Have you ever wondered why a work colleague gets promoted when you are fairly confident that they are not really qualified for their new position? Do you find this annoying? Especially when you know you could do that job better than they can and you probably deserve to be promoted instead of them? OK, don’t be bitter. No one likes a jealous work colleague. There’s a rational explanation for this less than ideal phenomena.
Let me explain why your dumb-ass work colleague is getting promoted and you’re not. This situation is known as “The Peter Principal” and is based on a satirical book of the same name published in 1969.
“The Peter Principle” is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another. Wiki Peter Principle
“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” – Lao Tzu
Interesting. Is this starting to make sense to you? The Peter Principle is thus based on the logical idea that competent employees will continue to be promoted, but at some point will be promoted into positions for which they are incompetent, and they will then remain in those positions because of the fact that they do not demonstrate any further competence that would get them recognized for additional promotion. According to the Peter Principle, every position in a given hierarchy will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfill the job duties of their respective positions. The Peter Principle
There is ample evidence to support The Peter Principle. Gallup has found that one of the most important decisions companies make is whom they name manager, and 82% of the time companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job. Bad managers cost businesses billions of dollars each year, and having too many of them can bring down a company. Gallup’s research reveals that about one in ten people possess all the traits necessary for success; few have the unique combination of talent needed to help a team achieve excellence in a way that significantly improves a company’s performance. These 10%, when put in manager roles, engage team members and customers, retain top performers, and sustain a culture of high productivity. Combined, they contribute about 48% higher profit to their companies than average managers. In further research, a team analyzed the performance of 53,035 sales employees at 214 American companies from 2005 to 2011. During that time, 1,531 of those sales reps were promoted to become sales managers. Consistent with The Peter Principle, the data showed that the best salespeople were more likely to a) be promoted and b) perform poorly as managers. The Peter Principle is Alive and Well
In 2018, economists Alan Benson, Danielle Li, and Kelly Shue analyzed sales workers’ performance and promotion practices at 214 American businesses to test The Peter Principle. They found that companies did indeed tend to promote employees to management positions based on their performance in their previous position, rather than based on managerial potential. Consistent with “The Peter Principle”, the researchers found that high performing sales employees were likelier to be promoted and that they were likelier to perform poorly as managers, leading to considerable costs to the businesses. The Peter Principle is Alive and Well
Within one-year 25 percent of the newly promoted return to their former positions or leave the organization, now convinced they don’t have what it takes to lead a Team and aware that–because they have failed in their new position–the opportunity for them to advance within the organization has effectively ended. A majority of the other 75 percent of the newly promoted remain in their new positions, but struggle to succeed. Peter Principle Killing Employees
You probably have experienced “The Peter Principle” firsthand at some point in your career. And if that wasn’t annoying enough, what about general incompetence in the workplace. Well there is a rational explanation for that too!
The Dunning–Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition (the ability to analyze one’s own thoughts or performance), people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence. Wiki Dunning-Kruger Effect
Some people must be unable to appraise or evaluate their own skills accurately and that’s what David Dunning and Justin Kruger found in 1999, with their paper entitled Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. In their paper, they tell the story of the bank robber Mr McArthur Wheeler, who in 1995 in broad daylight walked into two separate banks in Pittsburgh. He wore no disguise or mask and indeed, went out of his way to locate and smile at the surveillance cameras. The police showed the surveillance tapes on TV, and he was arrested that night. He was flabbergasted that he had been caught, and protested: “But I wore the juice.” He had been told that if he first rubbed his face with lemon juice, the cameras could not see or register his face. And he had proved it — at least to his own high standards. He had rubbed lemon juice on his face and, holding his Polaroid camera at arm’s length, had taken a photograph of his own face. Unfortunately, he had accidentally rotated the camera upwards so that he took a photo of the ceiling — but, because his face was not in the photo, he was convinced that the lemon juice had made his face invisible to cameras. You’re not as good as you think you are
The challenge with Dunning-Kruger was underscored by Dunning himself: “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task.” Our first inclination is to confront them, but that only makes them defensive or strengthens their denial. For example, the more time I spent discussing performance issues with my subordinate, the more convinced he became that I was the one with the problem. Making a daily trek to my office to ask how to do his job wasn’t a sign of his incompetence, but mine. In his mind, I had failed as a leader to give him detailed instructions; he was just allowing me to correct my own oversight, my own incompetence. At its core, the lack of insight that drives The Dunning-Kruger effect prevents those who suffer from it from seeing themselves – and their shortfalls – clearly. Because those attributes were underdeveloped in my subordinate, I needed to focus my efforts on building his self-awareness in a way that didn’t threaten his already-fragile ego. The Confident Idiot
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” – Charles Darwin
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