Implied Competence

Several years ago one of my clients mounted a global search for a new CEO. This was in the world before COVID, before Zoom and before Microsoft Teams. Skype was the only game in town to do initial interviews with candidates around the world. My client contact, who was on the selection committee, related an observation that took her, and the committee, by surprise. Although they knew intellectually that the candidates’ proficiency with Skype was not a core competency, they were finding themselves judging them on lighting, camera angle and audio quality. At first blush it seemed totally unfair but, as I reflected on it I understood that it was implied competence at work.

Implied competence refers to the notion that no matter how fantastic your skill set, talent and experience, if you cannot engagingly articulate what you do and why you do it, we downgrade your skills based on your ability to communicate them.Implied competence

Today, as we all spend most of our meeting time in the virtual space be it on Zoom or other platforms, this is even more relevant. Not everyone grew up on camera and most people are not entirely comfortable “performing” but performance is a huge piece of being engaging and credible in a virtual meeting or presentation.

We’ve all seen the terrible examples: up your nose and the ceiling shot, terrible audio that breaks up and brings the entire meeting to a screeching halt while someone tries to sort it out, witness protection style back-lighting or the floating head disappearing into Zoom’s standard Golden Gate Bridge virtual background (with NO greenscreen!). Don’t even get me started on COVID hair; your hairdresser is open again – please schedule an appointment! Gaaak!

Before we knew how permanent this move to virtual work was going to be it was okay to get by with a lousy webcam, a messy background, and crappy audio and lighting. Now there is no excuse not to raise that bar for yourself. If you are fortunate enough to have your employer outfit your home office with all the bells and whistles, be super grateful. For the rest of us it will mean spending some dough on a good camera, a great microphone, some lighting, maybe a green screen and rack to hold it, and likely a second monitor and maybe even a second webcam if you will be demonstrating something in close up, like guitar work.

Don’t forget, implied competence also works in reverse: the better you perform on camera, the smarter we think you are! If you are struggling to redefine yourself in this new world, ask for help!

Joanna Piros