What would you choose? Loyalty or competence

Often in public and work life we see judgement clouded by personal loyalty.

So when choosing new members of the team are you looking for competence above loyalty?  What are the consequences of choosing loyalty over competence?

What do we know about loyalty and competence?  Loyalty is a value set, one that was identified by Mary Guy back in the 1990’s that transcends culture, time and place.   Loyalty is faithfulness or a devotion to a person, country, group, or cause. (Wikipedia)  The problem with loyalty is not the devotion to a cause, organisation or service of a role, but loyalty to a person, can cloud judgement of both parties.  Practicing loyalty to a person, rather than an organisation or cause is a type of love, and this is borne out in the work of Josiah Royce in his 1908 book The Philosophy of Loyalty.  Loyalty to a person rather than a cause or ideal is dangerous, because having once pledged your loyalty it is difficult to change course even though you have misgivings about the integrity or motivations of the person involved.

Competence is not a value, but it is connected to values such as pursuit of excellence, accountability, and integrity.  Competence (or competency) is the ability of an individual to perform a job properly. A competency is a set of defined behaviors that provide a structured guide enabling the identification, evaluation and development of the behaviors in individual employees. (Wikipedia)  Competency is a range of knowledge, skills and behaviours that support high performance.

What do people who are loyal or competent do?  Loyalty is about alliance and allegiance. It is practiced as support.  At work that is fine, if the support is for the organisation and its objectives, but it can become distorted when the loyalty is to a person.  We talk about blind allegiance, supporting anything that the person does without question.  By contrast, competent people bring their skills, and knowledge to the workplace to achieve the aims and objectives of the organisation. Highly competent people are of real value to the organisation.

We have already explored loyalty and competence in light of values.  Loyalty is a value while competence a behaviour. So in terms of your organisation and your team performance, you need to consider how much weight you will give to the value of loyalty. Personally, I would rather give more weight to accountability, respect for others, and responsible citizenship than loyalty. I prefer an open and accountable team, that can respectfully debate and discuss, to give constructive feedback, rather than one that agreed with me.

What sort of people do we want on our team? Who is going to get us the wins we need? The competent or the loyal?  You decide, but make sure you make an informed choice and make your decisions for the long term.  It may feel good to have a loyal team, but they will not bring much joy if they are unable to deliver in your key performance areas.

There are more resources below to further stimulate your thinking on loyalty and competence. You may like to discuss this dilemma with your team, colleagues and family. Listen carefully to their ideas, as they are full of wisdom.

Integrate elements of both loyalty and competence into your performance expectations. Decide in advance how you will manage disloyalty and incompetence in your team. Disloyalty can be fine, if it is based in good reasoning, and desire to support the organisation. It can be unacceptable when it comprises your or others capacity to carry out their work.   If you have incompetence, the first question to ask  is “What additional training and resources does this person need to become competent?” The next question is, “How trainable/educable are they?”  I can tell you from experience that you can develop the performance of a person with a good attitude, but it is near impossible with a person with who is actively disengaged from the organisation or team.

So this week, think about these two important ideas and how they work for you. Be observant, where do you see loyalty valued over competence, and where do you see competence rewarded and supported. I look forward to your thoughts.

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