Monday, January 10, 2011

Promotion != Management

Are you familiar with the Peter Principle?  In a sentence, it states that employees are promoted to their level of incompetence.  Think about that for a second.

Sure it’s kinda cute and makes you chuckle, but what does that really mean for your organization?  It means you have a certain percentage of your employees/co-workers that are incompetent at their current positions.  The scary thing is that most of these people are in management positions… they are running your company. 

The sad thing is that these same people were most likely competent if not exceptional in another non-management position in your company.  How else did they get promoted to that management position if not by demonstrating competence in another role?  But that also means that there are people in your organization that are getting paid to fail instead of being put in a position to succeed.

So the question is why?  Why waste all this talent and ability?  Why not put them in a position to succeed?  Because to put them in their old positions would often result in a “demotion” and this is culturally difficult to do.

The trick is not to tie promotions to role.  Otherwise you artificially limit promotions/salaries for those in individual contributor positions because they aren’t “moving up” the org chart.  You contribute to a culture that the only way to progress your career is to “get into management”.  This is a mistake.

The flawed fundamental assumption is that if you are good at something, you’ll be good at managing people that are doing that something.  Managing people requires a unique skill that is often not found in your top individual performers.  People management needs to be its own role within your company.  Those that recognize their limitations and feel that they are best in an individual contributor position may feel less valued in the organization, causing them to leave.

On wikipedia it is says that a result of the Peter Principle is that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.  Make sure that your organization keeps people below their level of incompetence or else who’s going to do the work?

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