It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.
– Upton Sinclair
A classic instance is company exhortation to the employee to share his know-how. You are touted to be a manager-in-the making, a leader of men, a generous star-performer, a team member to the core and what not.
Come the next downturn, the insecure employee traces his vulnerability to his giving ways. And when the lay-off happens, in his mind, he contributed to his own redundancy by sharing his knowledge about the task. He is scarred by the interpretation of his experience.
Another instance, a senior executive asks who is willing to take charge of the critical project or assignment. Why does no hand go up? Can they not understand the rich rewards that await success? But, what does the job depend on? The job depends on not taking risks!
Companies are dimly aware of how they have set it all up.
In a game perceived to be zero-sum, the employee will drag his feet from creating the perfect job description for a task that he is the master of. This, an act of ‘overt’ omission will be realized and can be dealt with.
What cannot be dealt with are the innumerable and discretionary acts of omission that do by their very nature go unnoticed and undetected by the line manager or HR or the senior management. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you. But it does impact the bottom-line.
Instead of blaming the supposedly inept employee, it will be better to ask, “Does his job depend on not understanding what I want him to understand?” “In what way?”