Peter’s Principle: Why does every job position tend to be filled by someone who is incapable of filling it?

  • BBC Radio 4
  • Series of laws are not laws

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In his theory of evolution, Charles Darwin introduced the law of natural selection and the phrase “survival of the fittest” became common: those who adapt better to their environment go to the next round.

Mankind has managed to add an additional stage: once the fittest survives, it rises to a level not suitable for it.

This is at least what the “Peter’s Principle,” also known as the “Peter’s Inefficiency Principle,” tells us.

“In the hierarchy, Every employee tends to rise to their level of inefficiency“, She dictates.

Its author, Canadian psychologist and educator Lawrence J. Peter, who, together with playwright Raymond Hull, noted his book The Peter’s Principle in 1969: “In any organization in which experience qualifies for promotion and inefficiency, these rules apply.” .

“Although it was an entertainment book, it had a lot of ideas that were at least anthropomorphic,” says Yale Business School economist Kelly Shaw. It is a principle that can be developed almost anywhere. Hierarchy . You may have seen the process …

… someone does a job for which he is fully prepared; Instead of letting it shine and raise his paycheck from time to time, the organization It rewards you with a promotion to a position you don’t do as well.

If he survives, he takes to the next level, etc., sailing deeper and deeper waters and paddling more and more frantically.

In the end, he’s too far from the shore and in a position brilliantly suited to him, he’s drowning … but with a bigger office and a better car. And enough responsibility How To manufacture Disasters.

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With water up to my neck, but with a better salary.

As Lawrence Peter said, “Cream does not always rise, but rises until sour.”


The book struck a chord with the general public, as it remained on the list best seller From The New York Times for over a year (and still in print 45 years later) It is satire– Mocking management and mocking management books. But like all good irony, people were able to see the truth through it.

The book offers dozens of “specialty terms” such as …

  • Complex hyperphobia (The fear that superiors feel when the inferior person shows strong managerial potential);
  • Laughter inertia (The habit of telling jokes instead of acting);
  • Impact syndrome (Inability to make decisions) or
  • Stranded gigantism (The obsession with having a bigger office than colleagues).
José Ortega y Gasset


All public officials should be demoted to their next lower ranks, as they were promoted to incompetent

Modern evidence

Proving that Peter’s Principle is real is complicated, as company data is not easy to obtain, and if the person who must collect it has reached his level of incompetence, he will likely not require reports that formalize his position.

However, economists Alan Benson, Daniel Lee and Kelly Shaw recently published What Could It Be First detailed empirical investigation of the Peter’s Principle Using US performance management data from participating sales teams.

“The nice thing about the sales data is, first, that it’s a very important environment: about 9% of the American workforce is in something sales related.

“Additionally, we can see each person’s sales numbers, so we can spot the people with superior sales who are most likely to be promoted, and then measure their performance as managers, given their added value,” he explained. To the BBC Show.

“A good manager, for example, will make his team more effective.”

Economists relied on the information From more than 200 companies, more than 53,000 workers, and more than 1,500 Promotions.

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Knowing how to seed doesn’t mean you know how to prune.

This dataset was ideal for identifying highly-qualified salespeople and what happened to the team once a distinguished salesperson was promoted to the team leader role.

They emphasized that sales witches were more likely to be promoted. But that was not all.

“We found that those who became managers after achieving poor sales like others were about 6% worse than bosses, that is, they reduced the performance of all their subordinates by approximately 6%,” revealed Shaw.

calendar dramatic And even something surprising.

“You might think that being good at sales means being good at personal relationships, but many of the best sales artists are solo wolves and don’t have much experience with collaboration or teamwork.

“We found it on average They are especially passive managers That have a negative effect on their subordinates.

“They have been promoted to their inefficiency.

“In doing so, companies not only lost an employee with high sales performance, But They got it too Bad manager“.

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Often times the best is not the best.

And while people today can be trained and proficient as a manager rather than a direct employee, Peter’s principle Follow Thriving Widely In the field Cooperat Technological.

In Silicon Valley

Over the past 30 years, business consultant Nitin Purwankar has tracked the rise of Silicon Valley to become the world’s economic and technological powerhouse, repeatedly witnessing startups or starts What or what Arise, InnovateAnd the “Lose their soul” and stagnate.

“I’ve seen people get creative and then, of course, look for a source of income. That’s when managers decide what their business model is, everything else is put aside and they focus on what generates money.”

“But in start What pays off is taking risks and they become incompetent at taking risks, leaving the path open for others start To innovate in the same place and leave them behind. It happens all the time. ”

It is a modern equivalent to a high level of inefficiency.


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Every now and then, don’t hit the target.

Is there a way to evade the logic of Peter’s doctrine and avoid climbing the peaks of incompetence?

It’s not easy, but there are some extreme approaches.

There is some evidence for that If you randomly name managers on average, they tend to perform betterBob Sutton, professor at Stanford University and author of Good Boss Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst.

“It’s an interesting solution, but there is some evidence to support it.”

Another option comes from Peter’s own book: Creative incompetence.

In short, if you find a job that you really love and does a very good job, be sure to give your boss sometimes a reason to think you’re not good.

Peter’s doctrine sheds light on bureaucracy but did not change it: inefficiency continues to spread.

But according to Sutton, There is cause for optimism.

“For me, there are very few glimpses of hope in his idea that all reasonable actions are performed by people who have not reached their level of incompetence because something I learned while studying management for nearly 40 years is that organizations often do the right thing. despite of s Not because of– The leaders have them.

“People are smart; most of us know how to deal with shoddy hierarchies, incompetent bosses or lazy ones.”

Peter explained to us that aspiration for the biggest and the best is a recipe for lack of average performance, so wherever you are in your business, ask yourself if it’s time to stop climbing – you probably really are where you really should be.

And if you’ve really gone up where it shouldn’t be, don’t feel comfortable thinking that your boss might be an impostor, too.

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Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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