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The Peter Principle:
why things always go wrong

by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull
William Morrow & Company, Inc. New York
1969, 179 pages in paperback.

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The Peter Principle:

In a hierarchy every employee tends
to rise to his level of incompetence.

The author provides an insightful analysis of why so many positions in so many organizations seem to be populated by employees who exhibit signs of incompetence which is a most disturbing since we all tend to all rise to our own level of incompetence. This concept is likely to be ignored by most senior managers and consultants since to admit it is to admit that we may also be at our own level incompetence. Ignorance is bliss?

The end result is that non-growing companies are more likely to have incompetent employees at many levels of the organizational structure whereas growing companies add new positions and employees so fast that the inevitable results of the Peter Principle may be forestalled as long as growth continues.

According to Dr. Peter: Work is accomplished by those employees who have not reached their level of incompetence. Thus we can see why organizations still function even as the Peter Principle causes some employees to accept one too many promotions. Peter's Corollary: In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.

Consider your own work experience and answer this question: "How many incompetent employees or managers have you encountered and how many were subsequently fired?" Fired, not relocated or bump upstairs so to speak. The Peter Principle maintains that to be promoted from one level of incompetence to another level of incompetence does not negate the principle, but Dr. Peter does call this a pseudo-promotion or percussive sublimation.

Another apparent exception to the Peter Principle is the Lateral Arabesque which means that the incompetent worker is moved laterally or to another location with possibly a longer title.

Management consultants who recognize that the Peter Principle is in full swing in their clients organization often recommend percussive sublimations and lateral arabesque for high ranking employees to make room for new employees, because new employees are not at their level of incompetence thus they can actually do the work they were hired to do which increases total output of the organization.

Employees, as the author points out, do not want to be incompetent, but when management offers promotions that put the employees into their level of incompetence, the employees have no way of knowing that ahead of time. After all, if the offer is made it is because management knows the employee can do the job competently. Many managers are at their level of incompetence thus they make these poor selections.

Click here for a light hearted look at "The Peter Principle Proven."

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