Laurence J. Peter (16 September 1919 –1990) a Canadian educator and “hierarchiologist”, developed the “Peter principle”. a concept in management:

“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”

This leads to the corollary: “In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties”

Therefore: “Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

In other words, employees are promoted for their performance in their previous role rather than on skills relevant to the new one. until they cannot handle their new responsibilities. This means they stop being promoted, having reached the level of their incompetence.


Laurence J. Peter formulò il principio di incompetenza (detto anche principio di Peter).
«In una gerarchia, ogni dipendente tende a salire di grado fino al proprio livello di incompetenza», da cui discende il corollario:  «Con il tempo, ogni posizione lavorativa tende a essere occupata da un impiegato che non ha la competenza adatta ai compiti che deve svolgere.»
Ne consegue che «Tutto il lavoro viene svolto da quegli impiegati che non hanno ancora raggiunto il proprio livello di incompetenza.»

30 thoughts on “Incompetence

  1. Why often managers are sub fictional.

    This worked for me.

    More than twenty years ago, when told that I was to be promoted, this advice was given to me.

    Accept the fact that you know nothing.

    What he meant was; you have to learn a completely new job. Your previous position is now history. All gone. It takes time to learn, bear in mind that it won’t be the job you thought it would be. So be patient with yourself.

    Things change

    Another thing, you have to learn to let go.

    A side issue is true to. When selecting candidates most organisations tend to choose their type. So often many organisations are full of the same type.

    Once reading about a person who was sacked for incompetence. There nothing actually wrong with him as he wasn’t that bad. Actually he was too good for the others.

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  2. Mi piace in una ditta il direttore tecnico si era circondato di persone non adatte a fare i capo reparto ma siccome lì mettava lì solo per i pettogolezzi . Il resto era tutto in mano sua , quindi cosa succedeva quando non poteva togliersi dall’ufficio l’officina era allo sbaraglio addirittura alcune produzioni erano ferme

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  3. Siccome ha volte tralascio un po’ di verità la ditta dove lavoravo c’era questo direttore la stessa persona era stato mandato via da una ditta molto grande per queste assurdità solo che nelle referenze non risultava niente

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  4. Yes, at one time everybody was talking about this Peter principle, now somewhat old notion (1969) and observed, and commented by many way before like Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1763) and many more.
    But basically the mistake it’s to promote people, based in their accomplishments, at a given job, as a reward, rather than to measure his|hers skills at the new job.
    In other words some people can be very good at what they know, but very bad at something they had no background, knowledge, or skills whatsoever…And very likely you would probe yourself incompetent at something you have never done, have no clue about it, or feel ill fit for it.

    Some responsibility has to be laid on management, or the people in charge of the promotions, some companies still hold to an old fashion merits earned in order to promote people, rather than qualifications.

    Von Clausewitz was an example of early thinking. He saw history as a vital check on erudite abstractions that did not accord with experience. In contrast to the early work of Antoine-Henri Jomini, he argued that war could not be quantified or reduced to map work, or like a good Sargent mayor, not necessarily did a great job, in a higher rank, he wrote that “there is nothing more common than to hear of men losing their energy on being raised to a higher position, to which they do not feel themselves equal.”

    In an army you got Generals, and all kind of soldiers who are excellent tacticians, and are great at what they do at the front, but they never make it to General headquarters, simply because they are not qualified as strategist.

    A business company should know this, and that’s why many they have an horizontal advancement plan of rewards, more pay, more privileges, and incentives, rather than promotions, why turn a great salesman, into a lousy manager?

    Of course there’s few people capable of changing roles successfully, but that’s on an individual basis, not a general rule.

    Mostly we all have areas where we are totally ill fitted for the job, like a frail individual carrying heavy loads, or an unschooled individual asked to do complicated math, and therefore incompetent for the job. 🙂

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  5. The organisation I work for has a cunning plan to avoid that – you can only be promoted if you’ve already been working at the higher level for at least a year (exploitation?). Add an “up or out” employment contract system, and you have terrified staff, who work many more hours than they’re paid for. Where it backfires is that by the time people reach a high enough level to be tenured they’re burnt out or so cynical they just play the system by passing off the work of those below them as their own.

    Liked by 1 person

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