Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Remember the Peter Principle

I recently came across The Peter Principle again and was struck anew by its aptness.

Formulated by Dr Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull way back in 1969, it is a humourous treatise which essentially states that members of a hierarchy are promoted so long as they work competently, sooner or later they are promoted to a position in which they are no longer competent (their level of incompetence) where they remain, unable to attain any further advancement.

Peter further states that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence"

This is the statement that I think both employees and employers need to be aware of. If someone is achieving great things in a role, does it necessarily follow that they should be promoted? The answer obviously is no, but as a society, if we do not achieve regular advancement we presume we have ceased to perform at our best, or worse yet that we have failed.

The best employers find ways other than promotion to solve the stagnation problem, such as:
  • to acknowledge and reward performance, with things such as company awards, financial incentives or elevation to mentor status for others.
  • provide training in a new role and only promote after sufficient evidence of capabilities have been displayed.
Don't become a company which blindly elevates employees to their level of incompetence, a properly constructed performance management system will identify not only who, but when someone is ready for promotion. To do otherwise only elevates the company to its level of incompetence and reduces its competitive advantage.

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