Have you ever looked at your superior and wondered: “Why on earth were YOU promoted?” or “How have you not been fired by now?” If you have, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone! Many of us are subjected to bosses that seem in over their heads. Unfortunately, the fact is, while your seemingly inept boss may drive you crazy, it may not even be his or her fault, or even the fault of your company for promoting them in the first place. Rather, your superior has become a case of the Peter Principle in action.

In 1969, Canadian researcher, Dr Laurence Peter wrote a book called the ‘Peter Principle’, which states that a person will receive promotions so long as they work competently. Eventually they will be promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent.

The Peter Principal states that in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

For example, a sales rep is concerned with self-satisfaction in terms of pay and commission, and making sure they hit their sales target excellently. When this same person, based on their impeccable work ethic, loyalty to the business and exceeding sales targets, is promoted to the role of a sales manager, they are expected to place the business’ goals above all other job-related concerns. They now need to cross over from one style of thought to another. They are no longer concerned only with self-satisfaction, rather they now need to manage people, making sure everyone is satisfied and are performing their sales targets effectively.  This shift in thinking is not natural for everyone.

It is important to note that the employee’s incompetence is not necessarily a result of the higher-ranking position being more difficult. Rather it may be that the new position requires different work skills which the employee does not possess.  A typical example, is if they are a great rule-follower who suddenly is placed in charge of making rules and decisions.

Unfortunately, this means that they are generally unable to earn further promotions as they will be under-performing, as well as clogging the pipeline for those who deserve to be promoted.

For the sake of your business, you need to be able to promote well. To do this effectively, consider the following:

  • Promote slowly and methodically. Promote only those who have demonstrated the skills and cognitive abilities to perform at the next level.
  • Don’t promote for effort. While effort is praiseworthy, it doesn’t drive the business. Results do. Promote when you see results that exceed your expectations.
  • Train people for new positions. Beforethey take on the title or promotion, have them shadow the current person, or take on the position in a acting role to confirm they have the ability to perform as required.