Peter Principle


Peter Principle can be defined in these words such as; Peter Principle is a well-known principle in Human Resources Management according to that in a hierarchy people tend to rise to their level of incompetence (citation). Accordingly when employee is promoted to higher rank, he or she inclines to become less competent because competence of an employee in one rank does not ensure his or her competence in another higher one. This principle was presented by the professor Dr. Laurence J. Peter and also named after him, who formulated this observation in his book 'The Peter Principle.


In a Hierarchy, Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence (citation) is the main core of the Peter Principle that was popularized by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their book, which is actually seems an amusing piece of writing. In their book they also introduced one more concept of salutary science of Hierarchiology, unintentionally established by Peter. This concept illustrates that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions (citation). The concept of Hierarchiology is theoretically authentic. According to this concept Peter explains that every rank in a Hierarchy is inclined to be occupied by an incompetent employee who is not capable to effectively perform his duties, he also said, the work is done by those people who have not yet touched the height of their incompetence.

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What does incompetence mean is a question to be identified? To describe incompetence it is considered that an incompetent is an individual who is delineated by his oversight.

This description requires explanation, though every person can commit occasional mistakes or wrong decision or fail in assessment but this is not incompetence. It turns into incompetence when failure becomes the habit and the person is attributed by this habit whether it would be the sub-standard performance in dozens of projects, or one's individual catastrophe that demolish one's popularity.

Each instance, when others start attributing one with these characteristics, he would be regarded an incompetent person.

Moreover, if people start defining someone by his mistakes, then he would be definitely an incompetent one. According to the one research conducted by a professor and psychologist Justin Kruger, "Nobody is incompetent in everything." This defines that no one can rise to the standard of competence without being adapt at any number of basic skills as the most of people are not incompetent at a huge number of things. Contrary to this as no one is incompetent at everything likely no one is apt at everything and consequently according to the Peter Principle majority of the people will finish up in ranks for which we are not congenitally proficient. . As HR consultant Bill Catlette comments, "All of us, at some things, at some point in our lives, are incompetent - maybe at work, maybe at home (citation)."

It does not matter if this characterization is based upon people's observation to define him actually an incompetent person, thus incompetence is defined as the inability of ones to do the job.

This is not necessary that the exposed incompetence of an employee would be a result of the high ranking job promotion that would be more demanding. Despite that job is not the same as the previous one; the higher rank would demand the higher work skills which may not be possessed by the employee. For instance, an employee of the factory is competent and excellent in his job and it can cause promotion to the rank of manager, but at this point the skills and excellence that caused his promotion would not be applied to this new rank.

A question arises here that are the incompetent employees aware of their incompetence? Certainly this incompetence is not only due to the modern workplace. However, the principle provides that in the hierarchy, promotions change proficient employees into incompetent superiors. Furthermore, incompetence begets incompetence (citation),

Superiors who have poor judgment skill hand give assignments in the wrong hands, entrust sensitive objectives to them who can not effectively achieve those targets.

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Regardless of the growing popularity of the personality evaluation at workplace as mentioned above organizations keep hiring the incapable people in jobs. Consider all the cases about interacting with bosses who were not humane, at any stage, promoted to some higher rank as some individuals are not good material for being good managers, no concern how much they are qualified and conducting daylong seminars.

The Peter Principle is a humoristic treatise which describes the drawbacks of the hierarchic administration. According to the actual statement of the principle in an administration hierarchically systemized, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence.

The Peter Principle provides with the observation that in an organization new employees are usually hired in the lower jobs but gradually when they prove themselves to be competent in the job in which they are primarily hired, they get elevated to a higher job. This system of ascending to the height of hierarchy can persistently continue till the time employee gets the rank where the employee is no longer competent (citation). At one point this process naturally ends, since the established principles of the organization make it difficult to reduce someone in rank, even though that person be adapt and much comfortable in previous lower rank. Consequently, it is apparent that most of the elevated ranks of the hierarchical structure are appointed by incompetent employees, on the basis of their previous work because they were quite better in doing different jobs than the one they are appointed.

The generalization of the Peter Principle in not much distrustful in its insinuation, since evolution does not have the hierarchical inertia that promotes and sustains people in an inappropriate rank. But there will certainly remain the systems, which would be confronted by evolutionary problems, will rapidly fix the easy one, but incline to get stuck in serious problems. The more adaptive, fit, competent system is that, the more rapidly it will fix all the easy issues instead finally get stuck in all the complex issues. However, getting stuck in complex issues does not mean being unfit, it only describes that it has just touched the heights of its competence, and had great problem in advancing further. This also explains man, being most adaptive and complicated creatures, is still struggling for survival in its niches as much vigorously as is the most primitive organism, like bacteria. If any creature would have the ability to resolve its evolutionary problems in a whole then the Red Queen Principle would ensure that new and comparatively harder problems would arise, therefore a creature would keep on struggle to balance on the edges of its sphere of incompetence. In a nutshell, it can be concluded, the generalization of Peter Principle presents that in evolution systems tend to reach the point of their adaptive competence.

This concept is quite disturbing as according to the Peter Principle since every one tends to rise to his level of incompetence. This concept is usually overlooked by most senior managers since to confess it is to confess that they may also be at their own level of incompetence. Consequently the end result is that static organizations are most probable to have incompetent employees at many different levels in the organizational structure. Whereas in growing organization, new positions and employees are added fast enough that the consequences of the Peter Principle, which are expected unavoidable, are behind as long as the organization is continuously growing.

Probably it requires some explanation regarding this concept such as if an organization imply this concept then how does an organization survive? What is observable is the work in this organization is being done by people who have not reached the level of their incompetence. Doctor Peter provides its explanation in the words that in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties (citation). In organizations when someone is perceived as incompetent one, he is promoted up, or to make vacancy for a competent employee. The new person replacing the incompetent one would not be at his level of incompetence and would be able to serve better as he is expected to do. The implication of this Principle, in my opinion, is not right. It is considerable that mentorship would discontinue the Peter Principle such as more training in new enhanced positions could bring positive results. According to the Peter Principle, appointing a new employee who can perform well would increase total productivity of the organization. This can be true but what should be done with the all people who reached the level of their incompetence? I find it morally and financially more appropriate to utilize the existing resources. Through providing enhanced relevant training and mentors utilization of the existing resources can be achieved well.

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In Peter Principle, Dr. Peter points out that people do not intend to be incompetent, but they are provided higher ranks that put them into their level of incompetence (citation). It is unexpected that a person knows that incompetence would happen ahead of time. Nevertheless, an offer is made to that employee because the management knows that this employee can execute this job better but such managers too are at their level of incompetence therefore they are making such poor decisions.