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Why Incompetent People Are Promoted in Organizations
Written as a satire that struck a chord of fidelity with leaders across the globe, The Peter Principle suggests that people in any hierarchy tend to be promoted based upon their success in their previous role. They continue to get promoted until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. They then stay put, without any real capacity to perform in the role.
People rising to the level of their incompetence captures the reality many leaders observe in organizations everywhere. The Peter Principle instantly became an international bestseller.
Unfortunately, the idea is as true today as it was in 1969 when it was first published. Incompetent people abound throughout most organizations.
The good news is that once it is known that a colleague is incompetent in their current position, they generally stop being promoted.
The bad news is that the damage is done.
They make a mess of their current role. And to make matters worse, once in a new role, their subordinates with higher skillsets go crazy reporting to someone so hopelessly incapable.
In case you haven’t yet noticed, incompetent people are typically oblivious to their incompetence.
Good organizations and teams have learned an important lesson. The best way to prevent the Peter Principle is to offer skill training, coaching, and mentorship before promoting people.
Using skill development as a prerequisite to promotion encourages an honest conversation about who is, or is not, ready for the next role. Of course, leaders must first identify the ingredients essential for the next role and design the experiences and training that will ensure competence before it is required.
Grooming people to succeed before they step into the next role helps to prevent the Peter Principle and offset the ineptitude of colleagues who are good at what they do now, but not up to the future challenge of the next role.
As the author Laurence Peter once wrote, “Incompetence plus incompetence always equals incompetence.”