Peter Principle

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The Peter Principle is the principle that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence".

It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the "salutary science of hierarchiology", "inadvertently founded" by Peter. It holds 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. This principle can be modelled and has theoretical validity for simulations.[1] Peter's Corollary states that "in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties" and adds that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence". Managing upward is the concept of a subordinate finding ways to subtly "manage" superiors in order to limit the damage that they end up doing.

Contents

Overview

The Peter Principle is a special case of a ubiquitous observation: anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. This is "The Generalized Peter Principle". It was observed by Dr. William R. Corcoran in his work on corrective action programs at nuclear power plants. He observed it applied to hardware, e.g., vacuum cleaners as aspirators, and administrative devices such as the "Safety Evaluations" used for managing change. There is much temptation to use what has worked before, even when it may exceed its effective scope. Dr. Peter observed this about humans.

In an organizational structure, the Peter Principle's practical application allows assessment of the potential of an employee for a promotion based on performance in the current job; i.e., members of a hierarchical organization eventually are promoted to their highest level of competence, after which further promotion raises them to incompetence. That level is the employee's "level of incompetence" where the employee has no chance of further promotion, thus reaching their career's ceiling in an organization.

The employee's incompetence is not necessarily exposed as a result of the higher-ranking position being more difficult — simply, that job is different from the job in which the employee previously excelled, and thus requires different work skills, which the employee may not possess. For example, a factory worker's excellence in their job can earn them promotion to manager, at which point the skills that earned them their promotion no longer apply to their job.

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