The Peter principle says that organizations tend to promote people to a level where the shoes they step into are too big for them, so they get stuck at a job they aren’t as good at. Sometimes all those people are missing are skills and tools their employers can provide them with.
“I came to the company as an engineer and was promoted as the department grew, because I was the most professional. I was o.k as a team leader but recently, I’ve been promoted to the position of VP R&D and I'm not happy. I hate the long meetings, the bureaucracy, and the politics. I understand it’s the expected step in my career and that I’m supposed to be satisfied, but I feel stuck.”
Many managers are promoted not necessarily at their request, but rather as out of commitment to a system that requires them to step up. When I was promoted into a managerial position, I didn’t have any prior managerial ambitions at all, but it looked like the necessary thing to do at the moment, so I took it upon myself to perform the mission.
Let’s think of a situation where one of the managers quits and we want to promote someone from within. So far so good. Let’s say we have two candidates, one of them is the star of his team, the best professional, and the other is alright professionally but present his ambitions to get into managerial positions. Who will you choose? The star, right? Well, you’d better think again so as not to lose both your star and a great manager.
An excellent employee relies mainly on their professionalism and experience. A manager needs to be professional, but also needs to motivate and influence and have the ability to create partnerships in order to succeed as a manager, no matter how professional.
The Peter Principle is a concept first formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter to describe a situation in which organizations tend to promote people until the shoes they have to step into are too big for them, so they get stuck in a job they aren’t as good at. For many years, the concept was used merely cynically, but three years ago it has received scientific grounding by three researchers from Harvard (Alan Benson, Danielle Li, and Kelly Shue). They discovered that indeed, employees tend to rise through the ranks until they are less efficient, and then their progress stalls.
To avoid such situations, an organization can take several steps:
Ask and demand an honest answer from the potential manager about the degree to which he is interested in the position. Not every manager knows what they’re getting into and being hesitant and apprehensive is natural, but if they know beforehand that this is not what they are looking for, it’s important that they feel sufficiently comfortable to clearly state it. It’s important, too, that the organization be able to appreciate this honesty, and allow the employee opportunities for self-fulfillment in positions they are attracted towards.
Understand that management is something you learn, like any new professional field, so that a new manager needs to be provided with knowledge, tools and management skills through manager development programs or through personal professional coaching. The professionalism that has resulted in their promotion, will not necessarily result in their success as managers. They need to develop a broader and more strategic understanding of their new role, acquire skills like delegation of duties, proactive decision making and the ability to motivate and influence others
Evaluate your people's development deeds as a daily routine in order to provide each individual with opportunities for growth, learning, promotion, and enrichment.
The employees themselves are likewise responsible for their professional future.
First, ask yourselves: What is it that I actually want? Will this be something that will promote my future career even though it's challenge me now? Perhaps a managerial path can be an opportunity to influence and change all those things I dislike about the system?
Share your ambitions with your manager – Do you prefer manage people, be a technical leader, or develop your professional specialization? Think what you like and dislike in your current position and to which things would you like to be exposed more? And in which field/department in the organization? Then, take proactive steps to manage your personal career.
You took the part of becoming a manager? Congrats! Now take a proactive responsibility for designing and implementing a transition plan, including the knowledge, skills, and of tools you are missing and need to learn and acquire. Such a transition plan will allow the manager to ask what they need from the organization, like management & leadership workshops or personal coaching, and will also allow them to recognize the people they need within the organization in order to receive the necessary support.
Finally, if you’re sure that management isn’t for you, take the courage to communicate that clearly and say also what it is you do want and what you’re asking your managers to do in order for you to get there.
In every role we take upon ourselves we need to feel that we’re not just a tool for the organization to fulfill its goals, but a way for us to fully express ourselves so we will feel happy, meaningful and fulfilled.
This content was also published at GLOBES, Israel's leading business newspaper.