What are some examples of incompetence

The Peter Principle - Inability or Why We Need Specialized Careers

Harald F. is in the field service of a large insurance company. He likes doing his job and has a lot of success to show for. He is the best salesman in his region, extremely popular with customers for his honest but also persistent manner, and he mostly gets on well with his colleagues. You could say that he is the best horse in the stable for the sales force. One day it happens that his superior, the head of the field service, moves to the competition and Harald F. is asked the all-important question by the board: Would you like to take over the management of the department? You are our best man. Harald F. thinks back and forth. On the one hand he feels flattered, on the other hand he enjoys doing his job and would not have thought of changing jobs. Well, if the board of directors asks you ... Harald F. finally agrees. Six months later, there is a lot of excitement on the board. The new head of the field service has resigned and is joining the competition in the field service. Although he has been advised against it several times, the guy just walks like that. A relief for Harald F. He has never really felt comfortable in his management position. The coordination of the field staff and the associated paperwork were anything but enjoyable. The sales representatives also noticed this and at one point or another expressed their displeasure with F.’s chaotic approach. Harald F. also pointed this out, but was always put off. After all, he had no choice but to resign.

The principle described in this story can be discovered on closer inspection in numerous companies. It even has a name: The Peter Principle.

To the highest degree of your own incompetence

The Peter Principle describes a process that was shown by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their book "The Peter Principle" (1969, New York).

In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incapacity.

In concrete terms, this means that employees who do a job well are usually those who are being promoted. This is sometimes the principle of a classic hierarchy. However, this means that every good employee is promoted until he arrives at a hierarchy level with which he can no longer cope and has therefore reached the highest level of his incompetence.

In plain language: A good sales representative is not necessarily a good sales representative. A good teacher doesn't have to be a good headmaster.

Often the administrative effort in a management position causes frustration. The passion that prevails in and for a job is then often lost. What remains is your own being overwhelmed, paired with reluctance and demotivation.

We need specialist careers

This dilemma is mostly due to the fact that there are no other models in companies other than the classic hierarchical career. So if you want to get ahead, you have to move up. Some companies have even set this up-or-out policy in their corporate principles. In addition, there is the social pressure that a hierarchical ascent is something good and important. The promoted beckons praise and recognition from those around him. There is no turning back.

If you want to avoid this trap, you need specialist careers. Not only to avoid the Peter principle, but above all to be able to keep motivated employees who do a good job but who cannot advance. The possibilities of a specialist career are therefore an elementary component of modern personnel management and also meet the requirements of the younger generation.

Within the digital natives (= Generation Y), compared to the previous generations, the prevailing attitude is that you don't have to advance at any price. Especially not if it involves massive restrictions on private life. Here, too, specialist careers and development opportunities beyond “becoming a boss” are more than in demand.

Some examples

Here are a few examples of how employees who do not want, should or cannot be promoted can be promoted:

  • Project orders (which, for example, are awarded directly by the company management and are also presented to them)
  • Trainee programs
  • Involvement in important decisions that managers make
  • Mentoring / coaching - either by the direct manager or by a member of the company management
  • In-depth professional training
  • Training for personal development
  • “A day with the CEO” - accompanying the boss / company management on a daily basis
  • Rotation programs (switching between different areas)
  • "Boss for a day" - deployment of employees in a temporary management position

What especially binds employees is the direct leadership and the personal interest of the manager in the development of the employees. Immediacy binds and clarity creates trust. Above all, false promises regarding prospects are usually a business shot in the oven. The clearer the possibilities are on the table, the better the employee orients himself and the less disappointment is provoked.

However, specialist careers require strong management involvement. It is always easier to provide someone with money and a position. Above all, specialist careers mean dealing with employees and strengthening their expertise. Mentoring programs can be a wonderful means of doing this, but they demand a lot of commitment from the manager.

Plan together?

Arbeitswelten Consulting supports you in the creation of career plans, development paths and training / development programs. Contact us for a joint planning!