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Telling It, Like It Is
on October 26, 2008
It's interesting yet perplexing, that when I studied Public Administration (yawn), we studied German economist and sociologist Max Weber, but never once, did our courses include the work of Laurence Peter. They should have.
The "Peter Principle" was written in 1969, but you'll realize immediately it's still very accurate and useful today. Many anecdotes and case studies may remind you of yourself, someone, or some people you've worked with. There are illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, and the ever-present Bell Curve. There are too many good things in this book to list. It's also a quick and easy-read.
The author's background is very relevant to the credibility of this book, which in my opinion, is a true classic. Laurence J. Peter received an Ed.D from Washington State University and had extensive experience as a teacher, counselor, school psychologist, prison instructor, consultant, and university professor. (I don't know much about the other author, Raymond Hull.) Here a a couple of concepts from the many things in the "Peter Principle."
Push & Pull:
Two different ways to "move up." No reason to go into detail, but a person pushing upward usually will not get the result of a person who's "pulled up from above." My favorite quote in the "Peter Principle" is on the "Push & Promotion" chapter on page 63:
"Never stand when you can sit; never walk when can ride; never Push when you can Pull."
Judging the competence of an employee:
Outsiders usually don't judge your performance. In general, your superior does. So if you have a:
If a superior is competent they evaluate his/her subordinate by the usefulness of work. Performance. Output.
If a superior is incompetent they will often judge the subordinate by "behavior that supports the rules, rituals, and forms of the status quo. Promptness, neatness, courtesy to superiors...." This is evaluating input, not output.
Most of us have witnessed and perhaps experienced a happy and talented person doing well at what they do in the workplace. Because of his/her optimum performance they're offered a promotion. A raise, yes. But also more stress, more time consumed, more responsibilities, and often new duties and skill-sets needed at the new position.
Some employees understand that in their particular circumstances the negatives outweigh the positives of a promotion. When realize they are next in line, or close to getting that promotion they don't want, they have (at least 2) options:
One, carefully refuse the promotion, while vocalizing that he/she is still committed and dedicated to the company, etc. This is called "Peter's Parry," and is not recommended by the author for most (but not all) employees.
The second option for the employee to avoid advancement, is not by refusing promotion but by intentionally doing minor and forgivable mistakes that will cause him/her to never be offered a promotion, but retain the current position. This is ---> Creative Incompetence. The author offers some techniques in the sub-section of this chapter for successfully executing Creative Incompetence. Peter states it's important that one conceal the fact that they want to avoid a promotion.
Again this book is almost 40 years old. Some of the individual (worker) values and the corporate climate has changed since then. But in private, public, and non-profit organizations, we see many of Peter's situations today. Too many.
HEALTH & HAPPINESS AT ZERO PQ:
When someone reaches his/her level of incompetence (called Peter's Plateau) the Zero PQ - Zero Promotion Quotient - 0% chance of a promotion exists. Understanding when one reaches the point of Zero PQ is very important. Many employees don't recognize when they hit it, and sometimes when an employee hits the ceiling he/she thinks it's incompetence, inferier skills, or lack of production, when it might actually be politics. They think they are not working "hard enough," or good enough. This person pushes harder by working longer, skipping breaks, and going the extra mile. These are the symptoms of ---> Final Placement Syndrome.
Have you ever witnessed or even experienced Zero PQ at work?
In organizations (i.e., hierarchies) people get promoted as long as they continue to be competent. Eventually they are promoted to a position in which their skills are not adequately applicable for their new position. Therefore other employees at the same level or below carry out the tasks, because these "other employees" have not hit their level of their incompetence, yet.
The Chapters are worthy of listing because they do highlight the points and topics in the book:
1. The Peter Principle
2. The Principle in Action
3. Apparent Exceptions
4. Pull & Promotion
5. Push & Promotion
6. Followers & Leaders
7. Hierarchically & Politics
8. Hints & Foreshadowings
9. The Psychology of Hierarchiology
10 Peter's Spiral
11 The Pathology of Success
12 Non-Medical Indices of Final Placement
13 Health & Happiness at Zero PQ
14 Creative Incompetence
15 The Darwinian Extension
There are numerous sub-chapters within the chapters, as well. This is a practical book with many anecdotes we've seen in real life. The "Peter Principle" can help corporate hierarchical rejectionists and corporate minions alike. A great glossary and chapter index is in the back of this classic.