“Very often, salaried or low-profile employees wonder how the one who was a direct partner and, eventually, is promoted to a superior or boss position, ends up becoming so incompetent or inefficient. This curious but common phenomenon is called Peter’s incompetence, a concept that was born in the United States at the end of the 20th century.”
Laurence J. Peter (1919 – 1990), was a pedagogue, teacher and writer of the famous Peter principle, or incompetence of Peter, whose conceptual basis resides explicitly in administrative hierarchies in the world of work. That is to say, the author analyzed the meritocratic structures and methods that promote the promotions of a company or economic organization.
What is the principle of Peter’s incompetence?
As we have pointed out in the introduction, the Peter principle (formally referred to as the theory of the useless boss) affirms and denounces the malpractice that mercantile societies have in their system of promotion and promotion of the most competent employees. He emphatically rejects this idea since, according to his study, this implies the inability and lack of resolutive skills for a worker who assumes the position of maximum responsible.
So far everything exposed sounds familiar, right? There is a problem that extends in all societies and in all business areas, where the business is governed by a pyramid structure that ends up failing in its attempt to complete it. Erroneously qualified workers are placed in positions that do not correspond, that do not end up being to your liking or that are directly too difficult.
Why is this phenomenon occuring in companies?
According to Laurence, it is inevitable that this high point of our professional career will come to an end with her. No matter how excellent and privileged an employee is, the top will come, for one cause or the other, but above all, because the time comes when our skills no longer have the capacity to develop.
As Peter sentenced:
“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to ascend to reach their level of incompetence. The cream rises until it is cut. “
It is the best way to reflect the principle of useless boss. We all have a limit of capacities, of bearing the pressure, of assuming responsibilities and obligations. Often, that exemplary employee overflows when they change their area of performance.
Another very obvious reason is the simple fear of rejecting the change. In these cases, it is when a worker refuses to accept that he is not made for that position and accepts the offer of his superiors so as not to disappoint them -all a contradiction, yes- or not to miss an opportunity that, a priori, will take a long time arrive.
Is Peter’s syndrome currently applicable?
We can not ignore the obvious, or deny the greater. According to a study by the EAE Business School, there are a number of worrying cases that occur in many prestigious companies, especially in multinationals, where the bad decision of a manager or executive can lead to large economic losses.
However, it seems that this trend is changing, especially thanks to the inclusion of a new department increasingly essential in a company, Human Resources (HR). Today the opinion of experts and theoretical economists is almost unanimous in including this department in its ranks to ensure long-term success.
How to avoid work incompetence?
Perhaps forty years ago Peter’s theory of incompetence had little response at the academic or scientific level, but nothing is further from reality. As usually happens in any type of refutable theory, this one in particular has been somewhat obsolete. To begin with, Lawrence forgot a basic premise in life, both personally and professionally, and that everything in this life can be learned, at least in theory.
Going back to the previous point, the companies invest great efforts in including a team of human resources that avoid including in the staff little competent people. A task that previously fell to the boss or manager, which, at a general level, can only extract from the psychology of a person to know if he is engaged, if he is really motivated or if he wishes to promote himself in the company.
Having said that, HR managers can and should reduce the symptom described by Peter’s principle, even resorting to the degradation of a promoted employee to his initial position (a fact that was practically a chimera) without having to sanction him nor dismiss it, which has greatly facilitated the dynamics of internal promotion.
To consolidate the promotional success, the firms include very seductive packages in training, motivate employees with a more direct involvement in important decisions within the company, reward the commitment to language courses or interest of each employee and, in addition, they try that the hierarchy is horizontal and not vertical.