Sep 17, 2009

The Principle of Peter

For those who have taken all kinds of Business Administration classes and got to the chapters of "Leadership" in the book, or "Motivation" and similars, you might remember something called the "Principle of Peter". The reason of the name escapes me, but the idea is that organizations tend to promote people to the level of incompetence.

he principle basically takes off from the assumption that people are promoted based on their skills at doing what they do, which, from my point of view, is the first crass mistake of the proposal. Anyway, you are good at what you do, and since you do it so well, you get promoted. For instance: let's say you are great cashier at a bank. You are quick, good with numbers, have an excelente memory and can foccus. You are so good that you get promoted to chief of cashiers. Okay, you can still do that, help your cashiers become faster, better, have less losses by the end of the day. You do that so well, that you get promoted again to platform chief. Here you gara do stuff and supervise activities you have never done before, so you start to fail. But maybe you are still good, and get promoted to office manager, only this time you really have no idea what are you doing or what are you supposed to do, because you know how to be a good cashier, but know nothing about the safes, the platforms, the accountants, about the conditions of a loan, the terms to file a foreclosure or forgive one and so on, so you start doing a crappy job and you don't get promoted anymore, but get stucked doing your work poorly.

Now, I'm tempted to say that this is all nice and cool but it is not, because in order to survive in the long term, organizations NEED to be efficient and work at their best. Add to it, this Principle basically says what we all already know: most higher positions are filled with incompetent people. In other words, a bunch of incompetent jacks are leading a bunch of competent to incompetent crew. What does that mean? That competency is not really taken advantage of, and it all balls up and wraps up into a big bundle of incompetency. After all, were could incompetency lead but to more incompetency?

The problem is that there are often organizations that defy even the Principle of Peter and promote their workers based on friendship, contacts, political favors, personal favors, sexual favors and so on. These people receive the position our of a favor, a gift, and so they don't really need to do anything there, just collect the paycheck, and therefore not only are they completely incompetent at it, but they don't care and even trumple other, more capable people's attempt at managing something, mostly out of the fear of being exposed as completely inadecuate for the job.

Those bosses who love the sound of their own voice and so launch into hours of boring monologues cutting everybody's chance to talk or explain. Those bosses that can't take five minutes to hear someone else explain them a problem, but talk for them, imagine the problem, and make the purpose of working on a solution when they have not even heard the real problem. Those bosses that shield themselves in business administration commonplaces and famous mottos, such as "don't bring me problems, bring me solutions" without considering that a subordinate might really have no idea how to solve something because it's beyond it's capabilities, it's knowledge, but the boss doesn't want to think and want someone else to give him or her the decision he or she should be taking and for which he or she is getting the big bucks.

The boss that gives more importance to the check in and check out time, to the time you spend at lunch, the time you spend at the bathroom, the number of meetings you attend, the clothes you wear, whether you eat or not at the office, how loud you play your music, where is the monitor of your computer pointing at, and so on. The boss that's always "so busy" jumping from a meting to another and doesn't have five to check on with his or her subordinates to really get involved with what his or her team is doing.

Then there's the boss that thinks that being a boss gives him or her the right to mistreat people, humiliate them, treat them badly, yell at them, scorn them publicly and don't apologize if they are proven wrong. Those who live to breath fear into their subordinates and discontent, those who live to break them, to demand their blind loyalty, to pledge to all their outrageous ideas, and then don't take the responsability for the actions they have taken, the actions they have demanded and happily place the blame on their subordinates.

So, an article in a paper talks about the Principle of Peter, but that's just some lame little tale, a pile of nothing compared to the things that happen in real life and the things that should be stopped. I'm talking about the Principle of Cascante.

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