How to Avoid the Pitfalls of The Peter Principle

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How to Avoid the Pitfalls of The Peter Principle

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of The Peter Principle

Every employee works very hard to get a promotion, but sometimes they may find that their new role wasn’t really what they expected. Consequently, their performance will suffer due to their incompetence to fulfil the responsibilities associated with their new position.

If our condition is similar to that of the above scenario, we may have unknowingly become the prey of The Peter Principle.

What Is The Peter Principle?

Dr. Laurence J. Peter first identified ‘The Peter Principle’ in his 1968 book with the same title. He was a sociologist, lecturer, and business consultant. It states if we work hard in an organization having a top-down management hierarchy and we are good at our job, we will probably be promoted until we reach one level above our competence.

Dr. Peter named this level as “final placement.” He considered this to be one of the main shortcomings in hierarchical structures, as it raises the employee to his level of incompetence.

The Peter Principle in Action

Undoubtedly, it is inadmissible for someone who lacks the competence to hold a role of responsibility in an organization. That person may be well aware that he is under-performing after succeeding in earlier positions, and as a consequence, he will probably feel bewildered, discontented, and anxious.

When more and more senior roles are given to incompetent people, it will result in reduced morale, productivity, and innovation.

Some of the characteristics of a hierarchical organization that results in the Peter Principle to occur:

  • Entry-level jobs may require certain expertise or technical skills for the job position the hiring is made for. For example- Programmers in a software company or an executive in local government.
  • Internal sliding is common. Most people are attracted to an enterprise not only by the nature of the work it offers but also by the likelihood of quick career up-gradation.
  • Promotion tends to be based on our potential in our present role, rather than on competence for the next one.

The above-given characteristics are necessarily not bad things, but if they are mixed with poor assessment and promotion practices, circumstances may become worse. For example- we will be using the same skills and potential if we are upgraded from engineer to senior engineer position, which requires more proficiency.

Avoiding the Peter Principle

Here are three scenarios where the Peter Principle can come into play and the strategies by which we can combat it-

Scenario 1: We are a recruitment manager, and we want to ensure that we are promoting the right employee.

If we are promoting the candidate from within our team or enterprise, ensure that we’re selecting the person who is competent for the role, rather than gratifying someone for previous successes. Remember that we don’t need to lose the best technician in our organization only to gain an average managing director.

Make use of the ‘Skills Matrix’ to determine the requirements, and then use competency-based selection to choose the right candidate for the right job position. For example, – If we are recruiting an entry-level employee, look for applicants with good soft skills as per the requirement. They may have the capability to become better managers in the future.

Scenario 2: When we are in a new, more high- ranking role, and we experience to be “out of depth.”

It’s common to have some doubts and fear in a more challenging position. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are not a suitable candidate for it, or that you won’t be able to sustain into it with apt training.Try to start by learning any new skills. Request the manager to give feedback on performance, and use the Feedback Matrix to determine the skills which we need to improve.

Scenario 3: We have been granted a promotion, but we are not sure that we have the required skills.

It’s not easy to refuse a promotion offer. But before accepting it, think prudently about what is more beneficial for you.

Whether it is salary and status or doing a job at which you are competent, do the research and identify what expertise is involved in role that you have applied for. For example, talk to other employees doing similar roles in an organization and use the interview to gauge what new skills and expertise we need to do the job efficiently and effectively.

Analyze carefully whether you are enthusiastic about learning those skills. 

There is no shame in turning down the role if it is not right for us. In fact, by rejecting the role in which we are incompetent, we are doing a favor to us as well as to our organization. Carefully focus on the strengths, and you will find more effective methods to advance your career and contribute to the organization’s success.


The Peter Principle express that we will be upgraded to the next level of your company’s hierarchy if we perform competently in our job. This process will be carried on with to rise on the ladder until we reach the level where we can no longer perform efficiently.

This will probably make you frustrated and unsatisfied, and it may affect our morale and efficiency in our organization.

We can guard against the Peter Principle’s effects in the company by selecting the right candidate for the right position and conducting training and orientation programs for employees to enrich their skills.

If at any time in our job position, we feel “out of your depth,” we should control it immediately. We can do so by talking to our HR department, seeking feedback, or getting the requisite training.