If you have ever felt that your boss is incompetent or you have been overwhelmed at work or in life, then you have probably experienced the Peter Principle. This principle is often elicits humor in us and is featured in shows such as “The Office” and in comic strips such as “Dilbert.”
“The Peter Principle is a belief that, in an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, that an organization’s members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability.”
In other words, inevitably, people are going to be promoted into a job that is too big for them. Since its inception in the 1960’s, HR professionals and organizational psychologists have consulted organizations in attempt to minimize the effects of the phenomenon.
I have been thinking about this theory because I regularly talk to people who hate their jobs because of their bosses. Some even move to a new job to only encounter the same behaviors with a different person. So, as a worker or manager, how can you minimize the effects of the Peter Principle? Better yet, how can you recognize and use this theory to make sense of your everyday life?
First, be aware it this exists. Many times, your boss is not aware of their incompetence. If you are trapped in the situation, ask to fill in places where you can better mask his or her weaknesses. If the situation is still unbearable, try to move on but keep in mind that you may eventually end up in a similar situation.
Secondly, acknowledge that your current boss may not be your boss forever. He/she may move on or even change. Give the person room to grow. As stated, as long as you understand what is happening, things could get easier.
This principle can be applied to life as well. Life is full of surprises that are beyond our level of “competence” so, again, awareness is important. Ask yourself what you can you do to increase your “competence” to overcome these situations.
So, that’s the Peter Principle in a nutshell – a theory that broadly applies to both work and life. I would like to hear about your experiences as well.