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Peter Principle – Fact or Fiction? October 5, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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This basic management  principle states that people rise in an organization to a level of incompetence. Every working professional can relate to this and may have experienced it already (or, will given time) by working with someone who has been promoted to a position that is beyond their capacity. At which time you ask ‘How did that person get his/her job?’

Whether fact or fiction*, the Peter principle is a fundamental reason why the Dilbert comic strip is so popular.  We all can relate to those situations where incompetence reigns despite our hope that logic and reason will prevail. Many people feel the situations depicted in Dilbert are unique to their company. But, that is why it is universally popular – it happens in lots of companies.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with people who demonstrate the Peter principle quite nicely and even have had a boss or two like that. Thus far, I believe I have avoided being a data point to validate this concept. I’m not sure but there may be some detractors about that.

Competence is also related to my last post on capacity. Possessing the knowledge and skills to do the job required and meet deadlines is a learned skill. Being a consistently solid performer that can also exceed expectations requires focus and dedication. Career advancement is based on past performance and potential to manage more complexity and extend capacity.

Would you admit it if you are an example of the Peter principle? Know someone who is? What signals do you watch for to ensure you are working at a high level of competence?

*Actually, while highly plausible, the Peter Principle is but a work of fiction. See the wikipedia entry which describes the authors and the related book.