Here’s an interesting question for today: Have you seen examples of the Peter Principle in the workplace? We’ve talked about being held back because you’re too good and how to handle an incompetent boss, but we’ve never specifically discussed the Peter Principle. (A few years ago, though, readers had an interesting conversation in answer to a commenter’s question about requesting a demotion.)
While The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong (affiliate link) was presented as satire when it was published in 1969, the concept was (and still is) instantly recognizable to a lot of people. Here’s a quick summary from Harvard Business Review:
Everyone in an organization keeps on getting promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. At that point they stop being promoted. So given enough time and enough promotion levels, every position in a firm will be occupied by someone who can’t do the job.
Evidence that the Peter Principle is real has been highlighted by publications like Harvard Business Review and Forbes. It’s even categorized as a pop culture trope on TV Tropes (which, warning, is a rabbit hole of a site!).
An interesting corollary is named “Paula Principle,” and it also has its own book, The Paula Principle: How and Why Women Work Below Their Level of Competence. (The author, an “expert on innovation and work,” is a man.)
The idea, which was explained in this story in The Guardian, could deserve its own post (and it reminds me of our post about applying when you don’t meet the job requirements, which is something that men are much more likely to do than women.
Readers, do tell: Have you seen examples of the Peter Principle in your workplace? Do you think some workplaces are more insulated from incompetent managers than others, such as “up or out” workplaces like Big Law?
Have you seen the Paula Principle in your life?
If you’ve been managed by someone who was the wrong person for the job, how did you deal with it?
Stock photo (mysterious staircase) via Stencil.