain we inflict is worth it. 

Well, my wife and I were talking with some friends about the brutalising effects information systems can have on healthcare, when she recalled her time as a receptionist at a doctors’ practice. She is very much a people-focused administrator, so medical receptionist was a good match fit for her at the time. Yet, she said this:

Just when we were getting used to the new system, they changed it. And they kept changing it!

One of the oldest change management models — maps, I call them — comes from Kurt Lewin. It has stood the test of time because this map is simple, yet powerful. Here’s a video from my Leader’s Map Room

Lewin’s Map

When people say, “I just don’t know what is normal anymore,” and they keep on saying that over time, yes, they are incompetent, but maybe we have made them that way. And we keep them that way. Just when they are just about to discover the new normal, we come along with our next wave of change. 

It’s the refreeze of the Lewin Map, that is crucial. If we keep people from entering their own refreeze stage, it’s as if we are keeping them in liquid incompetence, a very uncomfortable place to live and work.

Check out the Leader’s Map Room for more of these maps.

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