Peter’s Principle as seen by an engineer

Paulo Rosado
Jul 3, 2009 · 2 min read

The Peter Principle depicts a common situation all senior managers have to deal with sooner or later. It states that “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.” This problem is especially hard to tackle at young, fast-growing companies. As a company grows from start-up status to established organization, initial employees are forced to grow their managerial and organizational skills. A lot can’t make it.

Andy Grove at Intel. Some years ago I have stumbled onto a hand scribbled note that I believe was written by him. Being the great engineer that he is he created this beautiful mental model to depict Peter Principle.

Peters level.png
Peters level.png

If you assume that the skill requirements to do a certain job keep growing fast there is a point A when the competence level falls short. The continuing pressure and the failure to delivery creates a very unmotivated employee that either freezes or runs around in circles. The productivity drops to B below the real max. capacity of the person.

At this point most people leave. However, recovery is possible. By realigning job and ambition expectations you can manage to raise motivation and match competence with skills.

Letting a trusted collaborator reach a Peter’s level is more the fault of the senior manager than the collaborator’s own fault. If it happens often it might be that the senior executive has reached his own Peter’s level.


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