The Peter Principle Problem and how to get around it

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Success. It’s something most of us strive for, but something which slinks out of reach from time to time. Within the workplace, it’s the main driving force behind our actions, and it’s also what we’ll primarily be judged upon.

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory which proposes that candidates for promotion are judged not based on their suitability for the new role, but rather on their achievements in their current one. This may seem a bit counter-productive – surely it should be the other way round? We might be perfect at our current role, but if we’re not up-to-scratch with a potential new one, surely success is out of the question?

Being successful within an organisation requires productivity, and productivity requires engagement. If we’re not engaged in the work we’re doing, we won’t be motivated to do it. Our productivity will plummet, and our success will slump. Therefore, if employees are promoted without any thought for their performance in a new role, chances are they won’t be engaged.

The Peter Principle also suggests that as an employee climbs the promotion ladder, they’ll eventually hit the ‘career ceiling’, and will run out of roles within which they can be successful. It proposes that the employee’s skills can only be applied to a certain number of roles, and once those are depleted, there’ll be no useful skills left.

So how do we get around this possible Peter Principle problem and prevent the career ceiling from potentially becoming a reality?

No matter how many times we encounter failure, it’s important that we always strive for success. It makes us more positive and more productive. We all have things that we’re good at and things we’re not good at, and working environments in which we thrive and within which we stagnate, and these can have a huge influence on how we perform within the workplace. By identifying these individual factors, and tailoring them to the employee, the ‘career ceiling’ should be cancelled out. We all want to have our perfect job – one which both utilises our skillset and makes us want to come into work in the first place – and our underlying Unconscious Motivators® can have a big impact on just what that job will be.

Our Unconscious Motivators® are responsible for our behaviour. They dictate how we respond to specific actions and events. When our Unconscious Motivators® are satisfied, we act in our productive Best Selves – but when they’re not being met, we’re triggered into unproductive Shadow behaviour. In order to make sure that we’re successful in our work, we need to maximize Best Self behaviour by ensuring that our Unconscious Motivators® are fulfilled. This is more likely when our job roles are tailored specifically to suit them.

Thus The Peter Principle doesn’t have to be a blind tactic. If employees are suited to the roles they may be heading into, it’s more likely they’ll be more engaged, more productive, and subsequently more successful in them. So when reinstating employees into different roles, consider adapting the requirements of those roles to suit their strengths – and you’ll reap success as a result!

For more information on how PRINT® could benefit yourself or your organisation, email, visit our website and social media (Facebook: @discoveryourprint, Twitter: @Discover_Print, LinkedIn: Print Profile Ltd) or sign up to our mailing list. If you’d like to bring PRINT’s benefits to organisations and businesses, we offer Accreditation courses enabling in-house coaches and learning & development professionals to become certified PRINT® coaches.