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Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Peter’s Principle – Promoted to your level of incompetence

Hiring, ManagementEdward KiledjianComment

Dr Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull wrote an interesting book entitled The Peter Principle (in 1969). The basic premise is that employees are promoted as long as they work competently. This cycle eventually leads to a promotion above their “level of competence”.

Interestingly, we have seen Peter’s corollary “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties”. The concept of managing upward is the science of managing your incompetent boss to limit possible damage.

Business Life

If you have spent any amount of time in the business world, you have undoubtedly met a manager whose promotion can only be explained by this theory. As a manager, you have to take a step back and try to find a way to minimize the impact of these “useless people” in your organization.

The most humane approach I have seen is to ensure a person has the required skills and habits before promoting them to the higher position.

In the most extreme case, a company may implement an “up or out” policy in which each employee has a given amount of time to move up the chain of command, otherwise they are fired to allow subordinates (potentially more qualified) to move up.

Real world logic would dictate that your position should be somewhere in the middle. Document the requirements for any senior position and identify the required, nice to have and not required skills. Ensure that all of your potential candidates have or are close to obtaining the required skills. As for the nice to have, you will have to work at educating and coaching the candidate until they achieve mastery of these.

The other potential scenario is that the person is already in a senior position. First you should have a periodic 360 degree performance review which anonymously takes into account feedback from subordinates, peers, superiors and customers. This is a great way to ensure you are being provided an accurate picture of the person. If weaknesses are identified, determine if they can be remedied through education or coaching. Does the person have the propensity to improve and meet the requirements? If not, either demote the person or lay them off. Ultimately it is management’s fault for promoting the employee to their level of incompetence and measures should be implemented to prevent it from occurring again.