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


Some additional thoughts to your comment. You can’t motivate anyone. Motivation has to come from within the person themselves. They need to be able to look themselves in the mirror and know that they have done a good job. It is a manager’s job to create an environment where people can find their own incentive to motivate themselves. You can get movement out of employees by hitting them with a 2X4 but it will be very short lived and you will suffer the blowback. When I need information about a job, I ask the guy doing it. No one knows the job better than the guy occupying position. Some times one employee will find a “knack” of how to do something a bit better than someone else. I look for those and ask questions until I better understand it, then pass on the information to others who have to do the same thing, while recognizing the first person. Positive reinforcement goes a long way towards making people feel appreciated.


One of the problems here is the only effective managers of self-promoting narcissists are… other, more experienced, self-promoting narcissists.


You mean when my boss regularly tells us, individually, our numerical rank within our group in terms of one and only one of several available metrics, maybe he’s being totally ass-headed?


Damn, I feel for ya bro.


I worked as a treeplanter in Northern BC for many years. The typical way for promotion to foreman or above was to be very good (i.e. fast) at planting trees.

It turns out that the two skills do not correlate very well. When I made the shift up to management I experienced and witnessed a very harrowing first few weeks as a ‘rookie foreman’. About half of us did not make the cut and ended up unemployed or demoted. Being able to move fast and efficiently across a clearcut is not the same as being able to manage the logistics, supply and safety of two dozen people spread across massive areas of land, and keep them all productive and successful in challenging conditions.

A few years later I had an employee that was not great at being a treeplanter, but was clearly well equipped to be a manager of some kind. I had another employee who was high energy, emotionally volatile but able to work extremely hard, but very clearly not a good fit for managing anyone. It took me two years to get the the manager promoted, and the volatile sparkler managed to get himself promoted in about 3 months over my objections (with spectacular/catastrophic results).


This is something not mentioned about the Peter Principle- it’s only a problem if you are unwilling or unable to fire or demote people.


At this point in my life, it’s a source of some humor. I won’t starve if things don’t work out. Six months ago I walked into HR and let them know that if my job required daily contact with him, I would put in my notice that afternoon. He has lost so many new hires over the last few years I am amazed he is still in his role. I barely talk to him since the HR visit, other than these funny check in meetings where he tells me how I am doing by the numbers, and we go over my numbers, which have improved significantly since he was made to stop ‘managing’ me quite so actively. His bosses boss and his boss really like me, and really know him. He makes them money, I make them money, if we can’t get along that falls to my boss, not me.

It must suck to see every single thing in life as a competition and yourself as the winner, but it’s the subsequent mistake that everyone else is that way too… that I feel bad for him about.


Here’s what Deming said about this stuff.

Note, he specifically says to not do numbers and numerical goals for people in this talking points.


I honestly wasn’t very good at my current job until I started ignoring my metrics. When I first started, making my goals was stressful and often caused me to overthink things, which of course only made reaching said goals more difficult. Now the only time I even look at my numbers is at monthly review-- when I’m working I just work, I think less, and have most of my tasks fairly well automated mentally, so the only time I’m really thinking on the job is when I’m planning. I’ve exceeded my goals ever since I adopted that approach, which has the fortunate side effect of my manager not needing to manage me.


I believe that there have been at least some comparisons of management style, and IIRC there is, unsurprisingly, some variation depending on industry. Relatively low-skill or semi-skilled work usually requires a different management style than skilled or highly-skilled work, at least on average.

Makes sense when you think about it, too. Highly-skilled positions just tend, again on average, to be filled with high-motivation, intelligent, conscientious people. You don’t need to whip these people, or even set a standard for them - your high-performers usually set it for themselves and/or compete with each other just for funsies.

For example, my primary job is developing analytics platforms and designing and testing reports that face these types of groups - one of my main job requirements is basically picking and structuring metrics such that it helps motivate administrative nurses and patient-care physicians to improve the work they do, and a lot of the trick there is knowing that if you give them an unmasked, head-to-head comparison graph, they’ll bend over backwards to be in the highest-performing category.


Deming tried to take his message to American companies, but the laughed at him saying they were making too much money to follow his nonsense. Specifically Ford and GM. Then he went to Japan and showed them how to make quality products. They came back and ate Ford’s and GM’s lunch. It takes time, but when people get it and start to think differently, it really pays off.


You’re kind of proving my exact point, do you see it? You are not normal, celebrate your excellence.

Don’t punish other people for not getting it - we aren’t ever going to get it from being chastised or made to feel inferior. Maybe only teaching us in a way that will make no sense to you will work optimally for us - that doesn’t mean there’s something inherently broken in any of us, right?


Oh, definitely, 100% agreed on that. I don’t expect others to have the same relationship to math that I did, just as I don’t expect to have the same relationship to theater or poetry or music that some of my friends had. And the world is a better place for it.

I also worked as a math tutor when I was in high school, and saw how everyone needed different was of explaining things before they understood them, and I usually knew enough to try a bunch of different ways and hopefully one of them stuck. I would expect that the actual, trained teachers to have even more ways of explaining things, but it didn’t always seem that way, and not in a we-can’t-customize-for-everyone-in-class way. Even in class, when people asked questions, reasonably often the teacher didn’t seem to really get what the question was about, what was being misunderstood. And I think that started in elementary school, with teachers that treated math as a bunch of algorithms to memorize and apply, not something to think about and understand.


Ah-ha-ha-ha! How many times have I had some boss tell me to train someone so lazy I can’t figure out how they don’t fall down? The boss thinks I can undo a lifetime of uselessness through simple osmosis. The bottom of the pyramid is not allowed to point at the deadwood and say, “Fire this, right now.”


That’s why I have the team do the interviewing (no, not a panel interview, I hate those). Usually, 3 or 4 people will walk around with the prospect while doing a tour of the plant. Then, after, I ask them - would you have a beer with this person? If the answer is “no”, or “only if they buy” - no hire. Only if I get 3 or 4 yes answers do I offer a position.
There’s several questions that have to be answered in the hiring process. Can they do the job - physically and mentally? Will they do the job - do they have the interest, desire, and spark? The third question is the hardest - do they fit? This one sometimes takes a long time to answer. Second and third interviews are sometimes needed to assure myself and the group that we won’t have issues of racism, misogyny, safety or laziness.


Since all of my co-workers were hired by their friends in HR, with no qualifications other than being the friends (and they definitely drank!), there was more deadwood than in Tunguska after the meteorite hit.


Hiring friends is a good way to lose same said friends.



I assume that this have been digested by lots of this crowd.

It is a freaking long, long, longy-long, long, long read.


Welcome to the human race. Was it ever thus and will ever be so. There are ALWAYS enough arseholes to subvert any system. (/cycnicism)

…you’d need a much more effective arsehole protection mechanism.


Totally reusing that metaphor!