Lately, the most common question that I hear from employees on different business forums is -“why after working for so many years in a company they struggle to get promoted.” In a similar matter, many business owners and high managers are hiring me to clear their frustration with - “why are newly promoted professionals that was promoted to undertake a project usually failing to accomplish project’s goals.”

The answer is simple. Neither employees nor management are ever heard about “Peter Principle.”

The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence." In more formal parlance, the effect could be stated as: employees tend to be given increasing authority until they cannot continue to work competently. It was formulated by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humoroustreatise, which also introduced the "salutary science of hierarchiology".

The Peter Principle is a special case of a ubiquitous observation: Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. This is "The Generalized Peter Principle." In an organizational structure, the Peter Principle's practical application allows assessment of the potential of an employee for a promotion based on performance in the current job; i.e., members of a hierarchical organization eventually are promoted to their highest level of competence, after which further promotion raises them to incompetence. That level is the employee's "level of incompetence" where the employee has no chance of further promotion, thus reaching their career's ceiling in an organization.

The employee's incompetence is not necessarily a result of the higher-ranking position being more difficult. It may be that the new position requires different work skills which the employee may not possess. For example, an engineer with great technical skill might get promoted to project manager, only to discover he lacks the interpersonal skills required to lead a team.

Thus, "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence."

In addition, Peter suggested the idea of “super-competence” in an inappropriately low position. He proposed that this employee will have two paths dependent upon his leadership. Competent managers will promote this employee for the betterment of the company. Incompetent managers will most likely feel intimidated or threatened by this employee. This employee is a disruption to their perceived natural order and will almost certainly drive them to set this employee up for failure or dismiss him. Organizations with poor leadership cannot handle this type of disruption to their hierarchical structure. A super-competent employee "violates the first commandment of hierarchical life with incompetent leadership: the hierarchy must be preserved.”

on OPEN Forum


Posted by Nikita Volchetskiy
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