Marco's Blog

Here you can find my thoughts

Peter principle

The Peter principle is a concept studied by Laurence J. Peter. He observed that people in a hierarchal company tend to change their position moving to “a level of respective incompetence”.

Let’s rephrase the previous sentence. Usually, employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs. At a certain point in this rise, they reach a particular level where they are no longer competent enough.

What happens is that you get a promotion when you are good at a particular job. Tou master your job, you add value to the company and someone will put his eyes on you and get you some more tasks and responsibilities.

But what happens next?

There are two possibilities, you still rock on your job and after a while you will find yourself in the previous situation, getting another promotion (good for you man) or you will face the Peter principle.

When you change roles it usually requires different skills. You could or could not have those skills, maybe they are not related to your history or background, maybe you are not able to learn them or those are out of your field.

Thus, all of a sudden, you find yourself in a position where you are not so good, where you do not master your activities, in other words, you are not the best fit for the role.

But now it’s hard to come down to the previous one, no one does it and you can not go up. You are stuck, in a position where you are not competent enough. No matter which level you get, after a while you will find yourself in a bad position.

Peter summarised it:

“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

 Laurence J. Peter

I found this principle very interesting but with some flaws.

They are not such flaws, but this principle is based on circumstances that I would define rare.

First of all, you need to find a structure with enough positions for all the people that deserve it, otherwise, you will get stuck in a role where you are competent.

Second, the principle requires enough time for you to get competent, cause, sometimes you don’t have the expertise right now, but you can acquire it. So, there is needed time to get good and then be great and in the end, be promoted. After that in the next role, you still need time to understand if there are the previous conditions or if you get a plateau.

One last question that I asked myself, what if you reach the maximum level and you are still good enough?


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