Empirical evidence for the Peter Principle (or, why bosses are so incompetent)


#21

For me, the management positions were just end-runs to avoid paying the employees overtime, so I would have actually taken a hit in the paycheck.

…all of it was always academic. I could always tell the company was circling the drain, and I like to jump ship before the rats in the bilge hold start eating each other.


#22

<voiceover>
This looks like a job for… PEDANTIC CHEMIST!
</voiceover>

Pedantic Chemist: Water isn’t wet. Water is a wetting agent (and not a very good one). The thing you put the water on is wet, not the water itself.

Child in crowd: Thanks, Pedantic Chemist! Nobody cares!

Pedantic Chemist: You’re welcome, citizen!

<voiceover>
Tune in next week when our hero will try to explain the difference between silicon and silicone, on another exciting episode of… PEDANTIC CHEMIST!
</voiceover>


#23

Eh?


#24

Fucking socialists always ruining it for all of us!


#25

Yeah, how dare they take the side of the overwhelming majority, right?


#26

Is that true? In my experience, good managers act as multipliers in terms of making teams work and be productive, whether pushing people to perform better or delegating work so that people who are good at something, but don’t like doing it, do it, but don’t end up in a pit of low morale. It’s a difficult job and I’d say a good manager can make a team so much more than just the sum of its parts.


#27

The last thing we need is more certifications and guilds, that establish more bureaucracy and keep people from doing things their own way. I see no justification for that in any situation where people’s lives don’t depend directly on someone having basic competence in their field.


#28

Ultimately the problem is that managers are paid more, thus it is important to be promoted if you want to increase your income. In a more ideal system managers and workers would be on the same payscale and the way to improve your salary would be to perform the best at your job. Managers would be selected from the people who most want to actually manage people.

Of course in the real world figuring all of this out is nearly impossible. If someone does figure out the solution they still have to deal with centuries of ingrained human assumption that the managers have a harder job and deserve to be paid more. Maybe they do. They certainly take on more responsibility.


#29

I dispute this. My impression is that it’s exceedingly rare to have a manager I would class as very good. An excellent manager is a great thing for everyone. I’ve been lucky enough to observe a real talent in a technical environment and the value of the manager was at least as high as everyone else in the team.


#30

Yeah, I worked for a few firms like that as a contractor. I’ll never forget large groups of employees being asked to attend unscheduled meetings in large conference rooms (one group after another) where they were told about their layoffs. While they were in the room, security teams were at their desks packing up everything that didn’t belong to the company. At the end of the meetings, they were told to go directly to the parking lot, where they were reunited with boxes of their stuff. Brutal.


#31

CRIMINY! :astonished:


#32

Good managers have good teams, and good teams can only thrive under good management.
Giving too much credit to the managers is what gives bad managers the ability to sink good teams, they tend to surround themselves with people who are at most their equals, never their betters and nobody can call them on it.
Managers are too often lauded as their teams go unrecognized. This means even good managers have to spend some effort to combat this inherent injustice of office politics: Only one person will be recognized for the hard work of a whole team.

Just about every decent manager I’ve had the pleasure to work with has been able to point to someone else who helped them develop their management/people skills. Seems to me that the higher you go the less mentorship you get, which means that you have to be very lucky to have someone who is not only willing to mentor you but can do so when you’re still at the bottom of the corporate ladder, because the higher you go, the more responsability and focus on you and the less peers you have that can help you grow.

All of this to say that maybe all you need to be a good manager is to not get in the way your team. Exceptional? yeah, there are a few of those, but if you require an exceptional manager just to do good work then you’ve got bigger problems to worry about.


#33

I accept your premise, and reject your conclusion. At least in my own experience - as someone with excellent math sense, I was consistently struck by how little my math teachers understood math, from elementary school on. Most just tried to impart a set of algorithmic rules, without being able to explain what they were about.


#34

Well, now that’s just crazy talk. Let’s be Agile instead and implement 360 Reviews.


#35

Actually, there’s Industries where that’s not true. An acquaintance told me that if she managed the restaurant instead of bartended she’d make less with more headache.

I think I’ve identified reason why sales people are generally better at their jobs than managers. Sales is hard, most people can’t do it well. So they sift through a lot of people trying to find the good sales people. Most companies are ruthless about cutting people who can’t sell. But they’re nowhere near as ruthless about firing managers, there is none of the same tournament quality to who stays and who goes.


#36

Should we ever actually meet, drinks are on me.
Feel free to explain alcohol while we’re having some.


#37

If there weren’t so many hucksters and cons and incompetent assholes out there, we wouldn’t need regulations. And another thing, a guild need not be mandatory, but a group that guarantees a minimum of competence. A guild protects its own by building trust in its members, building a reputation. But libertarian asshats have brainwashed us into thinking regulations are bad.


#38

But it also needed for a teacher to be enthusiastic about his/her subject. A teacher who doesn’t like math will never be good at teaching math either. The problem is more that ‘teaching’ and ‘math’ are two different skills. And to be a good math teacher you need to be good at both.

You could substitute any topic for ‘math’ here really. But maybe math teachers are on average a bit more nerdy with less people skills, so maybe math teachers who are also good at teaching are more rare than for example history teachers.

To get back to the original subject; I used to work at a company where they had the habit of promoting their best employees to management. Which meant the management consisted entirely of coders and salespeople with no management skills whatsoever. My direct supervisor (I was a student at the time, working as a part-time code monkey) was really a very good coder, and they kept trying to give him management tasks. Which he kept refusing, because he knew he would be a terrible manager. They refused to raise his pay even though he got lots of praise for his work. He could only get a raise if he would also do management stuff. As soon as he got a better job offer at another company where they would pay him for what he was actually good at, he was gone. I left soon after because I couldn’t combine it anymore with my university work. A year later the company collapsed. I wasn’t surprised. It was a good way to learn to watch of for the symptoms of this phenomenon in a relatively safe (for me, as a uni student) environment.

I have seen the related phenomenon as well: very good coders/salespeople who get bored doing what they do, and promote themselves to manager. This happens in most startups and it hardly ever ends well. Brilliant coder makes brilliant app. Company grows. Founder becomes manager. Company crashes. Rinse. Repeat.


#39

… and your point is?


#42

I think that it’s much more rare that these people are selected as managers, and that’s the problem: we have incentivized narcissists and similar power-seekers to chase management jobs because they come with power and authority.

If you made a manager job a “facilitator” job and separated it from the “power” parts of the job, it would attract “helping” personalities over “dominating” ones.

Honestly, think about it - if business and work were new inventions, and were designed today without any preassumptions, the idea that an immediate supervisor is given:
-Punitive powers,
-A direct incentivization for high performance, both positive (pay, chances for promotion) and negative (likelihood to be fired for poor performance),
-Higher pay than their subordinates,
-Higher status than their subordinates,
-The ability to control almost all the information flow to the executives about their own performance,
-The requirement to determine, with little to no training, who is a high-performing and low-performing employee, often by the manager’s own self-determined metrics.

Looking at all those together, you’d be horrified if this was a new idea. It’s obvious how abuseable it is, how the pressures of the job would intrinsically push anyone in that position to act unethically and how their subordinates are massively incentivized to try and manipulate this person, and that because of this incentive, we would primarily be selecting for promotion and reward people that are good at self-serving manipulation, not those that are intrinsically good at their job.

If you were to design it from scratch today, you’d separate a lot of those powers and also try to remove as much subjectivity and perverse incentive from the system as possible, a system that would be almost completely different from the one we see now.