The Peter Principle

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What is it?

The Peter Principle is named after the founder of the idea, a clever chap called Dr Laurence J Peter.  The principle states that in a hierarchy every employee rises to their level of incompetence.

This happens because when people perform well at their jobs they are generally promoted. As we all know, promotions for your best employees are great because in return they feel valued, and usually they earn more. It’s a true win win situation.  However, with the promotion will of course come increased responsibility. This comes in the form of more work, and perhaps more complex work. So it stands to reason that if somebody receives enough promotions (and assuming they don’t reach the top of the hierarchy!) they will eventually fail at their job as they become unable to handle the additional responsibility.


How are employees affected?

If an employee is offered a promotion you should take in to consideration what their new role will involve.  Will they still be using the same skillset they currently have? Maybe some new skills will need to be learnt.   Or will they need a whole new skillset?

You should always consider what the new role will involve, and whether your staff member will need to attend additional training so that they can excel in their new role as well as they do their current position.

If you are considering promoting an existing employee and you feel that their new role might be outside of their comfort zone, then perhaps it might be best to pass the promotion to an alternative employee, or recruit someone with the right skills.  Remember most employees who are promoted are never demoted, which means that this would likely result in them leaving the company.  Can you afford to lose that valued member of staff?

So how do you ensure your employees don’t fall into the Peter Principle trap?

There are various ways a company can try to avoid any risks associated with the Peter Principle, namely:

  • Not to promote employees basing your assumptions on their current performance without them being able to show their ability to succeed in the new role
  • Provide your employees with in-house training if they are being considered for a new role
  • Offer your employees a parallel career path with an offer of additional pay and recognition without them having to be promoted to management

If this scenario has happened within your company don’t give up on your employee without first trying to help them to succeed with training and mentoring as it will benefit the company as well as the employee.

We hope that you have found this information useful and that you and your team avoid the Peter Principle by making just a few assessments before offering the next promotion within your company.

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