Peter principle

Organisations promote people who are good at their jobs until they reach their ‘level of incompetence’.

The Peter Principle

This is an interesting concept about work and management which was a bit of curiosity for me when I was in school and when considering the organisation of firms from an economic perspective. Nevertheless, having started working, I find it hard not to take this principle as a matter of common sense from the structure our firms evolved.

Why this works at all to keep the firms doing fine was clearly due to the two forces that promotions have at play. Promotions actually serves two major purposes: one is that it provides a means to supply leaders for the teams and departments in a workplace; and the other is that it provides motivation for the best workers within the team and department. It doesn’t matter for firms that they promote capable and competent workers who happens to be pathetic leaders as long as it encourages and motivate good workers to do more and well enough to be promoted.

Never mind these workers then turned out to be bad managers, their previous track record serves as a model. Besides, their experience can allow them to share good practises with the team in an authoritative way. Clearly, when workers are really good, they will continue to deliver results – though bad leaders can be destructive, they might actually pose less of a risks than we think as long as they are not atrocious leaders – especially since they were good individual contributors.

However, the motivation effect only matters when the culture continues to think of moving into leadership and management as progress. If we can see progress in other dimensions of work, rather than the traditional idea of becoming promoted, then we can be part of creating a new work culture and system.