Don’t Achieve the “Peter Principle” in Your Career

 In Career Tips

The Peter Principle.

It’s a real thing.

Don’t know what it is?

Basically, it is the concept that people get promoted to the highest level of their own incompetence.

In simple terms, you could be the top sales person who gets promoted to director of sales as a reward… because you are doing so awesome in sales.

Chaos then ensues as when you screw everything up because you suck at managing people.

Sales you can do.

Managing you cannot.

Congratulations: You have just met the Peter Principle.

Unfortunately, the Peter Principle happens a lot in the workplace.  Bosses want to promote top performers, and career-minded people want to move up the ladder.

But sometimes, the collision between what people want / expect isn’t necessarily the right thing to do.

Smart-minded companies will prevent the Peter Principle from happening by finding ways to litmus-test people who are top at their jobs to see if they can equally perform well in management roles or by being promoted.

But what happens if YOU are the problem?

How do you avoid becoming the Peter Principle Problem?

Here are some tips to make sure you are part of the solution:

  • Focus on what you do best. Know your limits of what you do well.  If the boss is slapping you on the back and saying that you are doing a great job and wants to move you up a level, this is the time to honestly ask yourself: Do I want to manage people? Do I have what it takes? Can I do a good job in this role? Do I feel comfortable in this role?
  • Don’t be afraid to turn down a promotion. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. Turning down a promotion that puts you into a role where you aren’t doing your best isn’t a bad thing. You can frame it up this way: “I am very flattered that you think so much of my job performance, but moving me up into a management role would not serve the company’s best interests. I do better at the role I’m in currently, but perhaps we can find another way I can improve my contributions to the company.”
  • Suggest other career options that are better suited to your abilities. Speaking of those roles, perhaps you can continue your career growth in a different tangent. Expanding the scope or responsibility of your role to foster professional development might be a great solution for both you and the employer.
  • Train to move past your management weaknesses. Maybe becoming a better manager might mean taking classes on how to support, coach, and mentor teams.  Acquiring these skills may make the difference in how well you perform in this role.
  • Request or seek a mentor. Before assuming a new management role, finding someone who can show you how it is done can build your proficiency and comfort level in a higher position. Identifying someone that you admire and emulating their style is a great path to being the best manager you could be.

The Peter Principle can be avoided; taking active steps to find workarounds to being a solution rather than the problem is part of how workplaces can stay pleasant and productive.

Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is a Certified Advanced Résumé Writer and the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Career Services. Clients from across the United States and Canada and from all career levels have benefited from Dawn’s highly-focused and results-oriented résumé, cover letter, and job search coaching services. Many professional groups as well as colleges and universities have appreciated the insights and expertise she shares during presentations on career management topics, and she is a frequently requested national speaker as a result.

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